JUNE 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

This month has been cold and very windy at times. What remains of the lawn is covered with the dried up leaves from the Cape Chestnut and the many Pompon (Dias cotonifolia) trees. The sun rising later and remaining lower above the horizon for longer has meant that the front garden remains in full shade until well past mid-morning. Generally, this means that the birds seek the highest branches to perch on while the sun warms them up and only come down to inspect the seed I have put out much later. This has caused me to change my routine too: I only provide seed at mid-morning, when I take a break for a cup of tea and also try to find warmth in the weak sunlight.

Here a Village Weaver perches on the hanging feeder:

Although there is no fruit in the garden, there must be something to eat for a flock of at least a hundred Redwinged Starlings wheel about the suburb daily, flying from one garden to the next and filling the air with their mellifluous sounds. A flock of a similar size of Laughing Doves gather in the Erythrina caffra in the back garden almost as soon as the rays of the sun reach its uppermost branches. They gradually work their way towards the front garden, fluttering from one tree to another until one or two finally pluck up the courage to settle down to test the crushed mealie seeds sprinkled on the patches of lawn beaten hard and bare by their myriad feet. I can almost tell the time they will arrive: fifteen to twenty minutes after I have sat down.

A pair of Blackeyed Bulbuls usually arrive mid-morning to investigate what is on offer – cut apples are a favourite. Their cheerful calls from within the yellowing foliage of the Pompon trees are always welcome. With most of the aloes having finished blooming, the nectar feeder has become more popular again, attracting the Amethyst Sunbird, Forktailed Drongos, Cape Weavers, and Blackheaded Orioles among others.

My June bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
African harrier Hawk (Gymnogene)
Amethyst Sunbird (Black)
Barthroated Apalis
Barn Swallow
Blackbacked Puffback
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Heron
Blackheaded Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Shrike (Fiscal)
Common Starling
Crowned Hornbill
Eurasian Hobby
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
Redwinged Starling
Southern Black Tit
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon (Rock)
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver

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MAY GARDEN 2018

The bounty of fruit of the Natal Fig (Ficus natalensis) has been eaten, leaving lean pickings for the Redwinged Starlings and causing the majority of African Green Pigeons to seek fruit elsewhere – although some still return to roost here overnight. Apart from a wide variety of birds, such as Speckled Mousebirds, Blackeyed Bulbuls, Blackcollared Barbets, Cape White-eyes, Blackheaded Orioles, Olive Thrushes, Cape Weavers, Village Weavers, and Grey-headed Sparrows, the fruit also attracts a variety of insects and the small insectivorous bats that swoop around the garden as the day ends. The latter often remind me of D.H. Lawrence’s description of bats in the poem of the same name:

Dark air-life looping
Yet missing the pure loop…
A twitch, a twitter, an elastic shudder in flight
And serrated wings against the sky,  
Like a glove, a black glove thrown up at the light,
And falling back.

In the back garden, the Erythrina caffra (Coral tree) is sporting clusters of seedpods split open to reveal their coral-red seeds which, in due course, fall to the ground. These small, shiny seeds marked on the one side with a black spot are also known as lucky beans. Laughing Doves and Forktailed Drongos perch in the high branches to catch the warmth of the early morning sun and again in the late afternoon.

The Black Sunbirds and Greater Double-collared sunbirds as well as Blackcollared Barbets, Blackheaded Orioles, Cape- and Village Weavers as well as Redwinged starlings are regular visitors too.

I have mentioned before that the name Erythrina, originates from the Greek word erythros meaning red and alludes to the bright red flowers and seeds. Caffra is derived from the Arabic word for an unbeliever, and as used in older botanical works generally indicates that the plant was found well to the south of the range of Arab traders, that is, along the [south] eastern seaboard of South Africa. Carl Thunberg, known as the father of South African botany, gave the names in 1770.

In parts of South Africa, both the Erythrina caffra and the Erythrina lysistemon are regarded as a royal tree; much respected and admired in Zulu culture and believed to have magic properties. Specimens have been planted on the graves of many Zulu chiefs. In parts of the Eastern Cape, local inhabitants will not burn the wood of Erythrina caffra for fear of attracting lightning.

The indigenous Canary Creeper (Senecio tamoides) has come into full bloom, covering the trees and shrubs with a canopy of bright golden yellow flowers that attract the Barthroated Apalis, Cape White-eyes and a variety of butterflies. These flowers also exude a delightful aromatic scent that adds to the pleasure of being in the garden.

Equally beautiful are the bright orange tubular flowers of the Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) that are coming into bloom. These attract the nectar-feeding Amethyst Sunbirds, Greater Double-collared sunbirds, Streaky-headed Seedeaters, Cape Weavers and Village Weavers as well as several butterflies.

Trusses of the beautiful pale blue Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata) flowers are also starting to appear.

The first aloes are coming into bloom too and are visited regularly by the Amethyst Sunbirds, Greater Double-collared Sunbirds, Streakyheaded Seedeaters, Cape Weavers, Village Weavers, Blackheaded Orioles and Cape White-eyes.

DECEMBER 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

This has been an excellent month for watching birds in our garden. However, in between entertaining friends and family, celebrating Christmas, and sneaking in a visit to the Addo Elephant National Park before the year ended, there have not been many photographic opportunities, and so you may have seen some of these pictures before.

Village Weavers have continued to entertain us with their cheerful chattering, bright yellow plumage and their constant bickering at the feeding stations. Despite several nests having been crafted all over the garden, few have actually been used for breeding.

Laughing Doves are regulars too: they queue up on the telephone cable in the mornings, waiting for me to scatter seed on the lawn. They gradually move from the cable to the trees, coming ever closer until they alight cautiously. The flock (for there are many of them now) rise in an audible ‘whoosh’ at the slightest movement or sound that triggers their alarm system, only to return moments later.

Cape White-eyes are among the first garden birds to stir before first light. They are making a meal of the ripening plums at the moment! These are figs in the picture below – I haven’t one of them gorging on the plums to show you.

The Greater Double-collared Sunbird has been making ‘guest appearances’ this month as there is plenty of other food about. I always enjoy the metallic sheen of its feathers.

After a brief absence, it feels good to have the Barthroated Apalis back.

My December bird list is:

African Darter
African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Cuckoo
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Heron
Blackheaded Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie (Turaco)
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redchested Cuckoo
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Speckled Mousebird
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Canary (Seedeater)
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift

JULY 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

What an enjoyable month for watching garden birds! The on-going drought means that the food I put out is appreciated by the locals – they have been through a lot of fruit and seed this month! The latest addition to the feeding table are seed cakes which Ceridwen from next door and a friend made for me over the weekend. These have been devoured by the Fiscal Shrikes, Blackcollared Barbets, Boubous, Blackheaded Orioles – and even the Laughing Doves.

Fiscal Shrike

Morrigan’s feeder is a popular haunt in the early mornings and even has queues of birds either waiting their turn or preparing to muscle in on the fine seed I put there.

Laughing Doves

No Lanner Falcon this month, but I had a wonderful view of a Black Harrier being mobbed by a pair of Pied Crows all the way across the garden until they disappeared into the bright sun already lowering in the sky. I have often noticed a Black Harrier perched on telephone wires on the hill above our house over the past few weeks.

Other welcome newcomers to this month’s list include a Hoopoe, a couple of Spectacled Weavers and Pintailed Whydahs. The latter are still in their winter tweeds, although a few are beginning to show a paler breast – the beginnings of their summer sartorial splendour of black and white tuxedo.

Pintailed Whydah with Laughing Doves in the background

The Cape Weavers are showing their breeding blush of colour around their faces – some are almost a deep russet. With winter nearing its end (according to the calendar, if not the current temperature) Village Weavers are also coming out in their breeding colours.

Cape Weaver on the left with a Village Weaver on the right

My July bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Harrier
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Darter
Fierynecked Nightjar
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver
Whitenecked Raven

FEBRUARY 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

It is not surprising that Laughing Doves have been the dominant birds in our garden this month: their numbers have increased over the years and they are always among the first to feed on the coarse maize seed I scatter on the lawn in the mornings. It takes about twenty minutes from the time of doing so until first one or two come down, soon to be followed by the rest of the gang that have flown ever closer to the source of the food – from the telephone cable in the back garden, to the Cape Chestnut, to the Wild Plum (perching ever lower down) until over thirty of them make short work of the maize. A few adventurous ones perch on Morrigan’s feeder to get the fine seed and some manage to hang onto the seed house for long enough to get some of the seed there.

Laughing Doves

Nesting time is far from over: the Lesser-striped Swallows completed their mud nest outside our front door – with the result we tend to use either the kitchen door or the side door to give them some peace. The White-rumped Swifts do not have any compunction about trying to usurp this nest for their own progeny and so the swallows have had to devote a lot of energy towards defending their home territory.

Careful observation of a pair of Olive Thrushes finally revealed their nesting site right next to the garden path!

Olive Thrush nest

Weavers have also continued building nests around the garden.

Weaver nest

I thought I would compare this month’s bird list with that of February last year. Seven species have not been seen, while thirteen others have come to the garden that were not seen last year.

My February list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Cuckoo
Black Cuckooshrike
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Black Saw-wing
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Boubou
Brimstone Canary
Bronze Manikin
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Common Waxbill
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Gymnogene
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Knysna Loerie
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Red Bishop
Redeyed Dove
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Thickbilled Weaver
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowbilled Kite
Yellow Weaver

MATUTINAL PLEASURES

I wake very early. Even as a young child I developed the habit of lying in bed while the household was still asleep, listening to the matutinal sounds outside. This morning was no exception: Cape White-eyes were the first to warble their way through the shrubbery outside my bedroom window. Oddly enough, the Hadeda Ibises remained silent until well after sunrise. Instead, the infrequent cackling chorus of Red-billed (Green) Wood-hoopoes filled the garden with a joyous anticipation of a beautiful day.

Cape White-eye

A beautiful day it is already, with Lesser-striped Swallows scything through the clear air, Black-eyed Bulbuls greeting the world and Black-headed Orioles calling from a vantage point out of my line of sight. The Fork-tailed Drongos are already diving for insects and the Village and Cape Weavers are chirpily vying for the seed left over in the feeder. A male Pin-tailed Whydah is asserting his territorial boundaries.

Pin-tailed Whydah

It is a pleasure listening to the fluting whistles and frog-like grunts of the African Green Pigeons from deep within the thickening foliage of the Natal Fig tree – already bearing tiny fruits – followed by the rasping sounds announcing the return of the Knysna Louries (Turacos). Laughing Doves are beginning to gather on the telephone cable and are taking up positions on the sunny branches of the Erythrina caffra – doubtless waiting for their ‘breakfast’!

Knysna Lourie

The distant sound of barking dogs alert me to the wakefulness of other people beginning their matutinal strolls, fanning their way through the suburb streets either to work or for healthy exercise. Traffic noise builds up quickly to almost blot out the call of a solitary Cape Robin. A Black (Amethyst) Sunbird flies past my window. Then a car hooter breaks the spell of my early matutinal pleasure – I haven’t even stepped outside yet!

Cape Robin

BIRDING OVER COFFEE

It was during a twenty minute coffee break in the shady part of our garden this morning that I observed an Olive Thrush hungrily stabbing at an apple on the feeding tray. Its head bobbed up and down as the juicy flesh was hastily consumed: eating as if there were no tomorrow. It wanted the fare to itself and chased off any other potential feeders – mostly weavers – which hovered on the branches above or dared to perch on the edge of the tray.

A pair of Rock Pigeons pecked at the coarse seeds scattered among the still un-mowed grass, joined by a small flock of Laughing Doves so skittish that they would ‘whoosh’ up in a flurry at the slightest sound: a power drill next door, a light aeroplane flying low overhead, or a heavy truck passing along the street below.

laughing doves

A more daring one later usurped Morrigan’s bench-like feeder for a more ‘secure’ breakfast.

laughing dove

A solitary Cape Weaver, sporting the delightful blush of the breeding season, took the gap during the absence of the Olive Thrush to swoop down and gobble up bread crumbs on the feeding tray. Village Weavers opted to feed on the fine seeds in the hanging feeder I call the ‘seed house’.

village weavers

In a surprising move a Southern Boubou hopped onto the ‘seed house’ to peck at the fine seeds within. It usually skulks along the ground to peck at titbits dropped from the feeding tray above or picks at the fruit. A more varied diet was called for this morning, for it then grabbed a sizeable morsel of bread to eat on the ground in the shadows before perching on Morrigan’s feeder for more fine seeds: peck, look around; peck, look around …

Meanwhile, Cape Turtle Doves cooed from the treetops whilst a bevy of Cape White-eyes flitted between the branches above me, chirping loudly as they scoured the foliage for food. Just then a pair of Grey-headed Sparrows perched on a branch, waiting their turn to muscle in between the weavers on the ‘seed house’. They too took the gap to breakfast on Morrigan’s feeder.

grey-headed sparrows

Then there was the Black-headed Oriole that came to quench its thirst.

blackheaded oriole