RED-WINGED STARLINGS

Red-winged Starlings (Onychognathus morio) were the iconic birds at Monteseel in KwaZulu-Natal, where I learned to rock climb in the early 1970s. Although I didn’t know much about birds at the time, the mixture of their mellifluous whistles and harsh grating sounds remain etched on my memory, along with the burnt orange of their wings glistening in the sunlight. There were large flocks of them, apparently unperturbed by the weekly intrusion of humans clambering up the rock faces.

With hindsight, perhaps they were, and it was rather the climbers who were unperturbed by the presence of these birds as they each focused on the next tiny hand- or foothold on their way up the crags. In the wild, Red-winged Starlings favour rocky ledged for nesting – not that I recall ever disturbing any nests. Like a number of other birds, they have sought out worthy substitutes in urban areas. For many years a pair of Red-winged Starlings annually built their untidy nests under the eaves of the school I worked at.

Red-winged Starlings visit our garden throughout the year. During the summer they frequently appear at the feeding tray in pairs, making a beeline for the fruit. The females are easily distinguished from the males as they sport a grey head.

This is a male Red-winged Starling perched in the Erythrina Caffra with a fig in his beak.

Large flocks of them sweep across the neighbourhood during winter, seeking out fruit, berries and other titbits to eat. We often see flocks of over fifty of them emerge from the Natal Fig tree when disturbed by traffic or other loud noises.

NOTE: Click on a photograph if you wish to see a larger view of it.

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DECEMBER 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

What an interesting month this has been for observing birds in our garden! The Lesser-striped Swallows are making yet another valiant attempt at rebuilding their mud nest. Here we are, past mid-summer, and they have still not managed to complete a nest nor raise a family. Finding suitable mud in these drought conditions must be difficult – I suspect they collect it from the edges of the rapidly drying-up dam over the road.

Despite several Village Weavers in varying states of maturity populating the garden, a number of them have recently been hard at work weaving their nests very high up in the Natal Fig.

A pair of Hadeda Ibises are also nesting in the fig tree.

The prolonged drought has resulted in a dearth of nectar-bearing flowers, making our nectar feeder so popular that I have been filling it twice a day for most of this month. It is visited regularly by Fork-tailed Drongos, Village Weavers, Cape Weavers, Black-eyed Bulbuls, Amethyst Sunbirds, Greater Double-collared Sunbirds, Black-headed Orioles as well as a Spectacled Weaver.

A pair of Red-winged Starlings began the month stuffing their beaks with apple flesh to take to their chick and, before long, were bringing their youngster to the feeding table to feed it there. It is now able to feed itself.

Life is not easy for birds: an alarm call from a Cape Robin had me interrupting our lunch to see what the problem was. I approached the bushes outside the dining room very cautiously as I was met with a flurry of birds including a fierce-looking Bar-throated Apalis, an agitated Paradise Flycatcher, a Thick-billed Weaver and several weavers. I only managed to photograph the alarmed robin before seeing a Boomslang weaving its way sinuously among the branches just above my head – time to beat a retreat!

On a different occasion the alarm call of a Cape Robin, combined with the frantic chirruping of other birds, drew me outdoors towards the thick, tangled hedge of Cape Honeysuckle. Mindful of snakes, I approached it very cautiously until I became aware of a distinctive clicking sound, kluk-kluk, which convinced me of the likelihood of finding either a Grey-headed Bush Shrike or a Burchell’s Coucal raiding a nest. It was neither. The vegetation as well as the hurried movements of Village Weavers, a Bar-throated Apalis and a particularly agitated-looking female Greater Double-collared Sunbird made photography nigh impossible. It was several minutes before I was able to ‘capture’ the nest-raider. This time it was a Southern Boubou.

What greater pleasure could there be, just as the year is drawing to a close, to have not one Hoopoe visit our garden, but four!

My December bird list:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Saw-wing
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pin-tailed Whydah
Red-billed Woodhoopoe
Red-chested Cuckoo
Red-eyed Dove
Red-fronted Tinkerbird
Red-winged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Southern Red Bishop
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift
Yellow-fronted Canary

APRIL 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

What a beautiful month this has been – no rain, sadly, but mostly clear skies with warm days and at night one can feel the winter chill moving in as if to say “Don’t be fooled, I am on my way ha ha!” The aloes coming into bloom are attracting the sunbirds: the Black Sunbird was seeking nectar elsewhere last month and is a welcome returnee, whilst the Olive Sunbird is making its annual fleeting visit.

At least three pairs of Speckled Pigeons have settled under our roof to breed. There are always one or two standing sentinel on the corner.

As the source of figs has dried up, the Redwinged Starlings keep an eye on the fruit I put out now and then. Here a female is making short work of her bite of an apple.

The Blackeyed Bulbuls also arrive soon after they spy the fruit on the feeding table.

I was very surprised to see six Rednecked Spurfowl on a warm day mid-month. Here today and gone tomorrow they were, as was the look-in by a Cape Wagtail. It has been a month for raptors too: the African Harrier-Hawk is a fairly regular visitor and was  joined this month by a Yellowbilled Kite and a Verreaux’s Eagle – all exciting to see.

My April bird list is:

African Darter
African Green Pigeon
African Harrier-Hawk (Gymnogene)
Barthroated Apalis
Barn Swallow
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Shrike (Fiscal)
Common Starling
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Sunbird
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redeyed Dove
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Rednecked Spurfowl
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Seedeater (Canary)
Verreaux’s Eagle
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowbilled Kite

HERALDING AUTUMN

There is no dramatic recolouring of the landscape here. Instead, autumn in our garden is heralded by the subtle fullness of the Natal figs:

These attract African Green Pigeons and Redwinged Starlings by the dozen:

The aloes are swelling in readiness for their winter blooming:

Black-eyed Susan creepers twine around other plants to provide bright colour:

Other splashes of colour come from the plumbago:

Canary creepers and Cape Honeysuckle:

While self-sown butternuts ripen on their vines.

In these years of severe water shortages, I bless the indigenous plants that simply ‘get on with it’ and do their best.

NOVEMBER 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

What a bumper month this has been for seeing birds in our garden! The Black Cuckoo could be heard long before it was seen; I have only had glimpses of the Paradise Flycatchers – which is not surprising as our garden consists of a tangle of trees and bush. Despite their name, Common Waxbill, these birds are not common in our garden and so their presence for several days running came as a pleasant surprise. Redbilled Woodhoopoes also paid us a flying visit, although I hear them calling around the neighbourhood far more often than I see them. The solitary Red Bishop that visits every now and then remains a mystery – where does it come from and why doesn’t it invite any of its mates to the bounty of food available in the garden?

A pair of Grey-headed Sparrows come to inspect the feeding tray either very early in the morning – before the mass of assorted doves and weavers arrive – or to see what is left once the initial feeding frenzy is over. I recognise their ‘chirrups’ among the leaves well before they appear.

There must be a lot of fruit around elsewhere for the Redwinged Starlings are not as prolific as they have been. Here a female has knocked an apple off the feeding tray to peck at on the ground.

My November bird list is:
African Darter
African Green Pigeon
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Cuckoo
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Black Cuckoo Shrike
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Common Waxbill
Diederik Cuckoo
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Red Bishop
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redchested Cuckoo
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Streakyheaded Canary (Seedeater)
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellow Weaver

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!

SONY DSC

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.