AND THE BATTLE WAS LOST

I mentioned in the October round-up of birds in my garden that the resident pair of Lesser-striped Swallows have had a torrid time, defending their nest against a bevy of White-rumped Swifts intent on usurping it to breed their own offspring. The aerial combat was so fast and furious and the acrobatics so remarkable that these birds easily put the Silver Falcons to shame.

The swallows had left their mud nest intact at the end of last summer and I had such high hopes for them that it was with a degree of triumph that I ended my October report with the words, so far the swallows are winning.

They haven’t.

To quote from the delightful nursery rhyme, Who killed cock robin?

All the birds of the air

Fell a-sighing and a-sobbing

Well, most wouldn’t care, would they, but I felt and heard the keening and sad chirruping as the swallows contemplated their future. They discussed their ‘home grab’ at length in the late afternoons while perched on the ledge of the bathroom window. They eyed different locations and met to discuss their building plans as they perched on the telephone wire.

They mourned the loss of their snug little home as they wheeled about the sky. You see, the swifts had taken over the home of Mr and Mrs Swallow. It is the swifts who have now lined the snug nest with feathers glued together with their saliva.

The ever-practical swallows have returned to the blueprint they attempted last summer – shortly before building their dream home – and have rebuilt a nest under the eaves outside the bathroom.

The tiny balls of mud on the right-hand side is a remnant from their nest that fell down last year.

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OCTOBER 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

Spring has definitely sprung once the cuckoos come to town. Klaas’ Cuckoo was an early arrival and has now been joined by both the Diederik Cuckoo and the Redchested Cuckoo – aptly known as the Piet-my-vrou here, for that is exactly what its call sounds like!

The Olive Thrushes have been productive, filling the garden with their spotted offspring that quickly progress from being fed in their nests to being fed on the ground to foraging for food on their own. One such youngster had the temerity to challenge a Cape Weaver at the feeding tray by opening its beak wide and pushing its head forwards in what probably looked like a menacing manner. In response the Cape Weaver fluffed up its feathers (probably to increase its apparent size) and took a step forward, causing the young upstart to back down.

Olive Thrush

A Blackcollared Barbet swooped to the ground to swipe a chunk of apple being pecked at by another young Olive Thrush. The latter watched helplessly from the side as its tasty meal was gobbled up. Once the coast was clear, it moved in to wrestle with the apple skin that had been left behind. The Fork-tailed Drongos are adept at this type of stealing.

Forktailed Drongo

The ringed Fiscal Shrike I have introduced to you before has been a regular visitor to the feeding table, gobbling up food before flying off with tit-bits in its beak in the direction of its nest, which is somewhere in the back garden. During the course of this month it has advanced to carrying food to a youngster squeaking from a tangle of branches a little distance from the feeding table.

I heard a cacophony outside my bedroom window on the last morning of the month. Looking down on the tree canopy below, I could hear the distress calls of a Cape Robin and saw an Olive Thrush darting in and out of the leaves, along with a Fork-tailed Drongo and a couple of Village Weavers. When the birds club together like this there must be trouble brewing. I went out to investigate and saw a very long snake – probably a Boomslang – weaving its way through the canopy. It was far too quick for me to photograph, so I watched it being pursued by the avian air force until it slithered into the hedge.

Birds lead a tough life. Our resident Lesser-striped Swallows have had a torrid time too, having to defend their nest against a bevy of White-rumped Swifts intent on usurping their nest to breed their own offspring. So far the swallows are winning.

Lesserstriped Swallow

My October bird list is:

African Darter
African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Harrier
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou
Brimstone Canary
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
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Red Bishop
Redchested Cuckoo
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift

SEPTEMBER 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

Where did September go? In the way of all busy months it seems to have disappeared in a flash. September is a watershed month: the official start of spring after the equinox; the budding of leaves and flowers – a genuine renewal of life in nature; a sprinkling of spring rain to aid that renewal; the arrival of seasonal birds, such as the Lesser-striped Swallows; courting and nest-building amongst the birds – and the biting chill of the end of winter coupled with a few teasing days of sunshine warm enough to make us revel in 30°C heat, only to be plunged into the cold again.

It is good to hear the cheerful calls of the Bokmakierie and to catch the odd glimpse of Cape Wagtails. It was while I was having tea in the garden (sans camera – of course!) that I observed four Common Waxbills feeding on the fine seed dropped from the feeder above them. As if that wasn’t enough, I looked up to find a single Crowned Hornbill observing me from a nearby tree. It sat in full view for about fifteen minutes before flying off.

A pair of Fiscal Shrikes have been chasing each other around the garden. One of them has been ringed, as you can see in this photograph:

Ringed Fiscal Shrike

I mentioned the arrival of the Whiterumped Swifts last month – there a large numbers of them wheeling through the sky now. For me, the true sign of the arrival of spring with a promise of summer ahead is the Lesserstriped Swallow. I have often recorded their triumphs and disasters as far as nest-building and raising their young is concerned. For the first time, a pair of these swallows left a mud nest intact outside our front door. For the first time then, they have been able to twitter and chirp, happy in the knowledge that no nest-building is required after their long journey south. The two of them have wasted no time in re-lining their nest and are already ensconced in it – doubtless having started their family weeks ahead of previous schedules.

Courting on the lamp directly opposite their nest

My September bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Harrier
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Common Waxbill
Crowned Hornbill
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowbilled Kite

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

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