SOUTHERN MASKED WEAVER

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!

GLEANING WEAVER

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:

JULY 2020 GARDEN BIRDS

The traditional calendar notwithstanding – nor the fluctuations in temperature between very cold and fairly summery – the birds seem to know a thing or two about when to court, when to breed, and when spring is on its way. The Olive Thrushes, usually quick to see what is on offer, have been more furtive of late. Instead of eating their fill, drinking or bathing afterwards and then perching on a nearby branch until they are ready for the next round, two of them arrive one after the other – disappearing in different directions – to gobble what they can and then carry off bits of food to their nest. I think one is located in our bottom ‘wild’ garden but am disinclined to disturb them. The other day an Olive Thrush took a dislike to a Speckled Pigeon right across the garden for no apparent reason.

Laughing Doves court throughout the year. I counted twenty-six of them the other day – and have yet to come across a single nest!

The yellow beaks of the Common Starlings are an indication that they are also in breeding mode.

There are two Common Fiscals that arrive separately every day – distinguishable only because one has been ringed.

A female Greater Double-collared Sunbird has spent about four days gathering tiny fragments of lichen, small feathers, and even soft grass seeds with which to line her nest – which is possibly in the hedge between us and our neighbours – while Mr Sunbird drinks his fill at the nectar feeder and makes loud territorial noises from on high in the Erythrina tree in the back garden.

The Streakyheaded Seedeaters always arrive as a pair.

Most of the Village Weavers and Southern Masked Weavers are looking a little worse for wear at the moment as they are growing into their breeding plumage.

One Cape Weaver has already built a nest in the side garden, while others arrive with strips of reed leaves in their beaks only to drop them when they tuck into the seeds for a meal.

Here you can see the difference in the shape of the beak of a Blackcollared Barbet and a Black-eyed Bulbul as they feed on cut apples.

Speckled Mousebirds perch patiently in the shrubbery for an opportunity to come down to eat the fruit.

My July bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Blackshouldered Kite
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Batis
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Crowned Hornbill
Crowned Plover
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Red-eyed Dove
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-winged Starling
Spectacled Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Thickbilled Weaver
Village Weaver
Yellowfronted Canary

FEBRUARY 2020 GARDEN BIRDS

We have been blessed with more rain this month, which has not only greened up the garden but seems to have speeded up the blossoming of flowers and the development of grass seeds. Plenty of natural food is available and there has been a fair amount of surface water, so the birds have not been as dependent on the nectar, seeds, fruit and water that I regularly provide for them.

They have probably been about all summer, but I have only recently begun noticing the Barn Swallows as they start gathering on overhead cables in the late afternoons, doubtless readying themselves for the journey north once autumn sets in. The morning and evening skies are filled with swifts and swallows dipping, fluttering, swooping and almost bumping into each other – joined in the early evenings by tiny insectivorous bats. The mud nest of the Lesser-striped Swallows has been a hive of activity – they have definitely been successful at breeding at last. Here is one of the adults peeping out of the opening:

The adults move in and out of the nest so swiftly that I have had to sit on the back steps very patiently to capture them in motion. This one is just leaving the nest:

I was fortunate to have my camera in hand when this Cape Batis came into view next to our driveway:

The Greater Double-collared Sunbirds have been particularly vociferous this month, twittering loudly from high branches or cables. The Amethyst Sunbirds have also been flying to and fro across the garden – neither have made much use of the nectar feeder, that having mainly been visited by the Cape White-eyes and Black-eyed Bulbuls. I am delighted to report that the pair of Red-necked Spurfowl is becoming more daring and have been seen walking right across our front lawn. I have been enticing them to the garden by sprinkling maize seed in the bottom garden.

Southern Masked Weavers have continued to be the dominant weaver in the garden this month:

My February bird list:
African Darter
African Green Pigeon
African Harrier-hawk
Amethyst Sunbird
Barn Swallow
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Boubou
Bronze Mannikin
Cape Batis
Cape Crow
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Common Waxbill
Diederik Cuckoo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Red-eyed Dove
Red-fronted Tinkerbird
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-throated Wryneck
Red-winged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Black Tit
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Thick-billed Weaver
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift
Yellow-fronted Canary

GETTING TO GRIPS WITH FOOD

One needs to get a firm grip on one’s food if you are not going to miss it – or fall off your perch. You can tell birds were not consulted when this feeder was designed. I need to get a good grip here by holding onto the grid as there isn’t much space for two feet.

Village Weaver

Landing can be rather awkward – even if you are a tad more elegantly proportioned. At least we can be more comfortably seated for snacking once that has been accomplished.

Bronze Mannikins

This is an elegant way to perch.

Village Weaver

Actually eating is not always comfortable though.

Southern Masked Weaver