DRAWN TO WATER

As we are experiencing the heat of summer, it seems fitting to draw attention to the attraction of water for birds and animals. I start in my garden then travel through my archives to a wonderful time spent – oh so long ago – in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

An Olive Thrush chooses a quiet moment to step into the shallow bird bath tucked into a shady section of the garden, where there is plenty of cover nearby to duck into should the need arise. It glances around whilst standing stock-still, as if it is assessing what dangers might be lurking around before it takes a few sips of water then splashes itself liberally in the bird bath.

Five Cape White-eyes gather for a communal drink and bathe at a different bird bath in a sunnier spot – still with plenty of cover to dive into if necessary.

This Speckled Pigeon casts a wary eye upwards before settling into the same bird bath for a drink.

Further afield, a lioness slakes her thirst at a water trough in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

So does a Gemsbok, accompanied by a trio of Cape Turtle Doves.

Lastly, a Yellow Mongoose ignores a swarm of thirsty bees to drink at a bird bath set underneath a communal tap in one of the rest camps in the Kgalagadi.

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

AUGUST 2020 GARDEN BIRDS

This has been an interesting month for watching birds in our garden, beginning with the unmistakable sound of Red-necked Spurfowl under my bedroom window early in the morning. I counted six – not regular visitors, yet I am pleased to see how far they have ventured into the garden. One even hopped up onto the raised bird bath for a drink.

The Black-eyed Bulbuls (Dark-capped these days!) are courting – I watched a pair canoodling on the branches, looking very lovey-dovey – in numbers. This morning I counted eight of them in the feeding area. Several Speckled Mousebirds can also be seen cosying up to each other. The two Common Fiscals (one ringed and the other not) are clearly rivals and dart in and out trying to avoid each other. When they do meet they set up a loud haranguing match and have even attacked each other! I have observed a fiscal spreading out its tail feathers when confronted by a Black-collared Barbet at the feeding tray – determined to stand its ground. The barbets nearly always arrive as a pair. Another regular pair of visitors is the Streakyheaded Seedeater.

I put out both fine and coarse seed daily as well as filling up the nectar feeder. Other fare usually includes fruit, finely chopped pieces of meat, cat crumbles, or fat smeared on biscuits or thin slices of bread. This month I decided to take careful note of who ate what:

Dark-capped Bulbuls have enjoyed fat, cheese and fruit.

Both Common Fiscals seem to eat anything that is not fruit and are particularly partial to meat. This one, however, snitched part of my breakfast!

While the Red-winged Starlings are partial to fruit, they also eat cheese. This female is about to tuck into the pears.

Speckled Mousebirds prefer fruit and are prepared to wait their turn for it.

I usually associate weavers with eating the grain. These Cape Weavers, however, are tucking into a piece of fish. They also eat cat food, cheese, and fat.

The pair of Cape Robin-chats usually wait in the wings for the main rush to be over before they feed. I have seen them eating fat, as well as tiny portions of meat. This one has been eating cat food.

Common Starlings seem to eat anything. They tuck into fruit, cheese, fat, bread and cat food with relish.

I associate Cape White-eyes with fruit, nectar, and aphids. Yesterday though a few of them made off with tiny cubes of cheese.

My August bird list is:
African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul (Black-cap)
Black-headed Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin-chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Crowned Hornbill
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Longbilled Crombec
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Red-eyed Dove
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-throated Wryneck
Red-winged Starling
Spectacled Weaver
Sombre Greenbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver
Yellowfronted Canary

WHAT A TANGLED WEB WE WEAVE

While the quotation Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive! (Sir Walter Scott) uses the imagery of a spider’s web, it often springs to mind when I walk past this enormous Natal fig (Ficus natalensis) growing next to the road around the corner from where we live. Look at the intricacy of the large trunk and the air roots that have become so entwined over the years – much as that ‘small white lie’ might grow and twist until one can become completely ensnared by it.

No, this isn’t a moral tale – merely an analogy. We too have a magnificent Natal fig in our garden, the base of which is somewhat hidden by a number of clivia plants.

It was big thirty years ago and now has a very wide drooping canopy of shade, with branches that stretch right over the street!

While the figs are not edible to humans, they attract a wide variety birds which relish them.

The broad branches provide adequate roosting spots for several Hadeda Ibises that come in to land during the late afternoon and generally start waking up the neighbourhood about half an hour before sunrise every morning. Here two of them are perched on a branch.

Other birds commonly seen in this tree are Red-eyed Doves, Red-winged Starlings, Speckled Mousebirds, Cape White-eyes, Black-collared Barbets, and Olive Thrushes.

We are always delighted when a flock of African Green Pigeons settle in to devour the fruit.

We have seen Olive Thrushes and Speckled Mousebirds nesting in the tree, as well as Fork-tailed Drongos. Here a parent has just brought food to its youngster.

A thick layer of mulch has gathered underneath the tree, so thick that one can sink into it. One has to step through it with care – this puff adder emerged from it into our neighbour’s garden three years ago.