A CURIOUS SOUTHERN BOUBOU

A pair of Southern Boubous have been calling to each other in our garden – another sign of the approach of spring even though we are in the throes of the coldest temperatures during the whole of winter! They favour a habitat of dense cover with plenty of hiding places – our garden is ideal for that – and so it isn’t always easy to get a clear view of them. The prolonged drought has, however, led to a thinning out of the otherwise dense foliage and, I think, there might be less food freely available at present which means they come to the feeding tray more regularly than they used to.

This Southern Boubou, in the Addo Elephant National Park, emerged from the thick bush at Jack’s picnic place to keep an eye on our stand-up picnic.

It perched on this thin branch for some time, affording me the opportunity to note its long claws; the different length of its tail feathers; the shape of its bill; and its glossy black feathers. This curious Southern Boubou was not perched there to be admired, rather it was curious about the food we were eating: the second I dropped a nut it swooped down to eat it.

This is an aspect of Addo that I enjoy very much: that at the picnic place several birds have become so accustomed to visitors that even shy ones like these are prepared to come out into the open where we can admire them from close quarters.

THREE BIRDS

As much as I enjoy watching the avian visitors to my garden, I am aware that I do not get to photograph them all and so tend to saturate my posts with Olive Thrushes, Fork-tailed Drongos and Black-collared Barbets among others. In a fit of heimwee for the Addo Elephant National Park, I chose a folder at random to highlight three of the birds we often see there. The first is a Sombre Greenbul (Andropadus importunus) which, I confess, I still think of as a Sombre Bulbul. Its Afrikaans name is Gewone Willie – Ordinary/common Willie. That is an apt name for its distinctive song is usually described as a piercing ‘willie’ sound. One can hear them calling all over the park, although the best place to see one close up is in the picnic area – where this one was photographed.

These dull olive-green coloured birds with their characteristic pale eyes regularly visit our garden. Their colouring helps them to blend into the bushes, where they spend a lot of their time hidden under the foliage for they appear to be shy birds. The ones seen at the picnic area in the Addo Elephant National Park have become habituated to the presence of humans and are lured into the open by the prospect of titbits dropped during the course of picnic lunches. We have even experienced one hopping about on the wooden table to help itself to snacks!

The next is a Southern Boubou (Lanarius ferrugineas), known as a Suidelike Waterfiskaal – Southern Water Fiscal – in Afrikaans (I cannot think what its connection is with water). Although this is a bush-shrike, it lost that appellation some time ago. A pair of these birds visit our garden – usually when I do not have a camera at hand – and entertain us with their duet of ‘boo-boo’ followed by a whistled ‘whoo-mee’. As with the Common Fiscal, many gardeners do not enjoy having them around because nestling birds form part of their varied diet. ‘Such cruel birds’, I have been told. They have to eat – and are people not ‘cruel’ too because they eat the meat of animals, calves included?

Ferrugineas means ‘rust-coloured’, which is a good description of the buff wash on its belly. These are shy birds that also prefer hopping about in the lower reaches of dense foliage. So, the picnic area in the Addo Elephant National Park is a good place to photograph them from nearby – they too have become habituated to humans here and are not above keeping a beady eye open for food that has dropped onto the ground – or that can be filched from the tables!

The third bird I want to revisit is the Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca) – motivated in part by my excitement at seeing a pair in the veld on the outskirts of our town last week. I would love it if they decided to become urbanised. I am aware, however, that in many places their presence in towns is regarded as a nuisance. They are attractive birds though. We came across these goslings near the Hapoor Waterhole in the Addo Elephant National Park last year – two of several working their way through the grass with their parents in close attendance. Their fluffy brown and white feathers are the closest to an image of spring that I can get at the moment.

Although the dark brown chest patch cannot be seen on the goslings, it gives rise to the Afrikaans name, Kolgans – Bull’s-eye Goose. The Egyptians featured these birds in their artworks as they were considered sacred.

A CLOSE LOOK AT A SOUTHERN BOUBOU

The Southern Boubou (Laniarius ferrugineus) prefers a bushy habitat and to forage for food on the ground – we have ideal cover for them in our garden even though we do not see the resident pair on a daily basis. The Laniarius part of its name means ‘butcher’ with reference to its preferred diet of invertebrates, reptiles, small mice and nestling birds, although it also eats fruit.

The Boubou is named after the characteristic boo-boo call it makes, among other sounds. We hear the duets of the pair of Boubous more often than we see them. They often call antiphonally – each bird alternating with the other. If I am patient enough I occasionally see them visiting the area of the feeders long after the main rush of birds has left.

You will probably have to magnify this photograph to see the strong hooked bill that is a characteristic feature of bush-shrikes.

This one looks like a youngster.

Here is an adult:

NOTE: Click on a photograph for a larger view.

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

AN UNINVITED GUEST

Jack’s picnic site in the heart of the Addo Elephant National Park is a good place to stop for lunch and enjoy a break from driving. Each picnic site is separated from the next by a thick hedge of Spekboom and other indigenous plants, so one does not have to wait long to get close-up views of a variety of shrub-loving birds. We were able to admire a Bar-throated Apalis – a bird heard all over the park, but which is not easily seen whilst one is driving.

It wasn’t long before a Southern Boubou made an appearance.

A pair of Cape Robin-chats came to investigate the pickings.

We are always pleased to see a Sombre Greenbul (I still think of it is a Bulbul!), which is another bird more easily heard than seen when one drives through the park.

These birds have become accustomed to the regular arrival and departure of humans, for they appeared in quick succession to comb the gravel for anything edible the previous party might have left in their wake. Within minutes of our arrival they had retreated to the dense cover of the surrounding shrubbery as we settled down to enjoy our food and conversation.

Shortly afterwards I became aware of the Cape Robin-chats calling loudly behind me – I recognised the alarm call from the many times I have heard it in our garden. One of the pair spread its tail feathers out widely, while the other ruffled its feathers as if to increase its size.

The Southern Boubou emerged from the undergrowth, making a harsh grating alarm call, while the Bar-throated Apalis danced frantically along the top of the Spekboom hedge, snapping its bill and wings – it too was clearly agitated. Something untoward was happening.

I looked up in time to see a Boomslang launching itself from the shrubbery onto the roof shading our picnic table – far too fast for me to focus my camera! We could see no sign of it on the roof, so we continued our picnic until I looked up again and saw its sinuous length squeezed into the space between the roof and the wooden slats below it.

Some of our party felt it was too close for comfort

We decided then than it was time to pack up and continue our game viewing drive.