MAY 2021 GARDEN BIRDS

Days are cooling down and the nights are becoming uncomfortably cold. Red-winged Starlings are gathering in ever-larger flocks as they swoop around the neighbourhood in search of food. I counted twenty of them in the Erythrina caffra yesterday – nibbling at the few scarlet blossoms that are left on the tree. African Green Pigeons continue to hide effectively in the dark green foliage of the Natal fig, although I can hear them chuckling daily. I often feature Olive Thrushes, so will spare you yet another photograph of these delightful birds. Nonetheless, it has been fun watching a spotty youngster grow in confidence so quickly that it now even chases adults away from the fruit on the feeding tray if it wishes.

The fruit I provide regularly attracts a pair of Black-collared Barbets. One alights on the tray first, while the other waits in the branches above for a while before joining the first. They are either the first to visit, or come after the main feeding rush is over.

The Cape Robin-chat has been particularly shy and skittish this year. It peeps out from between the leaves and even advances towards the feeding tray, but flies off as soon as any other bird approaches.

Last month I mentioned seeing a female Thick-billed Weaver. I have spotted it several times this month, either perched on the edge of the bird bath or in the shrubbery.

I was delighted to spot a Hoopoe on our back lawn the other day. It was so busy pecking at the grass that I doubt if it noticed my approach.

Bronze Mannikins are such a delight to watch as they flit around the garden and especially when they crowd around the feeder to eat the seeds.

Then there are the Common Starlings. Usually only one or two come to the feeding area. Today a large flock of them were perched in first the Erythrina caffra and then moved into the Natal fig.

Having observed an unusual bird for three days in a row, I was at last able to identify it as a Brown Scrub-Robin – a first for my garden – only to have it disappear again! There is so much dead wood around the garden that the Cardinal Woodpecker can frequently be heard bashing away at it. Unfortunately it is usually far too high up for me to take a photograph worthy of showing off. The same applies to a pair of Crowned Hornbills that attracted my attention by pecking loudly at a window pane in our neighbour’s house. They flew into the Natal fig as I approached them – and that was the end of that! Both the Spectacled Weaver and the Grey-headed Sparrows have made a welcome return to the garden – and I caught a fleeting glimpse of a Long-billed Crombec. It might be cold, yet this has been a good month for garden birding.

My bird list for this month:
African Green Pigeon
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Mannikin
Brown Scrub-Robin
Cape Batis
Cape Crow
Cape Robin-Chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Crowned Hornbill
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Forest Canary
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Long-billed Crombec
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Red-eyed Dove
Red-winged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Thick-billed Weaver
Village Weaver

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

A BOKSBURG GARDEN

A BOKSBURG GARDEN

Having experienced the push, squeeze, swerve and shove of the Gauteng traffic to reach Boksburg, it was a happy surprise to wake up to a chorus of cape turtle doves, grey louries, redeyed doves, and the cheeping of Cape sparrows. I discovered later that a pair of the latter were kept very busy feeding their chick.

Through my half-opened curtains I spotted several speckled mousebirds methodically working their way through a bed of rosemary and red-veined spinach. Then I heard the distinctive call of a crested barbet – a sound that immediately transported me back to the farm garden of my youth, where my mother often referred to these barbets as ‘clown birds’ because of their colouring.

crestedbarbet

The sight of a hoopoe sunning itself on the garden bench quickly drew me outside to find my own spot in the sun and to enjoy what this Boksburg garden had to offer for the rest of my stay. Often there were two hoopoes poking their strong beaks into the kikuyu lawn in search of food.

hoopoe

What a pleasure it is to spend time in this garden which has so much to offer, from a cheekily cheerful frog to a variety of palm trees, shrubs and even a seasoned tree stump. There is a richness on offer in an apparently restricted space which actually carries no restriction.

gardenfrog

treestump

For example, it wasn’t long before I discovered that the closely clipped yesterday-today-and-tomorrow (Brunfelsia pauciflora) growing at the edge of the lush, even lawn, hides a rich, fertile compost heap.

compost

While the compost itself adds to the quality of the soil in the garden, it also carries within it a bounty such as this enormous Kentucky Blue pumpkin, the last of the ‘free’ crop.

pumpkin

It has also spawned a riot of juicy cherry tomatoes which have colonised flower pots as well as the tiniest of spaces around the perimeter of the lawn. So prolific have they been that bags of the plump red, sweet fruit already reside in the home freezer for later use in bredies, soups and sauces. Even so, I picked a colander full of them – leaving plenty more for another day – for supper one afternoon and have since happily transplanted some seedlings to my own garden.

cherrytomatoes

Nothing goes to waste: self-sown seedlings of the red-veined spinach have been transplanted into a raised bed and along the edge of the patio. I can attest how delicious these leaves are in salads. Flowers, vegetables and trees, including a pomegranate, vie for space below the clear, bright blue sky, so typical of summer on the Highveld. There is even a self-sown cabbage tree growing from the trunk of a palm tree!

verbena

profusion of pots

pomegranate

cabbagetree

Apart from Sheba, one of the two resident hounds and a cat, it is the birdlife that enhances the tranquillity of this garden in spite of the regular roar of planes taking off from and landing at the nearby OR Tambo Airport.
Each day I delighted in watching the Cape turtle doves either chasing each other around the perimeter of the bird bath or sunning themselves on a patch of open ground.

Sheba

Common mynahs flitted past the bright purple bougainvillea and skeins of sacred ibises flew overhead.

sacredibis

I first ‘met’ a kurrichane thrush while camping in the Okovango Swamps many years ago – and have since become used to the olive thrushes that dart about my garden in the Eastern Cape. In this Boksburg garden I never tired of watching the kurrichane thrushes work over the lawn, their heads thrust to one side or scratching around the edges of the compost heap.

kurrichanethrush

The appearance of redheaded finches reminded me of our happy camping trips to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

redheadedfinch
While the Cape glossy starlings stirred my sense of anticipation for our forthcoming trip to the Kruger National Park.

capeglossystarling

Grey louries regularly visited the garden in the early mornings to feed on apple quarters and returned in the late afternoons.

greylourie

One afternoon I was startled by a black harrier swooping low after a redeyed dove. I cannot tell what happened for the two birds disappeared behind the house in a flash.

redeyeddove

Cape wagtails are a strong link to my own garden, to which I would soon return.

capewagtail

This Boksburg garden is truly a tranquil haven and a blissful place in which to unwind.

Over the course of a week I saw the following birds:

Black harrier
Blackeyed bulbul
Cape glossy starling
Cape sparrow
Cape turtle dove
Cape wagtail
Cape white-eye
Common mynah
Crested barbet
Darter
Egyptian goose
Grey heron
Grey lourie
Hadeda ibis
Hoopoe
Kurrichane thrush
Laughing dove
Pied crow
Redbilled woodhoopoe
Redeyed dove
Redheaded finch
Rock pigeon
Sacred ibis
Southern masked weaver
Speckled mousebird
Whiterumped swift