JANUARY 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

While there is nothing physical we can do about the drought, I have entered 2018 with the feeling that this is the year of renewal. There is a hint of it on the political front and even greater evidence in our garden – after some rain fell at last a few days ago! It is amazing how quickly the grass and trees revive after even a little rainfall. There is no more rain in the short-term forecast, so we rejoice with every drop that falls!

From having watched parent birds gathering food in their beaks to deliver to their respective offspring at the beginning of the month, I now see the young birds being fed at or near the feeding station: an insatiable Fork-tailed Drongo chick received titbits even as the last light of the day was fading.

A pair of Fiscal Shrikes have been hard-pressed feeding their youngster emitting cries that in any language would be akin to “More! I want some more!” whilst flapping its wings in the sort of helpless gesture that would melt the hardest of hearts.

The Common Starlings have obviously bred successfully, for I recently counted eleven of their youngsters having running battles with other birds – including their parents – on the feeding tray; the Blackcollared Barbets have brought a youngster across to feed itself from the cut apples; and a few spotty youngsters have been left to fend for themselves by their parental Olive Thrushes.

The floor outside our front door is awash with droppings from the Whiterumped Swifts that usurped the mud nest so beautifully constructed by the Lesserstriped Swallows last season. Since this ‘house grab’ I have despaired of the latter for their new nest, rebuilt on the foundations of a previous one at the side of the house, collapsed early in November. I cannot guess where they have been finding a ready supply of mud but, to my immense joy, they are rebuilding that nest again – beak of mud by beak of mud, truly a sign of renewal!

My January bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Barn Swallow
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Black Saw-wing
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 Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redchested Cuckoo
Redeyed Dove
Redfaced Mousebird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowbilled Kite

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A STEALTHY OLIVE THRUSH

While I was watching the Forktailed Drongo fledgling being fed in the Natal Fig, my attention was caught by a movement on the branches lower down. There was an Olive Thrush with a beak filled with food for its young!

It perched stock still on the branch above me – in typical fashion pretending to blend in with the surroundings so that I wouldn’t be able to find its nest. Despite searching carefully for the messy nests they build, I could not find where it had been built.

It eyed me – or possibly my camera – curiously.

My attention turned back to the Forktailed Drongo fledgling and when I looked again, the Olive Thrush had returned from its feeding mission and was eyeing me once more – only this time with an empty beak.

AN OLIVE THRUSH

Our garden is all the richer for the presence of a couple of pairs of Olive Thrushes (Turdus Olivaceus). While they are considered to be common residents along the eastern part of the Eastern Cape, they are common garden residents which are well adapted to life in the suburbs. I have found two nests in my garden and have watched several generations of Olive Thrushes grow up here. They often scuttle or hop along the ground; stand still; cock their head to one side; and before you know it, have caught a tasty morsel you cannot even see!

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

JUNE 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

June has been an interesting month for birding in our garden. The ongoing dry weather has meant having to fill the bird baths more than once a day – this is appreciated by the Knysna Louries that come down to drink at around eight each morning, again mid-morning, and occasionally late in the afternoon.

The Black-headed Orioles have been calling loudly from the tree tops and I have seen several Laughing Doves mating whilst perched on the swaying branches of some of the trees in the garden. It tends to be rather chilly in the mornings, making the Hadeda Ibises seemingly as reluctant as we are to rise: the first ones only begin to stir at about twenty to seven and the flock as a whole move out of the fig tree after seven o’clock!

Blackheaded Oriole

It is wonderful to see the return of Cape Wagtails as well as a Brown-hooded Kingfisher. Some Crowned Hornbills and a flock of Red-billed Woodhoopoes have paid the garden a fleeting visit this month – as has a Lanner Falcon. The latter remained perched on a low branch near one of the bird baths for some time, its presence was drawn to my attention by the complete absence of doves of any sort. I heard a loud squawking a while later and caught a glimpse of a pair of Knysna Louries having an altercation with the falcon, which then disappeared into the valley.

Olive Thrushes have become more regular visitors once more.

Olive Thrush

My June bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Cuckoo
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Brownhooded Kingfisher
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Crowned Hornbill
Crowned Plover
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie
Lanner Falcon
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Spoonbill
Village Weaver

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