MARCH 2015 GARDEN BIRDS

MARCH 2015 GARDEN BIRDS

Watching birds in my garden has had to take second place this month in the wake of travels to Boksburg and Cape Town as well as hosting several visitors in between.

With the increase of Laughing Doves (Streptopelia senegalensis) mentioned last month, it is no surprise that they were the first birds to be noted on my list. They are the most regular visitors to our garden throughout the year. Although I have never actually found one of their nests, they certainly enjoy the regular snacks available here!

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We tend to be so familiar with Laughing doves that they are likely to be dismissed as being just that before seeking something ‘more interesting’ to look at. Closer observation of these small long-tailed doves, however, reveals really beautiful creatures. For example, it has taken a while for me to realise that while the adult female is similar in appearance to the male, their plumage is slightly paler and less reddish. The juveniles are much paler and lack the distinctive spots around the neck. It is rather amusing to watch the way the courting males follow the females with head bobbing displays while cooing provocatively. Sometimes they puff themselves up (doubtless looking very fierce to others) and head towards an opponent with head lowered in an attitude of “I mean business!”

laughingdove

These doves walk rapidly across the lawn to find the seed I have scattered – or that has dropped from the feeder while the weavers have been feasting there. I occasionally see them pecking at the apples I put out and recently observed several Laughing Doves eating grains of jasmine rice. Although they mostly forage on the ground, more than one Laughing Dove has mastered the art of launching itself onto the swinging bird feeder (doubtless having watched the weavers doing this with ease) and clinging on for dear life while it manages to extract seeds for a very short while before giving up the balancing act.

On hot dry days these doves scratch in a patch of open ground where they like to sunbathe, spreading their wings out or lifting a wing straight up – one at a time.

sunbathing

I was interested to find that the specific component of the scientific name (senegalensis) refers to Senegal, where the bird originally described was caught for I tend to think of them being South African birds. I see they occur all over Africa.

Now that the fig tree is bearing its first flush of fruit, the African Green Pigeons visit fairly often. They are best seen early in the morning and late in the afternoon, when the last rays of the sun highlight the top of the tree. Of course it is easier to photograph them in the bare branches of the Erythrina! Ever increasing flocks of Redwinged Starlings arrive daily to feast on the figs too.

africangreenpigeons

The coucals and cuckoos have gone and there are very few Whiterumped Swifts wheeling about the sky now – and even fewer Lesserstriped Swallows.

Common Starlings make the odd foray into the fig tree and occasionally forage for seeds on the lawn. I generally see them in far greater numbers along the pavements and on the school sports fields that abound in this town. A Fiscal Shrike dominates the back garden, perching either on the telephone cable or the wash line. It seldom ventures into the front garden for some reason – kept at bay by the Forktailed Drongos perhaps? This morning I watched a Forktailed Drongo chasing Rock Pigeons all over the garden – what for?

Both the Gymnogene (African Harrier-Hawk) and a Yellowbilled Kite have been observed flying low over the garden a few times this month. Not Redwinged Starlings this time, but a flock of Whiterumped Swifts sent the Gymnogene on its way recently.

gymnogene

I felt privileged to have a wonderful view of an Olive Woodpecker only metres away from me very early the other morning. It spent nearly ten minutes investigating the lower sections of the grove of pompon trees and making its way through the aloes.

While I have become accustomed to the harsh sounds of the Black Crows flying overhead or squabbling as they perch near the top of the cyprus tree next door, small flocks of Pied Crows have become more evident this month.

My March list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou Shrike
Bronze Manikin
Brownhooded Kingfisher
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Gymnogene (African Harrier-Hawk)
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Olive Woodpecker
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Redeyed Dove
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowbilled Kite
Yellow Weaver

ICONIC SOUTH AFRICAN CREATURES

ICONIC SOUTH AFRICAN CREATURES

Shortly after entering the dry looking winter veld in the Mountain Zebra National Park near Cradock, we came across two of South Africa’s iconic creatures: Ostriches and Springbuck – the latter being a national emblem. We were to see many more of both during our three-day stay in the Park.

male ostrich                                                  springbuck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Game viewing was good during the 12 Km stretch of road leading from the entrance gate to the reception and the camping area. Black wildebeest snorted and waved their characteristic white tufted tails; a Yellow mongoose watched us curiously from the safety of the straw-coloured grass; and we were thrilled to see a sizeable herd of the Cape mountain zebra this park was established to protect.

A lone Red hartebeest eyed us dolefully from its sitting position in a bare patch of veld – we would see herds of them during our game drive later that afternoon – and it was surely the same one guarding its patch when we drove past that spot on our way out of the park! A rather woolly-looking Gemsbuck moved slowly away from the road as we approached, giving the impression that time was not an issue in this part of the world.

It is not.

Perhaps it was because we had chosen a mid-week stay that we had a completely free choice of campsites on our arrival. The only restriction was that some of the sites were being soaked by sprinklers to encourage the growth of patches of lawn. A caravan arrived later on and parked some distance away.

Having enjoyed a leisurely late afternoon game drive on the high plains, where we had seen large mixed herds of antelope, we appreciated the peace mantling the camping area as the sun set.

Mountain Zebra Park

The silence was broken now and then by the piercing calls of Black-backed jackals in the distance and the gentle cooing of Cape turtle doves in the trees. Some Red winged starlings called briefly as they swooped past to their evening perches, followed by a duet of Boubou shrikes and the characteristic chirping of the Bar throated apalis emanating from the tangle of acacia trees bordering the campsite.

Redwinged starling

A gibbous moon rose much later, bathing the camping area in a soft, silvery glow that rendered the use of torches unnecessary when moving about in the evening.

Bird watching while driving wasn’t easy. Many of the birds recorded are familiar enough from my garden and the surrounding area. I was most pleased to see a Hamerkop though, as it is a familiar bird from my childhood years. I got to know it well for it frequented our farm dams. Even though this species has an extensive range throughout the country, I seldom see Hamerkops anymore and I miss its presence where I live now.

BLACK SWAN

BLACK SWAN

A dark theme threaded its way through my bird watching this morning, which started with a dashing looking Blackheaded Oriole swooping after another – clearly spring is in the air – chasing it all over the garden before halting to fill up from the free nectar in the ‘pub’.

That tranquil moment lasted only until the Forktailed Drongo dive-bombed the oriole to get its share of the energy drink on this chilly day. Later, this black bundle of aggression chased away both a Laughing Dove and a Village Weaver that happened to beperched nearby.

Blackeyed Bulbuls chirped cheekily at this activity then slid down the branches to investigate what was on offer at the feeding station. As they did so, a large and raucous flock of Redwinged Starlings flew past casting shadows over the dessicated lawn and dappling the swimming pool.

A pair of Blackcollared Barbets called out to each other from the top of the Erythrina then chased each other into the fig tree to continue their courting sounds whilst being well hidden by the foliage – their sense of the onset of spring is much stronger than mine!  Even some of the weavers are beginning to loop blades of grass over thin branches as if trying to remember how to start building a nest.

The striking colour of black in birds was weaving its way through my mind when I commented on the shining beauty of the Black (Amethyst) Sunbird taking advantage of the lull to get its share of the ‘pub’ before investigating the bright orange flowers of the Leonatis leonuris I had pruned earlier.

“What is a black swan?” B asked over tea. That’s easy, I thought until he qualified the question with “I don’t mean the bird.” That stumped me – I am not at all familiar with the term.

It turns out to refer to a completely unexpected event that would have been very difficult to predict. The term was popularised by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in 2007.  Such an event not only comes as a surprise, but has a major impact – such as those aeroplanes flying into the twin towers of the World Trade Center; an event now referred to simply as 9/11.

 

 

 

 

A VERY GOOD FRIDAY

A VERY GOOD FRIDAY

The glorious weather on this Good Friday drew me outdoors very early to tackle the vegetable garden. In spite of the vines stretching way beyond the confines of the bed, clambering up the garage steps, and waylaying the unwary walking past at night, the butternut squashes yielded only two for consumption. Both were wonderful specimens and tasted all the more delicious for being home-grown. The exhausted vines had to go, along with all the weeds that had flourished under and between the large butternut leaves.

butternut

Tea in the shade and a stint of bird watching followed that exertion in the heat. Listing twenty one species is not too shabby, considering I didn’t move from the comfort of my garden chair!

There are African Green Pigeons galore in the fig tree already laden with fruit. At first I thought that spotting five or six flitting in and out of the dark green foliage was a lot – until a passing truck made a loud noise that caused a flock of well over thirty of these beautiful birds to take off in fright!

Between them and the Redwinged Starlings that also flock to feast on the figs, I was assured of a melodious background to my musings. These flocks of starlings look so beautiful when they are in flight with the sunshine highlighting their russet wings.

The flocks of pigeons, doves and starlings take off at the slightest provocation. I kept peering into the clear blue sky to see if a raptor was flying overhead – nothing. This happened so often that I stirred to collect my camera in the hope of capturing the flight of so many birds for posterity. Alas, I was far too slow. Imagine this though: I saw a Redwinged Starling and an African Green Pigeon collide during one of their joint mass exoduses! Both birds continued on their respective flight paths afterwards.

It was while I was trying to photograph the birds that I stumbled across Daisy the Tortoise for the first time in weeks. I am so happy that it is still around chomping its way through our garden.Daisy

I gave up trying to photograph the African Green Pigeons in the fig tree: they disappear in a flash. Then I spotted several sunning themselves in the Erythrina caffra in the back garden.SONY DSC

This has been a very good Good Friday.