TO FALL OFF ONE’S PERCH

To fall off one’s perch is a rather irreverent way of saying that someone has died. It is a rather old-fashioned idiom which, believe it or not, is meant to be humorous. Another meaning I came across for it is to fail, or suffer damage to your status or position.

I have mentioned before that during this drought a number of doves especially seem to have died inexplicably not only in our garden, but in neighbouring ones. Someone suggested a cat may be responsible, having punctured the birds with its claws. It is awful to think of birds dying a slow death as a result. There has been no evidence on any of these birds of obvious marks of an attack or of the deaths resulting from them having flown into the windows.

Yesterday morning, we were enjoying a cup of tea in the shade of the trees on the lawn while watching a few Bronze Mannikins enjoying a meal at one of the feeders, when we heard the sound of something falling through the branches of the tree in front of us. I looked up, expecting to see a twig, and was taken aback by the sight of a bundle of what looked like fur. The object dropped with a thud onto the ground – it was a Speckled Mousebird. It landed on its back, its claws twitched briefly and the long tail feathers lifted slightly then fell back. The bird was dead.

It had literally fallen off its perch! We scanned the tree and the sky for any sign of a snake or a raptor – nothing. Again, there is not a mark on the bird to suggest it had been attacked by anything untoward. Intriguingly, there were no other mousebirds in the area – they are most frequently seen in groups. According to https://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/bird-life-expectancy-speckled-mousebird the lifespan of a Speckled Mousebird is eight to ten years. Had this bird simply reached the end of its life?

When I went out this morning, thinking to dispose of the dead bird, all signs of it had disappeared! What took it away during the night? I see no feathers or any sign of it having been eaten on the spot. A trail cam would have been useful.

NOVEMBER 2019 GARDEN BIRDS

The heat and drought continues unabated, yet I have been blessed with another bumper month of bird-watching in our garden. Delightful visitors are the Black-eyed Bulbuls (their new name, Dark-capped Bulbul, doesn’t trip off my tongue yet) that frequent both the nectar feeder and partake of the cut apples, although I have occasionally seen them hawking insects too. Here a pair of them are seeking some respite in the shade.

The Black-headed Oriole is always a welcome visitor to the nectar feeder. It swoops down now and then to feed on apples too.

This Bronze Mannikin is perched on a branch with its beak agape while it waits for a turn at the seed feeder – mostly dominated by Southern Masked Weavers and Streaky-headed Seedeaters. Although they are said to eat fruit and nectar, I have not observed them doing either in our garden.

The Common Fiscal is a regular visitor – quite happy to inspect my breakfast or what we are having to eat with our mid-morning tea – and is often the first to inspect what has been placed on the feeding tray. There are two: one without a ring and this one that has been ringed. Checking through my archived photographs, the latter has been seen in our garden over a couple of years and must be resident near here. Both have been collecting fruit and flying off to what I presume is a nest in a neighbouring garden.

As much as we often malign Common Starlings in this country, they can be amusing to watch. They tend to perch on the telephone wire above the feeding area to assess the availability of food then come down straight, akin to the landing of a helicopter, to guzzle whatever is there as quickly as possible. This one appears to be voicing its dissatisfaction that a pair of Redwinged Starlings beat it to the apple.

I have mentioned before how important it is to provide water for the birds to drink and bathe in during this hot and dry period. This Laughing Dove is making its way to one of the bird baths, with very little water in it – I filled it up after taking this photograph. The bird baths get filled twice, and sometimes even three times a day of late.

There is a saga attached to the Lesser-striped Swallows which I will relate in another post.

The daily sound of the squeaky ‘kweek, kweek, kweek’ notes emanating from the Red-throated Wryneck has been frustrating as this bird has been so difficult to locate! I used the binoculars and managed to get a better photograph of this warbler-like bird from an upstairs window yesterday – see how well it blends into the lichen-covered branches of the Tipuana tree.

I cannot resist showing you this picture of a Red-winged Starling about to tuck into an apple.

The Speckled Mousebirds are going to bag a post of their own soon. Meanwhile, this one is waiting for an opportunity to eat the apples on the tray below. Note how well it too blends into its surroundings.

My November bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Barthroated Apalis
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin-chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Crowned Hornbill
Diederik Cuckoo
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Red-chested Cuckoo
Redeyed Dove
Red-fronted Tinkerbird
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-throated Wryneck
Redwinged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Southern Red Bishop
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Thickbilled Weaver
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellow-billed Kite

MORNING MEETING

“We need to discuss the dry state of our world”, said the Speckled Mousebird while perching on a sturdy twig of the plum tree that had finally succumbed to one drought too many. Its mates cuddled together and watched the proceedings from on high as the Olive Thrush flew up to perch next to him – keeping a beady eye out for any sign of food below. “Fruit would be good,” it said mournfully, “or even a beetle or two. I haven’t seen a worm for weeks.” The Mousebird made a dry rattling noise in the back of its throat and fluffed out its tail feathers. “There are no buds, no flowers and very few insects – not a berry to be seen.”

“Always complaining, whining and moaning,” mumbled the one Bronze Manikin to the other, its beak filled with seeds. “That’s the problem when you want gourmet meals with so-called variety!” “Eat up,” its companion said,”I can hear the weavers coming!”

PERSISTENCE COULDN’T PAY OFF

Persistence describes continuing in an opinion or course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition. An interesting meme I came across the other day reads a river cuts through a rock not because of its power, but its persistence. We are frequently told that willpower/persistence pays off in the end. Sometimes it doesn’t – and there are times when it simply cannot. While a Speckled Pigeon dominates the photographs below – as it dominates Morrigan’s feeder meant for smaller birds – I want you to observe the actions of the Speckled Mousebird in the background.

Here you can see the Speckled Mousebird eyeing the end of the string tied to Morrigan’s bench feeder, which has tilted under the weight of the Speckled Pigeon. A Laughing Dove is waiting in the wings for an opportunity to eat any grains that the larger bird may have left. The Speckled Mousebird is not interested in food, but the tuft of string.

Even though there has been no rain here for months, leaving the surrounding country looking dry and no fresh shoots of leaves on the trees, spring is in the air and breeding must happen willy-nilly. It is nesting time. The only Speckled Mousebird nest I have seen was built high up in the Natal fig tree a few years ago. Mousebirds build an untidy nest from grass and stems and then line it with softer materials – I have watched them break off fronds of new leaves, collect feathers and even bits of paper for this purpose before.  I am not sure if the string was intended for the construction or lining of the nest.

I have to tell you that the tufted end of this string has softened over the years as a result of being pulled and tugged at by weavers especially. Anyway, this mousebird was going to give it a try. It got a strand in its beak and pulled and pulled and pulled.

It was hard work. We all know that persistence is the key to success and this mousebird had plenty to spare. I watched it working at the string for nearly fifteen minutes, tugging it this way and that without success.

I haven’t seen it back at the string, so assume it found more suitable material with which to either build or line its nest.

FOUR LONG-TAILED BIRDS

A number of South African birds sport long tails. Only four of them will feature today. Some gardens host a resident Pintailed Whydah (Vidua macroura). At the start of spring the males gradually slough their winter tweedy feathers to don their black and white ‘tuxedo’ look, complete with long tail feathers which can grow up to 20cm in length. They are aggressive little birds that will readily chase larger birds, such as pigeons or doves, from food sources within what they have claimed as their territory. People either love them or hate them, but I have found that other garden birds soon get used to their aggressive behaviour and feed quite happily while the male is chasing after one or other of his harem.

Another common garden bird with a long tail is the Speckled Mousebird (Colius striatus). They cover a large range within sub-Saharan Africa and one seldom sees them on their own for they are sociable birds, as you can see in the photograph below. They even roost pressed closely together! It amusing to watch them move from one part of the garden to another, for their flight is far from graceful and it often appears as if they have crash-landed in the next tree.

While it occurs elsewhere in Africa, the Lilac-breasted Roller (Coracias caudata) only occurs in the northern part of this country – a truly beautiful bird that is fairly commonly observed in the Kruger National Park. These birds are territorial and so, when one drives along the roads in the park, one can see them spaced out across the veld – often perched on a tree stump or the top of a low bush from where they can keep an eye on their territory. Their tails are long and forked.

Lastly, what used to be called a Grey Lourie and is now been saddled with the awkward name of Grey Go-away-bird (Corythaixoides concolor), also occurs mainly in the northern parts of the country and is also commonly seen in gardens in Gauteng. Its shaggy-looking crest can be raised or flattened. Like the Speckled Mousebird, these birds do not seem to be particularly adept at flying and can often be seen climbing up tree branches.

FOUR HUNGRY BIRDS

The birds in our garden are regularly supplied with seeds and fruit, although there are a number of berries on indigenous trees at this time of the year as well as succulent flowers on the Erythrina caffra tree especially. Weavers and other smaller birds are provided with fine grass seeds in the hanging feeders and coarse seeds, such as crushed maize and millet are scattered on the ground for doves and pigeons. Well, that is the way it is supposed to work. Here is one of many Cape Weavers making the most of the abundance of Erythrina caffra flowers.

Amethyst sunbirds, Speckled Mousebirds, Common Starlings, Black-headed Orioles, Fork-tailed Drongos, Laughing Doves, African Green Pigeons, Black-eyed Bulbuls and a variety of other birds visit these blossoms during the day. Laughing Doves, Red-eyed Doves and the Speckled Pigeons also gather below the hanging feeders to eat the seeds that fall to the ground. These Laughing Doves have decided to get to the source:

Not to be outdone, a Speckled Pigeon has usurped Morrigan’s feeder for a good meal:

There are a lot of berries and seeds around for the Speckled Mousebirds to feed on, but here they have homed in on an orange I put out on the feeding tray:

THERE ARE BIRDS IN ADDO

Far too many tourists drive about seeking one species of animal after the other in their quest to chalk up as many as they can – even driving past elephants, zebra and kudu because of a  “we’ve seen them” attitude – with eyes peeled for the ultimate prize: the sight of a lion. We see bored faces in vehicles as the day progresses, listless looks of bafflement when a passing vehicle asks what we are looking at and we respond “birds” or even tell them what bird we might be looking at. “Birds,” one might say or simply give a nod of the head as they move on in their quest.

Watching out for birds in any game reserve adds to the enjoyment of the environment as a whole. Here are a few of the many seen on our recent trip to the Addo Elephant National Park:

A ubiquitous Common Fiscal. Note how it is holding on to the twigs to keep it steady in the stiff breeze.

A young Olive Thrush perching inquisitively on our picnic table. Notice that it is still covered with speckles.

Cape Bulbuls, such as this one abound in the rest camp.

Large flocks of Pied Starlings can be seen all over in the park.

It is always fun seeing Speckled Mousebirds fly across the road or to working their way through bushes as they look for leaves, berries or flowers to eat.

Beautiful Malachite Sunbirds show flashes of metallic green as they pass by in a flash.

Who can resist the delicate beauty of a Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk?

How fortunate it was to find a Greater Striped Swallow at rest!

One can almost be guaranteed to find a Bar-throated Apalis at the picnic site.

Lastly, for now, is a Sombre Bulbul (now called a Sombre Greenbul!).