AN EARLY MORNING

Long before the first light shows behind the hills, the nightjars have fallen silent to make way for the morning sounds to begin. It pleases me to listen to the gradual awakening of the birds as they each add a gentle layer to the growing dawn chorus. Cape white-eyes chatter excitedly; African green pigeons chuckle quietly; while a Cape robin-chat defends its territory with low grunts.

While the sky is still a blank canvas of brightening soft grey suffused with pink, the Hadeda ibises begin fidgeting in the fig tree. The rustling sound of their feathers works its way through the branches until one ibis calls out reluctantly … a faraway reply can be heard giving the signal for the raucous calls to break the morning peace – along with the first vehicles passing by. A vivid smudge of orange intensifies above the horizon followed by fingers of light glowing low through the trees. The hadedas fan out across the valley, calling loud greetings as they go. Close by a Red-eyed dove persistently tells me it’s the ‘better get started’ time and a crow calls gruffly from a treetop. It is in the high branches and on the telephone cable where the Laughing doves meet to catch the warming rays of the rising sun.

As it rises higher, the sun highlights the yellow blossoms of the canary creeper.

Another day has begun.

LOOKING OUT FOR TROUBLE

Regular readers will know that the avian visitors to our garden have had to become more wary about visiting the feeders because of attacks by the neighbouring cats. I was enjoying my breakfast outside this morning as a small flock of Bronze Manikins settled around the hanging feeder whilst others were pecking at the seed that had fallen to the ground; a Bar-throated Apalis announced its presence in the thick tangle of Cape Honeysuckle; and an Olive Thrush approached me for little bits of cheese … it all felt so ‘normal’ for a change: Speckled Mousebirds flew between bushes and even the Laughing Doves were beginning to come down from their high perches.

Then there was a sudden flurry of activity as the manikins flew off in a cloud of tiny feathers, the doves retreated to the tall Erythrina, and the mousebirds crossed to the other side of the garden in haste. I could see white paws and thick grey fur behind a daisy bush and shouted loudly. The cat retreated, but it was too late: the peaceful feeding was over for it takes a long time for the birds to settle after such an intrusion. Here a Southern Grey-headed Sparrow keeps a close watch from a safe distance.

Gardens are all the poorer for the lack of birds and so I keep trying to create a safe haven for them. Birds lie very close to my heart.

A FEW BIRDS IN THE KAROO NATIONAL PARK

Having previously experienced an abundance of birds around the camping area of the Karoo National Park, I found it disappointing this time that sparrows ruled the roost. Granted, there were House Sparrows, Cape Sparrows as well as a few Southern Grey-headed Sparrows that kept a close watch on the tents and caravans at the site – always ready to eat a crumb or two. Now and then a Southern Masked Weaver would muscle its way among the sparrows as did a few Laughing Doves. Red-winged Starlings flew overhead and we could hear the calls of Hadeda Ibises in the early morning and late afternoon. It was also fun to hear the familiar calls of the Red-eyed Doves and a pair of Bokmakieries perched in the treetops near our tent and sang lustily to each other.

The bird list provided by the Park is enticing and spending only one full day driving around the area is not sufficient to do it justice. I saw a few Speckled Mousebirds flying across the road as well as several smaller birds that could be both heard and seen from afar. Most were neither easy to identify nor to photograph as they tended to fly off as soon as our vehicle stopped or as I had almost got my camera focused! This Rufous-eared Warbler was difficult to focus on as it kept moving between these branches:

Some of the more co-operative ones were a pair of South African Shelducks in flight:

House Sparrows:

Familiar Chat:

Laughing Dove

Of course the Common Ostriches were easy to spot as we drove around the park – there were plenty of them too. It is interesting to note that these birds are able to regulate their body temperature via their long necks and their large wings. They also use gular fluttering to cool down on exceptionally hot days.

We plan to spend a lot more time in this beautiful place during our next visit!

FEBRUARY 2022 GARDEN BIRDS

This has been a very hot month and the neighbouring cats have been relentless in using our garden as a hunting ground. The birds featuring on my list below are regarded as real warriors by me – even though in many cases my sightings of them have been fleeting. They regularly visit the bird baths in this heat, and have been able to visit the nectar feeder in relative safety as well as the hanging feeders. It is the birds that prefer feeding on the ground that do so in particular fear of being caught by a cat.

Six birds have made a brief foray into the garden for the first time this year: African Hoopoes are intermittent visitors which mainly come when the ground is soft enough for them to probe it with their long beaks; the Black Cuckoo-shrike was absent last month; we seldom get to see a Bokmakierie in the garden; a Fork-tailed Drongo gave a fine aerial display across the garden the other day; a Red-fronted Tinkerbird came tantalisingly close to me but would not be photographed; and a few Yellow Weavers paid a flying visit to the hanging feeders before disappearing.

The Hadeda Ibises do a good job of waking the neighbourhood every morning – fortunately this is gradually becoming later as the sun takes longer to peer over the mountains. During this heat it is comforting to hear the burbling sounds of the Laughing Doves from within the shade of the trees.

The Greater Double-collared Sunbirds have been making their presence known and rush back and forth from the nectar feeder – never in good light or when I have my camera handy though! Cape Turtle Doves call in the late afternoons and the Black-eyed Bulbuls wolf down bits of fruit – always with a wary eye open for a cat lurking about. The Bronze Manikins mostly take food from the feeder these days as picking fallen seeds up from the ground is far too dangerous for them.

I often hear the Cape Crows go ‘boil boil’ during the day. At least one of them enjoys calling from the top of the cypress tree next door after sunset.

The pair of Grey-headed Sparrows have become very wary of approaching the feeders and almost seem to keep a look out for each other.

The colour scheme this month appears to be a sombre one – a reflection of the times perhaps.

My bird list for this month:

African Green Pigeon
African Hoopoe
Black-collared Barbet
Black Cuckoo-shrike
Black-eyed (Dark-capped) Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Cape Crow
Cape Robin-Chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Diederik Cuckoo
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Red-eyed Dove
Red-fronted Tinkerbird
Red-winged Starling
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift
Yellow Weaver

IN THE DANGER ZONE

Given the danger to birds posed by the three cats that have moved in next door, I was disturbed to find this visitor on the back lawn:

This fledgling Laughing Dove didn’t move as I approached it carefully. There were no visible signs of injury, yet it simply blinked and remained sitting very still. I resisted the impulse to pick it up so kept a close eye on it through the kitchen window while I put the finishing touches to our lunch. If ever a vulnerable bird was in a danger zone it was this one. When next I looked it had disappeared: not a feather or speck of blood in sight anywhere in the garden. I’m assuming it was resting and that it finally took flight of its own accord.