PREENING HADEDAS

South Africans tend to be dismissive about Hadeda Ibises (Bostrychia hagedash). We see them regularly over large parts of the country so, they are ‘just there’. Mind you, no-one can ignore their strident calls which can be ear-piercing if you are on the edge of sleep in the early hours of the morning or indulging in a quiet contemplation of the late afternoon. That is when they seem to be the noisiest – in town anyway. I am horrified by advice about getting rid of such ‘pests’ and the bad press these delightful birds get from people who hear the calls yet do not observe these birds closely enough to appreciate their character and, yes, their personalities. Anyway, why try to get rid of Hadedas when traffic continues to roar at all hours of the day?

I seldom see vehicles halted in a game reserve, for example, to watch Hadeda Ibises. Like the Cape Crows or Pied Crows – also large birds – visitors tend to take them in at a glance and move on, even if they are interested in birds. I was thus able to enjoy this pair of preening ibises to the full. Both have tiny bits of fluff or feathers sticking to the end of their long de-curved beaks.

Their grey-brown feathers are being lifted by the wind, while the sunlight just catches their patches of iridescence. In this photograph you can see that both wings are held slightly away from the body as the lower Hadeda tucks its beak under one to set the feathers right or, perhaps, to get rid of some annoyance.

Here it is bending its sinuous neck to do the same on the other side.

Apart from several Hadeda Ibises roosting in our garden, I often come across one or two foraging among the remaining shrubs and under trees where the soil has not yet baked hard. It is surprising that such a large bird can be so well camouflaged that I often hear the rustling of leaves before actually seeing one probing the leaf litter. They generally walk away quickly if I come too close, but occasionally rise up with a flutter, yelling blue murder, only to settle a little distance away as though nothing has happened to disturb them.

HADEDA IBIS:2

I cannot resist drawing your attention to the Hadeda Ibis (Bostrychia hagedash) again for they wake ever earlier now that the sun rises ever earlier too. Some people find their raucous onomatopoeic cackling call annoying, especially during the early mornings and evenings – believe me, you would miss them if you moved away for these unglamorous birds have a way of endearing themselves to one. I love listening to them as one groups sets off another perching in a tree further away and those to another and another, until you can hear the cacophany being repeated way down the valley. Several of them perch together in tall trees at night and one can see large flocks of them gathered on a school sports field or around water holes in a national park. In my garden I generally encounter them singly or in pairs. Their rump and wing feathers have a beautiful metallic purple and green sheen that glistens in the sunlight.

Hadeda Ibises make rather flimsy nests from sticks and lined with grass. The sticks for the nest are gathered by the male and then ceremoniously offered to its mate. Sometimes these sticks are so large that I wonder at the bird’s ability to carry them so far and so high. A pair of Hadedas have been raising chicks in the Natal Fig in our garden for some years. Another pair has chosen the Erythrina trees in our back garden for their nest.

They move around surprisingly quietly for such large birds, probing the ground with their beaks to find earthworms, slugs, snails, crickets or other insects as they go. This probing thus assists with the aerating of soil and the control of insect populations. While they tend to forage in silence, if Hadeda Ibises are disturbed in our garden, they fly noisily to perch in a tall tree – or often on the roof of our house.

 

A HOT SUMMER AFTERNOON

The temperature has reached 36°C, turning the outside air into a furnace. The brick paving shaded by the house radiates heat, while the bricks still in the sun are too hot to walk on barefoot.

What is left of the lawn grass crunches underfoot.

It hasn’t rained for months and the sky obstinately remains a beautiful clear blue.

Not a leaf stirs, only the heat waves bouncing off the walls and the brick paving. The Hadeda Ibises sitting on their nest in the Natal Fig tree keep making ‘bib-bib’ sounds.

A Cape Weaver drinks deeply from the nectar feeder, arriving and leaving silently as if there is no energy left to make a sound.

A hot breeze sets a few leaves in motion and then dies abruptly. Hark! There is a wisp of cloud creating patterns in the sky!

It dissipates while I watch. A young Common Fiscal seeks food on the hard-baked ground then flies into the shrubbery, its quest unsuccessful.

Nothing stays in the direct sunlight for long.

DECEMBER 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

What an interesting month this has been for observing birds in our garden! The Lesser-striped Swallows are making yet another valiant attempt at rebuilding their mud nest. Here we are, past mid-summer, and they have still not managed to complete a nest nor raise a family. Finding suitable mud in these drought conditions must be difficult – I suspect they collect it from the edges of the rapidly drying-up dam over the road.

Despite several Village Weavers in varying states of maturity populating the garden, a number of them have recently been hard at work weaving their nests very high up in the Natal Fig.

A pair of Hadeda Ibises are also nesting in the fig tree.

The prolonged drought has resulted in a dearth of nectar-bearing flowers, making our nectar feeder so popular that I have been filling it twice a day for most of this month. It is visited regularly by Fork-tailed Drongos, Village Weavers, Cape Weavers, Black-eyed Bulbuls, Amethyst Sunbirds, Greater Double-collared Sunbirds, Black-headed Orioles as well as a Spectacled Weaver.

A pair of Red-winged Starlings began the month stuffing their beaks with apple flesh to take to their chick and, before long, were bringing their youngster to the feeding table to feed it there. It is now able to feed itself.

Life is not easy for birds: an alarm call from a Cape Robin had me interrupting our lunch to see what the problem was. I approached the bushes outside the dining room very cautiously as I was met with a flurry of birds including a fierce-looking Bar-throated Apalis, an agitated Paradise Flycatcher, a Thick-billed Weaver and several weavers. I only managed to photograph the alarmed robin before seeing a Boomslang weaving its way sinuously among the branches just above my head – time to beat a retreat!

On a different occasion the alarm call of a Cape Robin, combined with the frantic chirruping of other birds, drew me outdoors towards the thick, tangled hedge of Cape Honeysuckle. Mindful of snakes, I approached it very cautiously until I became aware of a distinctive clicking sound, kluk-kluk, which convinced me of the likelihood of finding either a Grey-headed Bush Shrike or a Burchell’s Coucal raiding a nest. It was neither. The vegetation as well as the hurried movements of Village Weavers, a Bar-throated Apalis and a particularly agitated-looking female Greater Double-collared Sunbird made photography nigh impossible. It was several minutes before I was able to ‘capture’ the nest-raider. This time it was a Southern Boubou.

What greater pleasure could there be, just as the year is drawing to a close, to have not one Hoopoe visit our garden, but four!

My December bird list:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Saw-wing
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pin-tailed Whydah
Red-billed Woodhoopoe
Red-chested Cuckoo
Red-eyed Dove
Red-fronted Tinkerbird
Red-winged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Southern Red Bishop
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift
Yellow-fronted Canary

AUGUST 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

This is a late entry for August, which has been a busy month for the birds as well as for me! The birds have an earlier sense of the approaching spring than humans do and waste no time in making the most of what the change of season heralds. Cape Weavers have, for example, been building their nests in the back garden, making loud announcements while doing so. Several nests have been left incomplete and the birds move from one site to another – looking for the best place. It is all about location, location, location. Not to be outdone, the male Village Weavers spend a lot of time attracting attention by flapping their wings in between eating.

An abundance of Laughing Doves make short work of the seed I scatter on the lawn every morning, efficiently aided by Speckled Doves and a few Red-eyed Doves. The Hadeda Ibises wake earlier by the day, as if not a moment is to be wasted.

The Fork-tailed Drongo has been up to its regular trick of sounding an alarm call that sends all the birds rushing for cover, leaving feathers fluttering to the ground in their haste, only to use that moment to pick over the tit-bits in peace. A pair of them have been courting this month, making an interesting variety of calls while doing so. They have occasionally been joined by a third, which leads to interesting bouts of chasing each other vigorously around the garden until one gives up and flies off, leaving the other two in peace – for a while. The Black-eyed Bulbuls are equally cheeky as far as giving other birds a fright so that they can home in on the fruit.

A Boubou usually waits until all is quiet before inspecting what is on offer on the feeding tray, while the Olive Thrushes – often the first to arrive – regularly return during the day to glean what has been dropped once the main rush of birds have left to scour the neighbourhood for other sources of food. A pair of Black-collared Barbets have been calling each other from the treetops and occasionally flit down to the feeding tray in silence. Eating is a serious business for them and they have particularly enjoyed the offerings of fresh fruit.

With little in the way of nectar-bearing flowers blooming, the nectar feeder has required refilling on a daily basis. Regular visitors include Black-eyed Bulbuls, Black-headed Orioles, Cape Weavers, Village Weavers, Fork-tailed Drongos and Amethyst Sunbirds.

My August bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird (Black)
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Shrike (Fiscal)
Common Starling
Fierynecked Nightjar
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redeyed Dove
Rednecked Spurfowl
Redwinged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Boubou
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon (Rock)
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver

TWO IBISES

Two of the four ibis species occurring in South Africa are commonly seen in and around our town. The Hadeda Ibis (Bostrychia hagedash) is a grey-brown ibis with glossy bronze-green wing coverts. Not surprisingly, its onomatopoeic name is reminiscent of its harsh cries of ha – ha – ha – de – da. This is the sound we generally wake up to early in the mornings and hear again at night as several of these large birds come to roost communally in our Natal Fig tree. Occasionally something disturbs them at night and they rent the still air with their raucous calls until all have assured each other that all is well and they settle down again.

While I generally only observe two or three poking about for food in the garden, large numbers gather on the many school sports fields and open grassy areas in the town to feed on insects, worms and other invertebrates. They have an acute sense of smell which is an aid to finding food as the Hadeda Ibises probe into the soil for food with their bills.

The other ibis we see on a daily basis is the African Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus). The black bill of these birds blends in with their naked black head and neck. They have a characteristic white body with black tips to their flight feathers. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that the elongate, plume-like black scapulars inspired the Afrikaans name, Skoorsteenveër – chimneysweeper.

A large flock of African Sacred Ibises gather at the edge of a dam just outside of town – many of them roost communally in large trees within the CBD at night – and are frequently seen in the grassy areas as well as feeding on the lush grass under irrigation in the Belmont Valley.

They mainly feed on invertebrates as well as fish, frogs, carrion and refuse – for the latter reason they can be observed on the fringes of the municipal dump too.

HADEDA IBIS

The ubiquitous Hadeda Ibis (Bostrychia hagedash). People either love them or loathe them. I fall into the former category and am delighted to welcome them as residents of our garden. Their distinctive and strident ‘ha-ha-hadeeda’ call can be heard from near and far as they raucously remind all in the valley of their presence. They are particularly vocal at dawn and at dusk, although we sometimes hear a ‘frantic’ call if they are startled during the night.

Hadedacolours

Several Hadedas regularly roost in the enormous Erythrina caffra trees in the back garden as well as the Natal Fig that dominates the front garden. The latter has been a regular nesting place that has proved to be ideal for raising generations of offspring. The nest consists of a flimsy basket-shaped collection of twigs that is added to every breeding season.

Hadedaperching

The youngsters reach a point when they start testing their wings by flapping them furiously and, even though we see them walking around the garden not long after that, they continue to ‘beg’ to be fed by the adults. For a while the youngster can be seen in the regular company of one or both adults and later forages for food on its own. They often eat long earthworms that burrow underground – feasting on them after the rain – as well as catching crickets and other insects.

Hadedasonlawn

Late every afternoon, Hadeda Ibises congregate on the roof of our house, looking like sentinels perched on either the chimney or on the apex. They flap their wings on arrival, appear to settle down and then – after only a brief rest – fly off to join others still circling the valley, calling loudly as they do so. They eventually settle down to roost for the night.

As Hadeda Ibises are such sociable birds it is easy to imagine them greeting each other from afar in the mornings, deciding where to meet for the day’s foraging, and bidding each other goodnight as the sun sinks below the horizon.