DECEMBER 2019 GARDEN BIRDS

December has been a frantically busy month during which bird watching in our garden has often had to take second place to other activities – as wonderful as they were. I need not have worried though for one of the dubious benefits of the drought has been the attraction of a greater variety of birds to the garden. A Chin-spot Batis was a welcome newcomer that worked its way through the remaining ivy leaves in a more sheltered spot and it has been pleasing to see the return of Yellow-fronted Canaries. This one is inspecting the new feeder I received from my family in Norway.

The most wonderful sound to hear outside since 2018 was the bubbling calls of a Burchell’s Coucal. It paid the garden a very fleeting visit though. These camera-shy birds tend to take refuge in the bushes and the call of one was particularly exciting to hear for they are colloquially known as ‘rain birds’ – said to predict rain, which we need so desperately in the Eastern Cape. Perhaps its prediction was accurately short for we received a whole millimetre of rain not long afterwards! Although I hear their high-pitched calls daily and frequently see them working their way quickly through the remains of the dry Cape Honeysuckle hedge, I was pleased to photograph this Bar-throated Apalis on the ground near our wash line.

A pair of Red-necked Spurfowl have been making more frequent forays into our garden to seek out the crushed maize I scatter for the doves. This is not a good photograph of one for they are still very skittish and move off very quickly should I approach too close for their comfort. I am hoping they will become regular visitors.

The number of Black-eyed Bulbuls gathering around the fruit has increased from the usual three or four to up to seventeen individuals this month! This must be related to the paucity of naturally available food in these drought conditions. I love watching their antics and listening to their cheerful calls. Despite them being sociable birds, they can be fairly aggressive towards each other at times. I have observed, for example how a bird may spread its tail feathers and raise its crest when confronting another in order to protect its turn at an apple.

Male Pin-tailed Whydahs are generally aggressive towards other birds. This one is an exception for, as I have seen no females, I am guessing that my garden is not his territory to defend and he only comes here to feed. He is sporting a magnificent tail at the moment.

My December bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Barthroated Apalis
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin-chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Chinspot Batis
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Red-chested Cuckoo
Redeyed Dove
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-throated Wryneck
Redwinged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Southern Red Bishop
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellow-billed Kite
Yellowfronted Canary

FOUR LONG-TAILED BIRDS

A number of South African birds sport long tails. Only four of them will feature today. Some gardens host a resident Pintailed Whydah (Vidua macroura). At the start of spring the males gradually slough their winter tweedy feathers to don their black and white ‘tuxedo’ look, complete with long tail feathers which can grow up to 20cm in length. They are aggressive little birds that will readily chase larger birds, such as pigeons or doves, from food sources within what they have claimed as their territory. People either love them or hate them, but I have found that other garden birds soon get used to their aggressive behaviour and feed quite happily while the male is chasing after one or other of his harem.

Another common garden bird with a long tail is the Speckled Mousebird (Colius striatus). They cover a large range within sub-Saharan Africa and one seldom sees them on their own for they are sociable birds, as you can see in the photograph below. They even roost pressed closely together! It amusing to watch them move from one part of the garden to another, for their flight is far from graceful and it often appears as if they have crash-landed in the next tree.

While it occurs elsewhere in Africa, the Lilac-breasted Roller (Coracias caudata) only occurs in the northern part of this country – a truly beautiful bird that is fairly commonly observed in the Kruger National Park. These birds are territorial and so, when one drives along the roads in the park, one can see them spaced out across the veld – often perched on a tree stump or the top of a low bush from where they can keep an eye on their territory. Their tails are long and forked.

Lastly, what used to be called a Grey Lourie and is now been saddled with the awkward name of Grey Go-away-bird (Corythaixoides concolor), also occurs mainly in the northern parts of the country and is also commonly seen in gardens in Gauteng. Its shaggy-looking crest can be raised or flattened. Like the Speckled Mousebird, these birds do not seem to be particularly adept at flying and can often be seen climbing up tree branches.

OCTOBER 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

October has been a bumper month for watching birds in our garden, including two visitors not seen for some time: the Bokmakierie and a Southern Red Bishop.  The arrival of the Redchested Cuckoo and the Lesserstriped Swallows serve as confirmation that winter is definitely behind us.

Two male Pintailed Whydahs have made regular forays into the garden and spend a lot of time chasing each other around and both behave aggressively towards other birds eating seeds on the ground.

At least one of them has learned how to sit on Morrigan’s feeder to eat seeds from there! The photograph below shows that this one’s full breeding plumage is not yet present – note the blotches of brown on its back and wings.

Hadeda Ibises have been collecting sticks for their flimsy nests – the strong winds experienced this month have left plenty of such nesting material on the ground for them. Female Village Weavers regularly collect feathers to line their nests.  I watched a pair of Blackcollared Barbets mating the other day.

We found the nest of a Greater Doublecollared Sunbird dangling from the end of a twig in the Natal Fig.

Some Olive Thrushes have already bred successfully and are seen feeding their youngsters.

My October bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird (Black)
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Black Harrier (Gymnogene)
Black Saw-wing
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Jackal Buzzard
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redbilled Woodhoopoe (Green)
Redchested Cuckoo
Redeyed Dove
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Rednecked Spurfowl
Redwinged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Southern Black Tit
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Southern Red Bishop
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon (Rock)
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Thickbilled Weaver
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowbilled Kite
Yellowfronted Canary

FEMALE PIN-TAILED WHYDAH

Female Pin-tailed Whydah

This somewhat drab little bird is often overlooked as it searches the ground for seed – or is chased through the tangle of branches and into wide arcs of the sky by her male admirer. He, of the tuxedo with the long tail, is the one who generally catches the attention of human admirers.

Male Pin-tailed Whydah

Our garden has not been claimed as a territory this year – yet – and so we see several males passing through. It is the females that I enjoy watching as they peck at the seeds dropped from the feeders higher up. I enjoy the way they scurry between the much larger Laughing Doves or blend in with the visiting Grey-headed Sparrows, for I like to think they are enjoying some ‘me-time’ to savour their food away from the pesky males, who are constantly on the move.

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