MORNING MEETING

“We need to discuss the dry state of our world”, said the Speckled Mousebird while perching on a sturdy twig of the plum tree that had finally succumbed to one drought too many. Its mates cuddled together and watched the proceedings from on high as the Olive Thrush flew up to perch next to him – keeping a beady eye out for any sign of food below. “Fruit would be good,” it said mournfully, “or even a beetle or two. I haven’t seen a worm for weeks.” The Mousebird made a dry rattling noise in the back of its throat and fluffed out its tail feathers. “There are no buds, no flowers and very few insects – not a berry to be seen.”

“Always complaining, whining and moaning,” mumbled the one Bronze Manikin to the other, its beak filled with seeds. “That’s the problem when you want gourmet meals with so-called variety!” “Eat up,” its companion said,”I can hear the weavers coming!”

BREAKFAST THRUSH

Well camouflaged against the drab background of drought, this Olive Thrush looks as though butter wouldn’t melt in its mouth as it appears to be on the alert for any food source that may be about. His stance is erect and his head is slightly tilted – as innocent as he may appear, be sure that he will strike quickly should his ears catch the slightest strain of anything edible rustling ever so quietly under the loose, dry earth.

While nothing rustled invitingly underfoot, this sharp-eyed Olive Thrush spied my breakfast while I went indoors to collect my hat. He decided that it was definitely worth an inspection.

A taste of marmalade was in order.

It was certainly worth another try.

A take-away snack will do well for me.

PREENING IS NO LAUGHING MATTER

I recently showed an Olive Thrush sunbathing as part of the preening process to keep its feathers in good condition. Exposure to the sun helps to spread the preen oil along the feathers and the heat aids the process of dislodging lice and other parasites, making them easier to get rid of through preening. Here is another Olive Thrush sunbathing, seen from the back and so providing a good view of the fluffed up feathers and the tail feathers spread out to take advantage of the sunshine.

Laughing Doves also take the preening process seriously and frequently sunbathe in groups, spreading their wings wide and sometimes lifting one wing and then the other to let the sun shine under their wings. This one has finished sunbathing and is now carefully preening its feathers to get rid of the offending dust, bits of dirt and parasites. It is methodically nibbling or stroking every feather from its base to its tip.

While preening, birds also align each feather in the optimum position relative to adjacent feathers and body shape. The feathers are moisturised with preening oil during this process and afterwards the birds stretch and fluff up their feathers to ensure they are all in the right place once more after having been gone through so carefully. The serious business of daily preening is definitely no laughing matter, even for a Laughing Dove!

THREE BIRD BATH VISITORS

Birds need fresh water for drinking and bathing – never more so than during this drought – and so I keep the bird baths in our garden topped up daily. The one featured in the photographs below is an upturned lid from a broken garden light. These three birds visited the bird bath while I was having breakfast. The first is a Common Fiscal (Lanius collaris). It is a regular visitor and, of late, comes to inspect my breakfast or to see what we might be eating with our morning tea.

Directly translated, its Afrikaans name, Fiskaallaksman, means Fiscal Executioner or Butcher-bird. The latter is an appellation which is proving difficult for it to slough off in English and comes about from its habit of sometimes caching large prey on thorn ‘larders’. At one time it was also commonly known as Jackie Hangman for this reason. I also see it referred to as the Southern Fiscal and as a Fiscal Shrike, so take your pick. You can see its heavy hooked bill, typical of shrikes.

The next visitor is a Cape Robin-Chat (Cossypha caffra), one of at least two pairs that are nesting in the garden. I enjoy listening to their melodious phrases – often among the first of the dawn chorus – early in the morning and during the latter part of the afternoon. Their alarm calls are both persistent and distinctive and have attracted me to snakes in our garden twice and, more recently, to the presence of a Brown Mongoose.

You might notice a drop of water on its beak as it had just lifted its head when I clicked on the camera. These robins chase each other around the garden from time to time yet are quick to scurry for cover in the undergrowth when alarmed. I think they have become used to me for one or other of them sometimes perches not far away and sings regardless of my presence. Its Afrikaans name  is Gewone Janfrederik – Ordinary Jan Frederik – which relates to rhythmic phrases in the song of the Cape Robin-chat which sounds like ‘Jan Frederik’ if you listen very carefully as the variable short passages of musical notes, always start with low slurred whistle cherooo-weet-weet-weeeet.

The third visitor to this bird bath is a familiar one I have featured before, the Olive Thrush (Turdus olivaceus), as it is a frequent caller, whether it is to drink or to bathe. This time I am showing you a rear view of one, also with a droplet of water on its beak.

The Afrikaans name is Olyf Lyster – I presume Lyster means Thrush (i.e. Olive Thrush) but it doesn’t appear in my dictionary. The richly melodic song of the Olive Thrushes also form part of the dawn chorus. I cannot resist quoting this stanza from the poem Olyf-Lyster by Evelyn van der Merwe, which not only describes the call, but hints at the familiarity the thrushes develop towards people. This stanza refers to the thrush obviously waiting for the speaker to stand on the veranda (with the implication that she will be bringing food for the thrush):

Elke oggend douvoordag

Trap jy doudruppels met jou fyn toontjies plat

En hoor jou skril twieeet – twieeet roep

En sien jou wag dat ek moet verskyn op die stoep

You can read the poem in its entirety at http://www.woes.co.za/bydrae/gedig/olyf-lyster

 

WATER

You can probably recall the lines from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge that read:

Water, water everywhere

Nor any drop to drink

While this is a reference to being surrounded by sea water with no fresh water at hand, it serves as a reminder of how precious water is to all living things.  As so many of us are landlubbers, South Africans enjoy seaside holidays. This is utilising the water for recreation. What is of more concern is the availability of water for drinking.

I mention our ongoing drought so often, yet water is the lifeblood we all need. I have several bird baths in the garden which I keep filled daily for the use of birds, the visiting mongoose, bees, wasps and anything else which requires it. Here an Olive Thrush enjoys a drink on a hot day.

Rain is something we long for daily. We watch the ten day weather forecasts and greet each other with the news of rain coming over the next few days … only to see those rainy icons disappear just as the sun draws the moisture from the laundry, until there is nothing left. This picture was taken two years ago. The lemon tree is barely surviving now.

In most parts of the country we have forgotten what flooded rivers look like – this photograph was taken five years ago.

The availability of clean, fresh water is currently being denied to many of our citizens – not only because of the drought but because not enough has been done to care for the water resources that we have. In our town alone a lot of water is wasted through leaks that are ignored for months; water courses being choked by alien vegetation and rubbish – not to mention the pollution of some of the streams.

Water is life and is a commodity that needs to be taken care of to the utmost of our collective ability.

OCTOBER 2019 GARDEN BIRDS

Despite the heat and the drought – or perhaps because of it – October has been a marvellous month for watching birds in my garden. A number of birds have been seeking out the nectar feeder. These include weavers, Black-headed Orioles, Fork-tailed Drongos as well as Cape White-eyes. The latter queue in the surrounding branches to take turns.

Sunbirds are regular visitors too, one of which is the very beautiful Greater Double-collared Sunbird. A pair of them have been flitting around the branches of the fig tree, where I suspect they may have a nest although I have not been able to see it.

I have mentioned before that this garden seems to host one pair of Streaky-headed Seedeaters that have become regular visitors to the seed feeders, although I have observed one of them pecking at an apple too. If one arrives first, it will call to the other to join it. By the end of the month they had brought their youngster along, so now there are three.

Olive Thrushes feature regularly on this blog for they are such fun to observe. They tend to be cautious about approaching the feeding table and one is often chased off by another before it even gets a chance to sample the fruit. Then it will either fly away or scurry off into the undergrowth only to reappear as soon as it thinks the coast is clear.

Spring (not that either the weather or the environment feels or looks like spring at the moment) heralds the arrival of cuckoos. Klaas’ Cuckoo has been around for a while, but we now hear the Red-chested Cuckoo and the Diederik Cuckoo as well. I was delighted to see the Lesser-striped Swallows arrive at last – later than usual – and am even more delighted that a pair of them are attempting to build their mud nest under the eaves outside our bathroom, although where they find the mud remains a mystery. The most exciting ‘new’ bird on my list this month is a first-timer ever: a Red-throated Wryneck. You will have to forgive the quality of the photograph as it is cropped from a telephoto shot taken from underneath the enormous Tipuana tree it was perched on. It has been around for about a week.

My October bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Barthroated Apalis
Black-backed Puffback
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Crow (Black)
Cape Robin-chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Collared Sunbird
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Greyheaded Sparrow
Grey Heron
Hadeda Ibis
Helmeted Guineafowl
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Malachite Sunbird
Olive Bush Shrike
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Red-chested Cuckoo
Redeyed Dove
Red-fronted Tinkerbird
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-throated Wryneck
Redwinged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Thickbilled Weaver
Whiterumped Swift