The Addo Elephant National Park is a delightful place for watching birds. This Bokmakierie was perched close to the road.
I often hear them, yet rarely see them in my garden so am always pleased to find them here.
Red-necked spurfowl have been visiting my garden regularly over the past few weeks to peck at the seed spilled on the ground below the feeders. Jack’s Picnic Site in the Addo Elephant National Park provides wonderful opportunities to see them really close up.
Given the various groups of donkeys and the Urban Herd of cattle that roam around our town, cattle egrets are a common sight as they keep these animals company. It is refreshing to see a flock of them gathered at the edge of a waterhole.
This lone Egyptian goose was actually on its way to join a few others grazing nearby. I occasionally see these birds on the edge of town too.
The sound of Cape turtle doves – called Ring-necked dove (Streptopelia capicola) – filter through our suburb daily. Strangely enough, I seldom see them in my front garden as they seem to prefer the area behind our home. This one is looking for seeds in the veld in the Addo Elephant National Park.
Even though I have been extraordinarily busy this month, it has been a particularly satisfying one in terms of bird visiting our garden. One of the loveliest surprises was hearing the beautiful burbling sounds of a Burchell’s Coucal from deep within the foliage: I have yet to see it, but it has clearly made its presence known. Very few African Green Pigeons are left; most have probably sought an easy source of food elsewhere as the figs on the Natal fig tree have almost come to an end. The Olive Thrushes remain welcome visitors to the feeding tray, although a pair of them spend a lot of time chasing each other around the garden – a form of courting? Certainly the weavers think that spring is around the corner and are looking more beautiful every day. The very large flocks of Red-winged Starlings have also diminished along with the plentiful supply of fruit: they have turned their attention to the flowers of the Erythrina caffra. Close to that is an Ironwood in which a pair of Hadeda Ibises are building a nest in the same fork of branches where they successfully reared two chicks last season – they are easy to keep an eye on!
Speaking of eyes. How easily our eyes can deceive us: I was watching the Hadedas bringing in large sticks to add to their nest when I noticed a Laughing Dove preening itself on a branch of the Erythrina caffra nearby. It was only when I looked through my camera lens that I realised (it was high up in the tree) that I was actually looking at an African Hoopoe. They are not common visitors, so I am delighted to show off this one:
The Southern Boubou has been a regular visitor, often coming out into the open once the other birds have had their fill and left the feeding area. It has been interesting to observe how the Olive Thrushes quickly give way to the Boubou whenever it appears:
About eight Red-necked Spurfowl call around almost daily now too to peck at the fallen seed. They are very skittish around humans, so I tend to photograph them from my upstairs bedroom window:
For two days in a row we observed a pair of Trumpeter Hornbills. This is the only usable photograph I managed to get as they tended to perch too high up for me or were obscured by branches:
Also perching high up was this Streakyheaded Seedeater, which was fun to photograph away from the feeder for a change:
Lastly for this month, I heard the characteristic call of a Greyheaded Bush Shrike a few days ago and hunted all over the garden for it. These very attractive looking birds have an annoying habit of hiding in the foliage too, so this rather startled view of it was all I managed to get before it flew off:
My bird list for this month:
African Green Pigeon
Black-eyed (Dark-capped) Bulbul
Cape Turtle Dove
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Grey-headed Bush Shrike
Sombre Bulbul (Greenbul)
Southern Masked Weaver
Having mentioned the Addo Elephant National Park in my previous post, I delved into my folders to find a selection of photographs from a 2017 visit to give you an idea of some of the interesting things you can see there – apart from lions, hyenas, caracal and aardvarks that is. There are a number of carefully managed waterholes dotted about the park where, while exercising a degree of patience, one has the opportunity to see a variety of animals and birds. The Domkrag Dam is a favourite place to stop, for one is allowed to get out of one’s vehicle for a better view of the water over the low Spekboom hedge. On this occasion we were able to watch a small herd of Burchell’s zebra approaching from across the plain to drink.
Domkrag Dam is named after an enormous mountain tortoise that used to live in the area. What is significant about this tortoise is that it had the strange habit of walking underneath cars and lifting them up with its enormous strength! The shell of this famous tortoise is on display in the Interpretive Centre at Main Camp. Burchell’s zebra are frequently seen sharing the grassy plains with herds of red hartebeest.
Jack’s Picnic Site provides a welcome stopover for a comfort break and is well equipped with picnic sites, each containing a wooden table with benches as well as a place to braai if one wishes to cook one’s own food. Each site is well hidden from the one next door by a thick hedge of Spekboom and other indigenous bushes. It is a particularly good place to photograph a variety of birds from close up as most of them have become used to the coming and going of people throughout the day – and are always on the lookout for a fallen crumb or two! Something else that are a special delight to see there are the odd millipede or two, which we call songololos in South Africa.
The Spekboom Hide is also an interesting place to stop. Again, one can leave one’s vehicle here and enter a Spekboom thicket to peer through a strong elephant-proof fence to see what might be drinking from the waterhole on the other side. On this particular occasion a baby elephant caught my fancy even though it was part of a small family group of various ages.
Apart from animals, I am keen to watch birds in the Addo Elephant National Park. While waterholes are a good place to see waterfowl especially, there are often some interesting surprises along the roads too – such as this Spotted Thick-knee peering at us from the bush.
Much more easily visible are the Red-necked Spurfowl, the sight of which always brightens my day.
I have been saying this to a small flock of Red-necked Spurfowl (Pternistis afer) since I first sighted them in the long grass over the road from our home over a year ago. Would they ever cross the street and come into my garden? They sometimes came tantalisingly close yet seemed reluctant to cross from the freedom of the wild into the relative confines of a garden. Then I noticed them scrabbling among the thick layer of leaves and twigs on the bottom terrace I call my ‘secret garden’. Nothing happens there: I leave the mulch to thicken and the trees to grow as they please – it is meant to be a haven for birds and small creatures that wish to dwell therein.
My welcome has, over the months, included putting out crushed maize down there – mostly consumed by the Laughing Doves and Speckled Pigeons. Now and then I have been rewarded by three or four very skittish spurfowl that scatter at the slightest sound or movement from me. When I saw them hopping over our front gate several weeks ago, I began to sprinkle maize along the path and at the base of the trees that skirt the front lawn.
Imagine my delight when I was alerted by their distinctive calls and looked out of an upstairs window to see at least six of them vying for seed at the feeding area! This meant that they had obviously explored the garden in full and had come around the edge of the swimming pool – I counted six, including some juveniles. Here is one escaping through a hedge of Crassula ovatum in our garden.
Their red legs and bare throat make them easily identifiable. Males have a spur on the back of each leg, which you can see in this photograph. Females lack spurs.
The adults are generally a darkish brown above and sport black-streaked grey or white underparts. The cryptic downy pattern of chicks assist the birds to blend in with their habitat and develops through the juvenile period towards the less cryptic plumage of the adult birds. Even though they are smaller, juveniles can be identified as they still lack the red throat and have chestnut edging on the feathers.
Here you can see the full beauty of the colouring of the adults. Apart from the first photograph, the others were taken in the Addo Elephant National Park. Jack’s picnic place never fails to provide one with wonderful opportunities to get close to an interesting variety of birds.
I welcome the Red-necked Spurfowl to our garden and hope their visits will become frequent enough for them to feel at ease here.