FEBRUARY 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

It is not surprising that Laughing Doves have been the dominant birds in our garden this month: their numbers have increased over the years and they are always among the first to feed on the coarse maize seed I scatter on the lawn in the mornings. It takes about twenty minutes from the time of doing so until first one or two come down, soon to be followed by the rest of the gang that have flown ever closer to the source of the food – from the telephone cable in the back garden, to the Cape Chestnut, to the Wild Plum (perching ever lower down) until over thirty of them make short work of the maize. A few adventurous ones perch on Morrigan’s feeder to get the fine seed and some manage to hang onto the seed house for long enough to get some of the seed there.

Laughing Doves

Nesting time is far from over: the Lesser-striped Swallows completed their mud nest outside our front door – with the result we tend to use either the kitchen door or the side door to give them some peace. The White-rumped Swifts do not have any compunction about trying to usurp this nest for their own progeny and so the swallows have had to devote a lot of energy towards defending their home territory.

Careful observation of a pair of Olive Thrushes finally revealed their nesting site right next to the garden path!

Olive Thrush nest

Weavers have also continued building nests around the garden.

Weaver nest

I thought I would compare this month’s bird list with that of February last year. Seven species have not been seen, while thirteen others have come to the garden that were not seen last year.

My February list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Cuckoo
Black Cuckooshrike
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Black Saw-wing
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Boubou
Brimstone Canary
Bronze Manikin
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Common Waxbill
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Gymnogene
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Knysna Loerie
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Red Bishop
Redeyed Dove
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Thickbilled Weaver
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowbilled Kite
Yellow Weaver

TAILLESS OLIVE THRUSH

Let me tell you the tale of the tailless Olive Thrush:

olive thrush

A few days ago my neighbour told of an Olive Thrush that had flown about their kitchen in a state of panic. “I don’t know why,” he said, “for we often get them coming indoors to peck at the dog food just inside the door.” This one might have been caught off-guard – who can tell? It flew around too high to make it through the door, knocking into things and fluttering its wings when caught off-balance. With the best of intentions, my neighbours eventually managed to shoo it out of the door. “As it flew out, it dropped its tail feathers!”

Olive Thrushes are seen regularly in our garden and have enjoyed a good breeding season – several of their spotted offspring have been brave enough to come and feed on their own. Doubtless their parents are already rearing another brood. So I have kept an eye out for the tailless one.

There it was one morning, feeding a youngster at the base of the tree close to where I was sitting! I was curious to see whether or not it could fly sans a tail: it fluttered high enough to peck at the cut apples; I saw it bathing in the raised bird bath behind me; and at last saw it flying across the garden with food in its beak – on its way to feed the chick perhaps.

Some days have passed since the ‘kitchen incident’ and now I can clearly see the start of new tail feathers growing:

olive thrush

BIRDING OVER COFFEE

It was during a twenty minute coffee break in the shady part of our garden this morning that I observed an Olive Thrush hungrily stabbing at an apple on the feeding tray. Its head bobbed up and down as the juicy flesh was hastily consumed: eating as if there were no tomorrow. It wanted the fare to itself and chased off any other potential feeders – mostly weavers – which hovered on the branches above or dared to perch on the edge of the tray.

A pair of Rock Pigeons pecked at the coarse seeds scattered among the still un-mowed grass, joined by a small flock of Laughing Doves so skittish that they would ‘whoosh’ up in a flurry at the slightest sound: a power drill next door, a light aeroplane flying low overhead, or a heavy truck passing along the street below.

laughing doves

A more daring one later usurped Morrigan’s bench-like feeder for a more ‘secure’ breakfast.

laughing dove

A solitary Cape Weaver, sporting the delightful blush of the breeding season, took the gap during the absence of the Olive Thrush to swoop down and gobble up bread crumbs on the feeding tray. Village Weavers opted to feed on the fine seeds in the hanging feeder I call the ‘seed house’.

village weavers

In a surprising move a Southern Boubou hopped onto the ‘seed house’ to peck at the fine seeds within. It usually skulks along the ground to peck at titbits dropped from the feeding tray above or picks at the fruit. A more varied diet was called for this morning, for it then grabbed a sizeable morsel of bread to eat on the ground in the shadows before perching on Morrigan’s feeder for more fine seeds: peck, look around; peck, look around …

Meanwhile, Cape Turtle Doves cooed from the treetops whilst a bevy of Cape White-eyes flitted between the branches above me, chirping loudly as they scoured the foliage for food. Just then a pair of Grey-headed Sparrows perched on a branch, waiting their turn to muscle in between the weavers on the ‘seed house’. They too took the gap to breakfast on Morrigan’s feeder.

grey-headed sparrows

Then there was the Black-headed Oriole that came to quench its thirst.

blackheaded oriole

 

OCTOBER 2016 GARDEN BIRDS

October has been filled with birds in our garden – all are either courting, or feeding their chicks. The Olive Thrushes must have been particularly successful as there are many more of them around than we have seen for a long time. Sadly, I found one this morning in the back garden that had been killed by the large tabby cat that lives next door.

It is pleasing to see that the Lesser-striped Swallows have begun rebuilding their mud nest in earnest since the first drizzle during the middle of the month. The cup-shaped part is nearly complete and it is interesting to note the different colours of the mud they have found.

Lesserstripedswallownest

A pair of Grey-headed Sparrows visit the feeding station every morning after the rush of doves and weavers is over.

Greyheadedsparrow

For many years we had a single male Pin-tailed Whydah that dominated the feeding area in our garden, chasing all the birds away – including the large Rock Pigeons – if he could in between courting females by ‘dancing’ in the air. I assume that one died eventually for we have only seen them in passing over the past year or so. This summer several males, all with different length tails, and a few females regularly come to feed on the fine seed that falls from the feeder when the weavers are eating. It appears as if our garden has become the neutral feeding station where peace – of a sort – reigns.

pintailedwhydah

Speaking of Rock Pigeons, one has finally worked out how to balance on Morrigan’s feeder!

rockpigeon

My October bird list is:

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

FEEDING THE NEXT GENERATION

I noticed this spider-hunting wasp while I was watching birds the other morning. What attracted me to its presence was the speed with which it was running around this way and that. It seemed to be looking for something in the grass and leaf litter at my feet.

wasp looking for prey

Then the wasp emerged from the leaves bearing a fleshy-looking spider. According to African Insect Life by S.H. Skaife, the wasp stings the spider in order to paralyse it rather than to kill it.

spider-hunting wasp

She then takes the spider to a previously prepared hole, lays her eggs on its abdomen, and covers the hole. In this way the wasp can ensure a fresh supply of food for her offspring as, after hatching, the larva feed on the spider until it is time to spin a cocoon.

spider-hunting wasp dragging its prey

Looking up from all this interesting activity, I saw an Olive Thrush collecting caterpillars for its young.

olive thrush

Life, for everything on this planet, is geared towards feeding the next generation.

FEBRUARY 2016 GARDEN BIRDS

I was away for a good part of February so I blame my absence rather than the weather or the season for my relatively short bird list.

The Boubou (Laniarius ferrugineus) is usually fairly secretive and rather solitary in our garden – except when courting. The synchronised duets of courting pairs are beautiful to listen to. I feel fairly privileged whenever I see one skulking about in the undergrowth and very privileged if it deigns to inspect the offerings on the feeding tray to peck at the fruit. They mainly eat earthworms, insects and snails. According to the Roberts Bird Guide they also eat mice – please Boubou, won’t you gobble up the rat that regards the feeding tray as its private banquet?

Boubou

While on the subject of food: I have mentioned Fork-tailed Drongos diving down to catch hapless caterpillars exposed during my gardening activities, stealing food from weavers on the wing, featured images of them drinking from the nectar feeder, and voiced my suspicion that they may have raided – and broken – the nest of the Lesser-striped Swallows last season. While they mostly appear to be insect eaters, small birds and nectar have also been recorded. It wasn’t until this month that I witnessed a Fork-tailed Drongo eating a bird. This is not a good photograph yet I include it as a record of a Fork-tailed Drongo eating a Cape White-eye.

Fork-tailed Drongo

I also observed a female Greater Double-collared Sunbird collecting feathers with which to line her nest hidden in the back garden.

Greater Double-collared Sunbird

The burdens of the breeding season are not yet over. Here is an Olive Thrush gathering breakfast for its offspring:

Olive Thrush

My February list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Cuckoo
Black Harrier
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Knysna Loerie
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pintailed Whydah
Redeyed Dove
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowfronted Canary

DECEMBER 2014 GARDEN BIRDS

DECEMBER 2014 GARDEN BIRDS

What a joy to start this month with the sound of cackling laughter in the garden as a small group of Red-billed Wood-hoopoes (now called Green Wood-hoopoes) picked their way through the trees looking for insects and grubs. Their cheerful sounds and fleeting visits are always welcome.

The arrival of an African Goshawk had the other birds scurrying for cover. They have had to do the same whenever a Black Harrier skimmed the top of the trees for several days in a row. It is incredible how quickly the sense of danger is communicated from one bird to another.

I am used to flocks of doves and weavers rising with a ‘whoosh’ of feathers at an unusually loud noise from passing vehicles, the arrival of the neighbouring hound, or the footsteps of an unexpected visitor. One or two braver laughing Doves often remain on the lawn and look around as if wondering what all the fuss is about before they resume pecking at the seed scattered between the blades of grass. Not when an obvious predator is about though. Then all the birds disappear in a flash and even the youngsters, which moments before had been quivering their feathers and cheeping loudly for food, are silent until some sort of all clear is given.

The other day we were amused to watch a pair of Fork-tailed Drongos chasing away a Black Crow, which cawed loudly in protest. They didn’t give up until the crow had flown some distance away. I wonder if it had got to close to their nest. I haven’t located one, but regularly see the pair of them in the fig tree.

The Sacred Ibises and Cattle Egrets have been sighted more regularly this month, usually late in the afternoon when the sun highlights their wings as they fly over.

The Lesser-striped Swallows now flit in and out of their recently completed replacement nest. I keep my fingers crossed that the overcast weather we have been experiencing since Christmas is helping the clay globules to dry slowly and firmly so that these birds can successfully raise their young this time around.

Olive Thrushes and Cape Robins have been successful in this department: their respective speckled offspring are evident all over the garden. Cape Weavers and Village Weavers continue to devote a lot of energy to feeding their youngsters. I have also noticed Black-eyed Bulbuls stuffing their beaks before flying off, but have not yet located their nesting site.

Both the Black Sunbirds and the Greater Double-collared Sunbirds visit the ‘pub’ regularly, as do the Fork-tailed Drongos, Cape White-eyes, Black-headed Orioles, Black-eyed Bulbuls and the weavers.

It is lovely hearing the liquid calls of the Burchell’s Coucals again. These ‘rain birds’ transport me back to the farm of my childhood: whenever their calls could be heard during a particularly long dry spell, farmers and their labourers alike would hopefully remark that the rain would surely be coming at last.

This blog started very tentatively a year ago. Thank you to those who read it from time to time, for the encouraging ‘likes’, comments and especially to those who have become ‘followers’. It is gratifying to know that there really is an audience out there!

My December list is:

African Goshawk
African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Cuckoo
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Black Harrier
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou Shrike
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Grey Heron
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pintailed Whydah
Redeyed Dove
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redchested Cuckoo
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Black Tit
Speckled Mousebird
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift