MY JUNE 2022 GARDEN

It is at this time of the year that the Cape Honeysuckle puts on a fine show of cheerful bright orange flowers so beloved by sunbirds, weavers, Cape White-eyes, bees and butterflies.

Aloes vie for space among the crassulas plants edging our swimming pool. They too provide cheer and attract the Greater Double-collared sunbirds, weavers, Black-headed orioles, and Black-eyed Bulbuls as well as bees and ants.

The Spekboom growing in various places in the garden does not mind either the icy weather or the drought.

A large flock of Red-winged Starlings visit the fig tree daily and often perch in the top branches of the Erythrina caffra to catch the early morning sun. These trees are now devoid of all but the hardiest of leaves and are covered in clusters of black seed pods that have split open to reveal the scarlet ‘lucky beans’ inside. Flower buds are making their spiky appearance, so before long the trees will look resplendent in their scarlet blooms.

A Black-headed Oriole perches in one of the many Pompon trees that are rapidly losing their leaves. The formerly beautiful pink blossoms now look like miniature floor mops that have been hung out to dry.

A male Garden Inspector / Garden Commodore (Precis archesia archesia) sees what the Canary Creeper flowers have to offer. We have seen very few butterflies in our garden so far.

MAY GARDEN BIRDS 2022

I have enjoyed a much more pleasing month of bird watching in our garden: there has been more time to sit in the garden; the number of avian visitors has increased; and I have been able to take some reasonable photographs, so there has been no need to delve into my archives again.

One cannot miss the Red-winged Starlings for hundreds of them have been visiting the Natal fig and fill the garden with their cheerful chirps, tweets and whistles. Should they be startled, the air is filled with the rustle of their russet wings, which glow in the bright sunshine as they take off, circle around only to return to feasting on the figs. Here a pair of them are perched on the roof of our house. The one on the right has a fig in its beak.

Both Common Starlings and Cape Glossy Starlings have made brief visits this month; Knysna Turacos are back making their grunting sounds in the bushes; and it is cheering to have weavers here in full force (variety, that is, not numbers). Among them are the Cape Weavers – no longer looking as smart as they do in summer, and the Spectacled Weaver.

The Cape Robin-chat remains very wary of the neighbouring cats and so I feel privileged every time I see one.

Of course I am always pleased to see the ringed Common Fiscal, although I am saddened that the neighbouring cats have made him a lot more wary too.

Other welcome visitors this month have been Green Woodhoopoes, Cattle Egrets, Streaky-headed Seedeaters, as well as Sacred Ibises flying over ‘my’ air space. Back on the ground, a pair of Olive Thrushes have pleased me enormously by visiting the feeding table and the bird bath.

Lastly, I love the visits from a Brown-hooded Kingfisher to our back garden, where it perches either on the telephone wire or – more often – on the wash line. It sits absolutely still for ages before swooping down to catch one of the many small grass hoppers that abound in that area and then returns to its solitary post.

My bird list for this month:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed (Dark-capped) Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Brown-headed Kingfisher
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin-Chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Bush Shrike
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Red-eyed Dove
Red-winged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Village Weaver

MARCH 2022 GARDEN BIRDS

First of all, thank you to everyone who left encouraging comments and useful advice as well as offers of assistance when I lamented that the media storage on my free version of WordPress was 100% full and this wouldn’t allow me to feature any more photographs. After mulling over and considering the cost of changing to WordPress Pro (the only plan offered) against my enjoyment of blogging, I opened my dashboard with a degree of reluctance this morning to start that expensive process … only to find that WP has acknowledged that I actually still have plenty of space, which means I can continue for free for a while longer! So, back to business and my monthly round-up of garden birds:

This is the first month ever since I received my first digital camera years ago that I do not have a single photograph of a garden bird in my folder. It is not from lack of trying as I have taken my camera outside several times … it is an indication of the impact of having the three cats from next door using my garden as their hunting ground! My list below shows there have been birds: most of them have paid fleeting visits or have hidden higher up in the foliage, not daring to spend much time either on the ground or at the feeders. Forgive me then for trawling my archives to illustrate this month’s review of garden birds.

Red-winged Starlings have started appearing in greater numbers once more. I mostly see them in the Natal Fig in the front garden or in the tall Erythrina caffra in the back garden. This is a female starling photographed in 2016.

It is always a delight to hear the distinctive calls of a Bokmakierie for they do not often visit this side of town. I have seldom seen them actually visit the bird feeders; they catch caterpillars and other insects all over the garden and so are probably not particularly perturbed by the presence of the cats. This one was photographed in the Addo Elephant National Park in 2015.

The Southern Boubou are naturally shy birds that often skulk about in the undergrowth – leaving them vulnerable to cats. I have heard them a few times and have really only had one confirmed sighting this month. Nonetheless, this one was photographed in the Addo Elephant National Park in 2018.

The duets of Black-collared Barbets echo throughout the garden during the particularly warm days. They are generally cautious about approaching the feeding tray anyway, but have been particularly wary of late. This one was photographed in 2015.

The Cape White-eyes can be seen flitting through the foliage and visiting the nectar feeder daily. The ones below were, however, photographed in Cape Town in 2014.

Lastly, from 2016, is a photograph of the very pretty Grey-headed Bush Shrike. One has made several appearances in our garden this month but has been almost impossible to pin down to photograph as it moves very quickly through the leaves of our many trees.

My bird list for this month:

African Green Pigeon
Black-collared Barbet
Black-headed Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Cape Crow
Cape Robin-Chat
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Red-eyed Dove
Red-winged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Pigeon
White-rumped Swift
Yellowfronted Canary

LOOKING AT RED-WINGED STARLINGS

Red-winged Starlings (Onychognathus morio) are regular visitors to our garden, their numbers waxing and waning with the seasons. I find that their glossy-black feathers make them difficult to photograph and their brownish-red wings that are most beautiful when seen in flight – also a challenge to catch on film.

The males and females are easily told apart for the males have black heads, while the females sport an ash-grey head and upper breast.

While Red-winged Starlings are known to nest in rock cavities on cliffs in their natural environment, they have easily adapted to urban environments and commonly nest under eaves and in ducts or vents of tall buildings. This messy habit of theirs does not endear them to their suburban hosts!

While this omnivorous species of birds eats fruit, berries and happily destroy flowers to get at the nectar, their young are fed on a high protein diet consisting of worms and insects. I have often observed the Red-winged Starlings taking small pieces of meat from the feeding tray and flying off with them – presumably for their youngsters. I have featured this one with the deformed foot before.

They also peck at parasites on large mammals, such as this one giving a similar coloured cow a thorough going-over.

While they are often seen feeding in trees – they weigh down our Natal fig tree during the fruiting season – Red-winged Starlings also forage on the ground, moving with bounding hops. This male has pounced upon a crumb of fruit cake that fell on the patio.

COPING WITH CALAMITY

Red-winged Starlings are frequent visitors to our garden. With the breeding season approaching, we no longer see the large flocks of only a few weeks ago. They are pairing up, which gives me a better opportunity to observe their individual behaviour more closely whenever they visit the feeders. I was watching this one tucking into an orange when I realised there was something different about him.

It was the sharp upturned claws that first attracted my attention and made me reach for my camera.I cannot help wondering what calamity befell this bird and when. Perhaps it was born with a deformed foot; was it injured during an escape from a predator; got tangled in something? I observed it perching on the branches before flying off and have seen it a few times since. It has obviously found a way to deal with its curled up claws.