JULY 2019 GARDEN BIRDS

The drought continues.

Laughing Doves never disappoint: they gather in the treetops to bask in the early morning sunshine; scour the ground for fallen seeds or cling onto the hanging feeders to eat the fine grass seed meant for the smaller birds; and fill the garden with their gentle cooing sound throughout the day. Our garden would be poorer without them.

It would probably be poorer without the Speckled Pigeons too, as messy as these home invaders are! The bright yellow Black-headed Orioles are a delight to see and hear every day. They tend to call to each other from the tree tops and swoop down in a flash of yellow to drink from the nectar feeder.

At this time of the year the Redwinged Starlings still fly around in flocks, making the most of the natural fruits and berries available in the neighbourhood.

A Cape Robin-chat regularly serenades me from the shrubbery while I am enjoying a cup of tea in the garden. There are fewer of the other songsters, the Olive Thrushes, about than usual. However, if I look around very carefully indeed, I can usually find one perched quietly in a tree watching me!

A Boubou has taken to helping itself to the offerings on Morrigan’s feeder from time to time.

Meanwhile, Amethyst and Greater Double-collared Sunbirds have been flitting around the garden making happy noises as if to say that spring is in the air. Black-collared Barbets are also calling to each other, but have been rather shy about appearing in the open this month – as have the ‘resident’ / regular pair of Knysna Turacos. The Fork-tailed Drongos never fail to please with their acrobatics and it is always a pleasure to spot Cape White-eyes.

A small flock of Crowned Hornbills paid a visit this month. They are always most welcome.

My July bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Barthroated Apalis
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Crow (Black)
Cape Robin-chat
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Crowned Hornbill
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Redeyed Dove
Rednecked Spurfowl
Redwinged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Village Weaver

NOTE: Click on a photograph if you would like a larger view.

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ANOTHER LOOK AT AN OLIVE THRUSH

Another early participant in the dawn chorus here is the Olive Thrush (Turdus olivaceus), which makes a variety of melodious calls, even mimicking those of other birds. While these are common residents of the Eastern Cape, my attention has often been drawn to the fact that what is called a ‘robin’ in the USA is similar to our Olive Thrush – both being members of the Turdus family. While I was photographing the co-operative Cape Robin-Chat posing on a branch, my eye was caught by this Olive Thrush on the ground below. Note its extensive rufous underparts as well as the black and white streaking on its throat.

These birds can be as confiding as the Cape Robin-Chats sometimes are; often approaching very close to where one might be sitting to look for something to eat. This one had scuttled in from the undergrowth, head down, until it saw me. It stood upright and, as you can see, looked me in the eye for a moment before continuing with its quest for food. Olive Thrushes detect their prey either by sight or hearing. Imagine being the subject of a look like this:

I have described in other posts how these birds engage in leaf tossing when looking for invertebrate prey on the ground – and use their powerful bills to clear leaf litter from the gutters for the same purpose! If you magnify the first photograph you will see that not only is the upper mandible hooked but it is notched. Olive Thrushes are also fond of fruit and are often the first to arrive to stab at the cut apples I place on the feeding tray every now and then.

NOTE: Click on a photograph if you wish to enjoy a larger view.

MARCH 2019 GARDEN BIRDS

March is a time of change in the garden. The small amount of rain that fell during the month has revived the trees and grass, while encouraging the blooming of the Plumbago.

It is also the time when the natural grasses go to seed, providing a nutritious alternative to the seeds I put out regularly. Weavers are losing their bright breeding plumage and have suspended their nest-building activities until spring. Not so the Olive Thrushes, of which I have counted up to six visible at a time, for at least one pair is still nesting. You will have to look at this photograph very carefully for the patch of orange on top of the dark mass of the nest!

Speckled Mousebirds scour the bushes for tiny berries, leaves, flowers and nectar, while Laughing Doves peck over the recently cleared compost area as well as the masses of tiny figs from the Natal Fig tree that have dropped onto the road below that are crushed by passing vehicles. The clusters of figs also attract African Green Pigeons and Redwinged Starlings among a host of other birds.

As the Hadeda Ibises are no longer nesting, several have chosen to roost in this tree. On some mornings they wake as early as four o’clock to let the neighbourhood know they have slept well and are ready to discuss their breakfast plans. More melodious are the liquid notes of a pair of Blackheaded Orioles that waft through the garden, along with the gentle cooing of Cape Turtle Doves and the cheerful chirrup of Blackeyed Bulbuls. A pair of Forktailed Drongos regularly keep watch from either the telephone pole or the Erythrina caffra tree, ready to swoop down on anything edible that catches their eye. I have already drawn attention to the pair of Knysna Turacos that reside in the garden and recently posted a photograph of one looking at its reflection in our neighbour’s window. This is the view from the other side:

Cattle Egrets roosting in the CBD continue to experience hard times: two tall trees have recently been removed from the garden of a complex of flats because residents complained about the noise they make as well as the smell of their droppings. Several have taken to perching atop a neighbour’s tall tree in the late afternoons, but are not (yet) overnighting there.

Finally, of course my camera wasn’t at hand when we witnessed the very unusual sight of a Cardinal Woodpecker drinking and bathing in the bird bath only a short distance from where we were sitting!

My March bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
African Harrier Hawk (Gymnogene)
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Red-eyed Dove
Red-winged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Boubou
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift

Note: Click on the photographs if you want a larger view.

FEBRUARY 2019 GARDEN BIRDS

The Olive Thrush was the first to make it onto my February bird list. I have featured these lovely birds several times as they are a joy to watch in the garden. As dry as it is, they still manage to find food by turning over the fallen leaves and keeping a beady eye out for anything that moves in what is left of the lawn. They relish the apples I put out too.

February has been a busy month for me, leaving me not nearly enough time to enjoy the avian visitors to the garden. Two very welcome first-time visitors this month have been a White-starred Robin – the first time I have ever seen one in our garden – and a Brown-hooded Kingfisher. I have heard the calls of the latter for several weeks, but this month it was out in the open more than once.

The Speckled Pigeons are flourishing. This couple was eyeing the seeds on the ground below them.

It cannot be an easy time for the birds now as the plants have dried to brittleness in the scorching heat and nothing new is growing thanks to an ongoing lack of rain. I fill the bird baths several times daily and provide a supply of seeds and fruit. The Bronze Manikins eat the seeds either early in the morning or later in the afternoon, once the main rush of feeding birds has gone.

The nectar feeder has to be topped up regularly too in this hot and dry weather. Here a female Amethyst Sunbird pays it a fleeting visit.

Birds must be tougher creatures than they look, for I see and hear them daily. While this month’s list is shorter than I recorded for last month, I feel privileged to still enjoy their company.

My February bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Barn Swallow
Bar-throated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Saw-wing
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Brownhooded Kingfisher
Cape Robin
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Red-billed Woodhoopoe
Red-eyed Dove
Red-fronted Tinkerbird
Red-winged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Southern Boubou
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Village Weaver
White Starred Robin
White-rumped Swift

NOTE: Click on a photograph if you wish to see a larger image.

OLIVE THRUSHES

I never tire of seeing Olive Thrushes (Turdus olivaceus) in our garden for they are real characters that are present throughout the year. A careful observation of their eyes reveals both wisdom and curiosity, whether they are keeping watch for an insect or observing their surroundings carefully before moving on. They frequently sing from a perch high up in a tree.

You can see how its colouring helps it to blend into the background. They frequently search for food on the ground (or in the gutters on our roof!) by turning over leaves and tend to take larger bits of food back to the cover of the undergrowth to eat.

This youngster, identifiable by its spotted chest, is eyeing the camera curiously.

An adult posing on the feeding tray. Notice its speckled throat and yellow bill with a dark base to its upper mandible.

THERE ARE BIRDS IN ADDO

Far too many tourists drive about seeking one species of animal after the other in their quest to chalk up as many as they can – even driving past elephants, zebra and kudu because of a  “we’ve seen them” attitude – with eyes peeled for the ultimate prize: the sight of a lion. We see bored faces in vehicles as the day progresses, listless looks of bafflement when a passing vehicle asks what we are looking at and we respond “birds” or even tell them what bird we might be looking at. “Birds,” one might say or simply give a nod of the head as they move on in their quest.

Watching out for birds in any game reserve adds to the enjoyment of the environment as a whole. Here are a few of the many seen on our recent trip to the Addo Elephant National Park:

A ubiquitous Common Fiscal. Note how it is holding on to the twigs to keep it steady in the stiff breeze.

A young Olive Thrush perching inquisitively on our picnic table. Notice that it is still covered with speckles.

Cape Bulbuls, such as this one abound in the rest camp.

Large flocks of Pied Starlings can be seen all over in the park.

It is always fun seeing Speckled Mousebirds fly across the road or to working their way through bushes as they look for leaves, berries or flowers to eat.

Beautiful Malachite Sunbirds show flashes of metallic green as they pass by in a flash.

Who can resist the delicate beauty of a Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk?

How fortunate it was to find a Greater Striped Swallow at rest!

One can almost be guaranteed to find a Bar-throated Apalis at the picnic site.

Lastly, for now, is a Sombre Bulbul (now called a Sombre Greenbul!).

ADDO DAWN

The mournful calls of Emerald Spotted Wood Doves wafted across the Spekboom from around four in the morning. By first light several birds had begun methodically combing the camping area for bits of food that may have been dropped during suppers the night before. Among them were:

A Southern Boubou looking quizzically at the camera before resuming its search between the gravel stones.

An adult Olive Thrush that seized upon a baby tomato at the base of the Spekboom hedge, crushed it in its beak, and then fed it to the spotted juvenile following it around.

This Laughing Dove looks as if it has just woken up!

A more alert Redeyed Dove stretching to pick up a tiny seed lodged between the gravel.

This brightly coloured Cape Weaver flew down to see what may be hiding behind the leaves.

As did a sharp-eyed Southern Masked Weaver. You can tell the sun had risen by then!

While a curious Cape Bulbul watched the proceedings from on high.

Of course there were many more, but we had poured a warm drink and gone off to explore …