APRIL 2021 GARDEN BIRDS

I am delighted to report that the African Green Pigeons are back in full force this month. Their characteristic grunting sounds are heard from early in the morning and, if I look carefully at the shaking leaves in the fig tree, I catch sight of some of them most afternoons. An exciting visitor, even though I only saw it once, was a single male Dusky Indigo bird – I have not seen these in my garden for some years. Yet another interesting visitor has been a single female Thick-billed Weaver: she has made several forays into the feeding area and has perched on the edge of the bird bath a few times – never when I have my camera though!

In other news, the ‘tame’ Common Fiscal we call Meneer still comes to collect his handout from me several times a week. These days he usually collects a maximum of two tiny pieces of meat and flies away. His rival, the ringed Common Fiscal, frequently sits in the branches above my head and eyes my offerings, but prefers to go to the feeding tray for his meals.

Depending on what is on offer, the feeding tray can get rather busy at times – look at these weavers having a feast.

While these females might appear to be chatting while they eat, it is not always a harmonious scene. Here a female weaver is telling off a Black-eyed Bulbul. He looks quite affronted.

It wasn’t a good day for the bulbuls, for here an Olive Thrush is approaching one in a threatening manner.

As we still have no rain, there is sunshine aplenty. These Laughing Doves are sunning themselves on the bare ground underneath the seed feeders.

Lastly, a pair of Southern Boubous have become regular visitors. They skulk around in the undergrowth or call loudly to each other from hidden perches. I have only seen one of them coming out into the open to feed at any one time.

My bird list for this month:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Mannikin
Cape Batis
Cape Crow
Cape Robin-Chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Dusky Indigo Bird
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Forest Canary
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Bush Shrike
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Red-eyed Dove
Red-winged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Thick-billed Weaver
Village Weaver
Yellow Weaver

MARCH 2021 GARDEN BIRDS

This has been the month for subtle seasonal changes. Whatever the calendar might suggest, nature knows what to do when. So it is that the Pin-tailed Whydah has lost his long tail feathers and the tweed of his winter coat is beginning to shine through his worn out tuxedo; the Cape Weavers no longer carry a deep blush; and the weavers in general are all looking a little tatty. Although the Lesser-striped Swallows departed for northern climes earlier in the month, a few White-rumped Swifts continue to fly low over the garden or can be seen twisting and turning high in the sky against the late afternoon light. Thankfully, the Hadeda Ibises are waking later now that the early mornings remain darker for longer!

A pair of Olive Thrushes either chase each other from the feeding area or appear singly to pick out food from the feeding tray and take it to the ground to eat.

A pair of Southern Boubous have become regular visitors to the feeder, usually only one at a time, and I hear them calling to each other during the day. The beautiful orange Cape Honeysuckle is coming into bloom and already the Southern Masked Weavers are biting the tubular flowers off at the base to get at the nectar.

Now that the Common Fiscals are no longer feeding their fledglings I see them less often. The tame one we call Meneer still alights on the garden table now and then to collect its personal handout. Speckled Pigeons seem to breed throughout the year. There are now a lot of them living in our roof!

These two Laughing Doves seem to have run out of things to say to each other.

A Cardinal Woodpecker announced its presence nearby recently with a typical rat-a-tat sound as it tapped at old wood for insects. It took me a little while to spot it through a tangle of shrubbery, where it was hammering away at the trunk of a long dead plum tree.

Green Woodhoopoes pay fleeting visits to the garden to probe old wood, between dry aloe leaves, and cracks for food. This one is a youngster, still lacking the bright beak and the patterns on its tail. It was exploring a tree in the company of several adults.

My bird list for this month:

Bar-throated Apalis

Black-collared Barbet

Black-eyed Bulbul

Black-headed Oriole

Bronze Mannikin

Cape Crow

Cape Robin-Chat

Cape Turtle Dove

Cape Weaver

Cape White-eye

Cardinal Woodpecker

Cattle Egret

Common Fiscal

Common Starling

Fiery-necked Nightjar

Fork-tailed Drongo

Greater Double-collared Sunbird

Green Woodhoopoe

Grey-headed Sparrow

Hadeda Ibis

Knysna Turaco

Laughing Dove

Olive Thrush

Pied Crow

Pin-tailed Whydah

Red-eyed Dove

Red-winged Starling

Sacred Ibis

Sombre Bulbul

Southern Boubou

Southern Masked Weaver

Speckled Mousebird

Speckled Pigeon

Streaky-headed Seedeater

Village Weaver

White-rumped Swift

PREENING TIME

What does preening make you think of?

In human terms it would refer to someone who not only devotes time and effort to look attractive, but spends time admiring his or her appearance. For birds, preening is a different matter altogether: they clean and tidy their feathers with their beaks – an important part of their hygiene to be sure, but also to keep their feathers in prime condition for flying and to rid themselves of any pesky parasites. I have watched Laughing Doves and Olive Thrushes preening themselves in our garden.

Laughing Dove

Apart from removing dust and parasites from their feathers, preening also oils the feathers before the birds carefully aligning each one into the most aerodynamic shape to assist the birds to make their flight more efficient.

Olive Thrush

What both humans and birds have in common as far as preening is concerned is that maintaining a healthy and attractive appearance is more likely to attract a life partner and friends – the latter being far more important to humans than to birds. Birds need to attract a strong mate with a view to raising healthy chicks.

Here a pair of aquatic birds are preening themselves: a White-breasted Cormorant at the back is stretching its wings to dry, while the Black-headed Heron in front is still heavily involved in the preening process.

The heron is at last satisfied that all its feathers are in place and straightens itself – there is no need to peek at its reflection in the dam for it knows that it looks perfect!

NOVEMBER 2020 GARDEN BIRDS

While this has been another wonderful month for observing birds in our garden, having undergone major eye surgery at the start of it has put paid to me taking many photographs – only the Common Fiscal one is new. I apologise if you recognise the others from previous posts.

The saga of the Common Fiscals keep me entertained on a daily basis. There is definitely antagonism between the ringed one and what I call the Friendly Fiscal. The latter has come to expect its own portion of food, which I place in a dish on the garden table while I am there. It still either eats out of my hand or helps itself if I am eating or drinking. The ringed one perches in the branches above and clearly intimidates my friend. Mind you, it remains far too cautious to collect the food itself! You will be hearing more about their interactions.

I think the Blackheaded Oriole is one of the most handsome looking birds in our garden and so I am always pleased when they come to drink from the nectar feeder or taste the fare on the feeding table. They are enjoying the Natal figs this month.

As you have become aware, Laughing Doves abound – filling the garden with their delightful cooing and providing endless entertainment as they court each other, chase off rivals, spread their wings out to sun themselves, or perch on the seed feeders meant for much smaller birds.

Then there is the Boubou, which is heard more often than it is seen.

Lastly the Olive Thrushes, which make regular appearances here, delight in the way they edge closer to me if they sense there is more interesting food in the offing; have the sharpest eyesight that can spot a tiny block of cheese that falls some distance from them – even it is hidden under a flower; are among the first to sample the fresh fruit; and are among the last calls to be heard before darkness sets in.

A single Southern Red Bishop appeared at the feeders for two days in a row before disappearing. Cape Wagtails have been skirting the swimming pool, making quick flights over it to catch insects, and have been combing the lawn for caterpillars. Several Green Woodhoopoes have cackled their way through the trees and aloes, and on these warm nights we are lulled to sleep by the mellifluous sounds of a nearby Fiery-necked Nightjar.

My November bird list:

African Green Pigeon
African Harrier Hawk
Amethyst Sunbird
Barthroated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-headed Oriole
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Crow
Cape Robin-chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Dark-capped Bulbul
Diederik Cuckoo
Fierynecked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Doublecollared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Redchested Cuckoo
Red-eyed Dove
Red-winged Starling
Sombre Greenbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Southern Red Bishop
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift
Yellowfronted Canary

SEPTEMBER 2020 GARDEN BIRDS

We have been treated throughout the month by the scarlet blossoms of the Erythrina caffra, which attracts a variety of birds throughout the day. A flock of Speckled Mousebirds make regular forays there to feed on the nectar.

Meanwhile, I am greeted daily by a flock of Laughing Doves perched either on the telephone line or in a nearby tree, waiting for me to put out seed for them. They would eat me out of house and home, so they are treated once a day only!

I have mentioned that two Common Fiscals have become regular visitors. The un-ringed one is increasingly tame / brave enough to perch on me and to eat food from my hand. I suspect it now expects to have its private supply of food for it hovers above my shoulder until I have sat down and then inspects what I have brought out. It once even came into the house when we were having tea indoors because of the inclement weather, but made its way out very quickly. The fiscal pictured below (with a ring) is a long-time garden visitor, yet maintains a distance. I have always used its ring as a means of identification. Now that we see the two of them on a daily basis, I have noticed other differences: this one does not have the same distinct eyebrows as the other, and it has a permanent dark spot on its front.

Some of you remarked on the crest of the Dark-capped Bulbul last month and so I feature one again, along with a good view of the yellow vent under its tail.

Another bird that got itself lost indoors was a Speckled Pigeon that probably entered through an open window in the bathroom. I first saw it on top of a cupboard in the upstairs passage and opened the window closest to it and left – only to return to my study a while later to find it perched on the curtain rail, having knocked photographs from the windowsill and scattered papers from my desk all over the floor! This time I caught it behind a curtain and almost shoved it out of the nearest window.

Of special note is the return of White-rumped Swifts in greater numbers. There is still no sign of Lesser-striped Swallows: I wonder if they ‘know’ there is no mud here with which to build their nests.

My September bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
African Hoopoe
Amethyst Sunbird
Black-collared Barbet
Black-headed Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin-chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Dark-capped Bulbul
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Red-eyed Dove
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-throated Wryneck
Red-winged Starling
Sombre Greenbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift