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

EARTH DAY 2021

The veld has been tinder dry for weeks as the relentless drought continues. A grass fire, fanned by hot wind, raced through the mountains around our town at the weekend, engulfing us in a blanket of smoke and ash. Today the Mountain Drive area looks bleak and black. Yet, Earth Day is one that encourages us to look at our environment more closely; to get to know it better; to consider what we can do to protect and nurture it better; as well as being thankful for what we have.

How extremely thankful I am for the 4mm of soft rain that we were blessed with during the night!

This has encouraged the canary creeper buds to open – these are the first of what should become a waterfall of bright blooms.

The Crassula ovata is also covered with buds waiting to open.

Meanwhile, the Cape honeysuckle flowers are already providing swathes of bright colour and a useful source of nectar.

The Virginia creeper is showing off its autumn colours.

In keeping with these autumnal colours, it is fortuitous that an Olive Thrush was the first bird to greet me this morning.

Happy Earth Day!

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

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!