Despite having been away for a while, this has proved to be a satisfying month of birdwatching in my garden. At night and during the early hours of most mornings we are serenaded by a Fiery-necked Nightjar. An African Darter has flown over ‘my’ airspace a few times in order to make my list and Black-eyed (Dark-capped) Bulbuls have made cheerful forays to the feeding table. The sounds of cuckoos can be heard – the Piet-my-Vrou (Red-chested Cuckoo) is another clear sign that spring is here to stay.
On that note, while the sun rises ever earlier, the mornings remain fairly chilly and so it is not surprising to find a flock of Bronze Mannikins gathered in the branches of a Dais cotonifolia to warm up for a while before their breakfast:
I feature the Common Fiscals a lot in these posts, largely because they are such characters and are photogenic to boot. Spotty has even brought a chick along to the feeding area to see what the offerings are. The biggest surprise for me though was the sighting of the only female Common Fiscal I have ever seen in our garden. She did not appear to be connected to either Spotty or Meneer and I have not seen her since. Note the chestnut flanks that characterise the females:
As you can see, I have purchased a new feeder – I’m not sure how well this configuration is being received, but the other one requires a thorough cleaning (when we get a reasonable supply of water again!). Here a Southern Masked Weaver is trying it out accompanied by Bronze Mannikins:
A Grey-headed Sparrow is enjoying a solo feeding session:
Also catching the morning sun whilst keeping an eye out for the neighbouring cats are these Laughing Doves:
I mentioned the Hadeda Ibis nest last month. So far there is no sign of either eggshells at the base or chicks on the nest, so the eggs are still being incubated:
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
Southern Masked Weaver
For any journey south from the town where I live the first stop must surely be the Nanaga Farm Stall off the N2. I extolled the virtues of this popular place earlier this year, so you won’t be surprised to know that this is where we stopped for an early breakfast before tackling the long road ahead of us.
This farm stall is not only well known for its delicious pies and other things to eat and drink. Its pleasant surroundings, luscious lawns, indigenous plants and an array of picnic tables make it a very pleasant place to take a break from driving. We sometimes see a cat or two, but this time were greeted by a pair of ducks that waddled quietly between the tables.
If you take the time to look around, you will become aware of several birds in the bushes, on the ground, or dipping into the water at the edge of a small pond. Some of the birds – like this Pied Starling – make their presence felt by scuttling towards you on the ground, flying in to land on your table, or perching on the back of a metal chair with a sidelong look to see if you have dropped any crumbs from the delicious pastry of the pie in your hand.
Then there are weavers, such as this Southern Masked Weaver, that take time off from chasing each other over the garden or building their nests in the fever trees to emulate the starlings and arrive to see what pickings are on offer.
More subtle, or perhaps this is because they are less flamboyant looking, are the small flocks of Cape Sparrows that hop about on the lawn or scour the ground around the tables.
The garden is filled with indigenous trees and flowers: definitely a topic for another post. However, as they still boast beautiful flowers alongside the spring flush of green leaves, I have to leave you with this beautiful sight of a young Erythrina lysistemon, one of several planted in this beautiful setting.
Feeling refreshed, we tackled the next section of our long journey much further south.
Until last week, the Southern Masked Weavers were by far the most dominant ones in the garden. This week the Cape Weavers have taken over, muscling in with their faces dusted with a range of colours from pale chestnut to a deep reddish blush. They are vociferous and pushy – one is even trying to start building a nest just above the bird feeders – not very successfully as its attempts are constantly interrupted by passing traffic of doves, starlings, mousebirds and a host of other weavers. I have gone to my archives to find two photographs of Southern Masked Weavers to brighten these pages to reflect my joy in … the rain falling gently outside!
These photographs were taken in the Addo Elephant National Park … which is sending out a strong call for another visit!
While they are commonly seen throughout southern Africa, Southern Masked Weavers (Ploceus velatus) have taken some years to become regular visitors to our garden. They are no strangers to this blog for during the past year or two they appear to have become the dominant weaver – outranking the Village Weavers that used to outnumber them by far. They are easily distinguished from Village Weaver by being slightly smaller and have a plain, rather than a blotchy, back.
Depending on the weather, their breeding season usually runs from September to January, although the peak of the season is in summer. During this time, breeding males sport a black face mask with a narrow black band on the forehead above the bill. During the non-breeding season they adopt a more drab appearance, akin to the females, other than the retention of their red eyes. Note their short, strong, conical bill.
The shape of its bill is eminently suited to it being mainly a seed-eater. They eat seeds both from the bird-feeders and from the ground. I have also observed them foraging through leaves and branches as well as fighting each other – and other birds – over any scraps of food I place on the tray. These birds have bent and broken the stems of the cosmos flowers – in search of insects or nectar?
When we had rain and I was able to grow African Marigolds, I would often see some of the Southern Masked Weavers ripping the petals apart.
Now is the time when the lovely orange blossoms of the Cape Honeysuckle come into bloom and the weavers waste no time in biting off the tubular flowers at the base to get at the nectar. They do the same to the Weeping Boer-bean, which is also blooming now. When our Erythrina caffra trees are in bloom, they join with a wide variety of birds doing much the same.
Lastly, these birds are not slow when it comes to feasting on the termites and flying ants that regularly appear in the garden!
A casual glance at this stony ground reveals nothing that is obviously edible, yet, this Southern Masked-Weaver (Ploceus velatus) kept flitting down from the nearby shrubbery to make a thorough search of the area – akin to gleaning a harvested wheat field. He certainly found a number of tiny morsels to eat, as this photograph shows.
Its plain back and red eyes distinguish it firstly from the Village Weaver and secondly from the Lesser Masked-Weaver. The latter does not occur in this region, while both the Village Weaver and the Southern Masked-Weaver visit our garden – along with Cape Weavers, the occasional Spectacled Weaver and – even more rarely – a Yellow Weaver or two.
In common with other members of the weaver family, the Southern Masked-Weaver usually eats insects, seeds, and a variety of plant material as well as nectar – they love aloes! I suspect this one was finding seeds lodged within the gravel. The slightly damp look is a result of the briefest of light drizzle showers that swept over us at the time – not even long enough for us to get wet.
Here is a Village Weaver (Ploceus cucullatus) for comparison: