APRIL 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

I have had the feeling all month that the birds in our garden are staging a stay-away – in protest of what, I cannot tell. There hasn’t been that feeling of abundance that usually fills the garden with bird song throughout the day. True, there are no longer tons of wild figs to attract the fructivores – in their place though are other indigenous berries and blossoms. Large flocks of Redwinged Starlings still fly over from time to time, with one or two stopping by for a ‘local’ snack; a pair of Knysna Louries make regular forays through the treetops and I surprised them scuffling around in the bush next to the front path the other morning.

While the plethora of Laughing Doves and the resident Rock Pigeons make a clean sweep of the coarse seed I sprinkle on the lawn every morning, the cut apples remain largely untouched, and I seldom have to fill the ‘seed house’ more than twice a week. Our memories become blurred over time and so I thought it best to compare this month’s bird list with April 2016 – even though I was away for much of the month then. Interestingly enough, the score is about even, with eleven birds seen then not making this year’s list and twelve that I have seen this year that didn’t appear last year.

The swifts and swallows were still around in early April – later than last year; we have not yet heard, let alone seen, a Burchell’s Coucal; and the weavers have made themselves scarce earlier than expected – they are around, but in far fewer numbers.

Farewell to the Lesser-striped Swallows

Particularly interesting visitors have been a Black Harrier and a pair of Rameron Pigeons that came darting in and out of the fig tree for two days in a row before vanishing. It is the first time I have recorded the latter in our garden.

My April bird list is:
African Darter
African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Cuckoo
Black Harrier
Black Saw-wing
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Gymnogene
Hadeda Ibis
Lessser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Rameron Pigeon
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Village Weaver
Whitenecked Raven
Whiterumped Swift

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MARCH 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

What a strange month this has been for watching birds in our garden: for close on two weeks even the Laughing Doves seemed to be keeping their distance; the level of seed in the hanging feeders barely went down; and the nectar feeder has only been replenished once this month – mainly because the spout had become clogged with dead ants!

Then the birds started to return: Yellow-fronted Canaries and Bronze Manikins jostled around the seed feeder early in the mornings, making it sway to and fro with their arrivals and departures; the weavers have been arriving in smaller numbers than usual around mid-morning; a few Black-eyed Bulbuls inspect the window ledges for insects; and the various doves forage for seed scattered on the lawn in the warmer part of the day.

Fiery-necked Nightjars call through the hot evenings – at ten o’ clock last night it was still 24°C – and African Dusky Flycatchers dart about the bird bath set in the deep shade of the forested part of the garden. A family of four Black-collared Barbets, two youngsters each being fed by an adult, kept me entertained at the feeding table recently.

This is a time of change: the Whiterumped Swifts and Lesserstriped Swallows are gathering in ever large numbers in preparation for their arduous journey north; Pin-tailed Whydahs are changing into winter tweeds; weavers are looking drabber; and the African Green pigeons have moved to a more convenient food source elsewhere.

My March list is:

African Darter
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Cuckoo
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Black Saw-wing
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
Fierynecked Nightjar
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Loerie
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pintailed Whydah
Redeyed Dove
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Speckled Mousebird
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowfronted Canary
Yellow Weaver

JANUARY 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

Village weavers are probably the most ubiquitous birds in our garden and are resident throughout the year. We thus see them through all their phases, from winter drabness to the full sartorial splendour of their bright yellow breeding plumage.

Village Weaver

They used to be known as Spotted-backed Weavers until the International Ornithological Congress came up with a globally accepted set of common names. The name change has, I think, drawn attention away from a major distinguishing difference between it and the Southern Masked-weaver which looks very similar, but does not have the blotched back. The Village Weavers are often among the first birds to visit the ‘seed house’ and are not averse to tucking into the apples or drinking from the nectar feeder.

Village Weavers

The Village Weavers are avid nest builders and can frequently be seen flying around with strips of leaves or grass in their beaks. They will often start a nest and abandon it before completion and begin another in a different location. The name ‘weaver’ is an apt one and it is worth watching as they deftly weave the grass into the shape of a nest.

‘Our’ Lesser-striped swallows are tenacious about nest-building too. Having raised one chick from their newly located nest around the side of the house, the poor birds once again had to face the collapse of their nest. Undaunted, they are now placing experimental daubs of mud on the wall outside our front door!

Lesserstriped Swallow

My January bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Cuckoo
Black Saw-wing
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Greyheaded Sparrow
Gymnogene
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Red Bishop
Redeyed Dove
Redfaced Mousebird
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellow-fronted Canary
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

GOOD NEWS ON THE HOME FRONT

The Lesser-striped Swallows work so hard at building their mud nest(s) every year. Each beakful of mud probably represents more than a brick used in the construction of our houses for many carefully-borne loads of mud either miss their mark or do not stick to the surface. My heart always goes out to these birds when they return each summer and finally get to rebuild the nest they left broken at the end of the previous season. I watch, almost with bated breath, as the nest takes on its familiar shape, when the bowl is formed, and rejoice once the tunnel entrance has been completed. Every summer the nest breaks at least once and this season I was heartbroken when this happened only shortly after I had seen the swallows bringing in various materials with which to line their nest.

broken nest of lesser-striped swallow

I have reported on the pair of Lesser-striped Swallows perching on the bathroom window for days afterwards and have anxiously kept an eye on the broken abode for any sign of construction, being only too aware that the summer is moving on. There has been nothing. Dry, hot weather has reduced the available sources of mud too. How sad, I thought, as we left for our brief sojourn in the Western Cape before Christmas.

There is good news though: during our absence, this pair of swallows obviously had a serious discussion about the suitable location of their abode and … they had a re-think. All those days of sitting on the bathroom window must have given them a new idea, for they have relocated to the bathroom side of the house and built a brand new home from scratch.

new lesser-striped swallow nest

This one is tucked under the eaves and is relatively well hidden by the tall trees so will, hopefully, be safe from any takeover bids by the White-rumped Swifts. Hold thumbs that this new address will prove to be the right one, that the swallows will get to raise a family and be saved from doing any more construction work this summer.

CALAMITY STRIKES

The cracks I saw in the Lesser-striped Swallow nest have proved to be disastrous. Having watched the birds bringing lining materials one blade of grass or feather at a time, I was hopeful that their chances of raising their first family early in the season were good. That was not to be for the bowl of the nest fell down on Wednesday.

lesser-striped swallow nest

All that hard work for naught. The pair of swallows spent the night perched on the bathroom window. I listened to their chirruping with a heavy heart. A pair of White-rumped Swifts (which do not construct their own nests) spent much of yesterday flying around the house and swooping in to inspect the remains of this nest – were they responsible for the destruction? The Lesser-striped Swallows headed them off time and again. Today all is quiet. There is no sign of the swifts, and the two swallows are spending some time perched on the telephone wires or flying across the back garden. In this hot, dry weather, I cannot help wondering where they will source sufficient mud to rebuild their home. It must be so disheartening.

NOVEMBER 2016 GARDEN BIRDS

Depending on the weather, the dawn chorus begins at around half past three these days. This morning, for example, I could hear Cape White-eyes, Cape Turtle Doves, Klaas’ Cuckoos and a Cape Robin – until the raucous Hadeda Ibises joined in shortly after four o’ clock! One simply has to love these birds.

There seem to be many more Village Weavers than Cape Weavers visiting the garden of late. The males of both species look very smart in their elegant breeding livery. Laughing Doves abound and fill the warm mornings with their soft, burbling cooing. The Lesser-striped Swallows completed building their mud nest under the eaves and have spent the past week lining it with grass and lichen. The image of the nest reveals what might be a crack at the back of it – I am holding thumbs the nest will hold long enough for the eggs to hatch and the youngsters to leave. Note the different colours of the mud the birds have used in the construction of this nest.

Lesserstriped swallow nest

Lesserstriped Swallow

Birds have had to dive for cover this month both for a Black Harrier and a Yellow-billed Kite. The latter spent nearly a week roving across town and sweeping low over the garden. Fork-tailed Drongos and Black-eyed Bulbuls are quick to sound the alarm.

I have been intrigued by the Speckled Mousebirds feeding on apples that have fallen from the feeding tray to the ground; I usually associate them with clinging closely to branches as they work their way through the trees.

My November bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Harrier
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
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
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redchested Cuckoo
Redeyed Dove
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Southern Boubou
Speckled Mousebird
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowbilled Kite
Yellowfronted Canary