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.

Advertisements

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!).

SPECKLED MOUSEBIRDS

Mousebirds get their name from their soft fluffy greyish or brownish feathers that look more like fur than feathers, and from their mouse-like habits when they scurry through bushes in search of food. Although we occasionally get Red-faced Mousebirds visiting when there is a lot of fruit available, Speckled Mousebirds (Colius striatus) are resident in our garden throughout the year.

I find them difficult to photograph in the garden for they usually forage in the middle to upper tree canopy. This means that they tend to be hidden in the trees above my head. The tables were turned this morning though as I spotted them from my upstairs window!

Let us take a closer look at them:

Note the short crest, which gives the bird a rather jaunty appearance. In this portrait you can also clearly see the strong, decurved (curved downwards) bill with the distinctive blackish upper mandible and the white lower one.

Look at the fine barring of the mantle and breast of this bird.

This Speckled Mousebird stayed out of the foliage long enough to show off its long tail. The Colius part of their name is a reference to their long, slender tails resembling a sheath or scabbard.

SUNNY SUNDAY

SUNNY SUNDAY

Today has been a perfect sunny day – most welcome after two fierce thunderstorms over the past three days! While listening to the usual cacophony of birds in the garden, my attention was drawn to a scuffling sound outside the front gate that had the neighbouring hound barking furiously.

cows

This small herd of unattended cows have recently become regular visitors to our suburb over weekends. Given that the municipality tends to be lax about mowing the verges, perhaps we should be grateful for this injection of rural living.

A beautiful morning such as this seemed perfect for sitting in the shade, a pot of Yorkshire tea at my elbow, my notebook at hand and, for a change, my camera at the ready.

Apart from the usual flock of Laughing Doves fluttering down to peck at seeds or to sun themselves on a sandy bank by spreading out their wings, I found it interesting to watch a Black-collared Barbet from close quarters as it made its way down the branches of the tree to reach the feeding station.

blackcollaredbarbet

Note how large and sturdy its beak is!

It is fascinating watching the Village Weavers as they court each other, fight with each other, feed their young – and one even trying to build its nest on the bottom of the bird feeder! This one is in the throes of fanning its wings as part of its display behaviour.

villageweaver

A Cape Robin hopped about in the undergrowth – too dark for the camera – nearby; a Boubou Shrike treated me to a song from a branch just above me; a Paradise Flycatcher flitted enticingly from one bush to another – always too quick to be caught on camera; a flock of Speckled Mousebirds flew into the White Stinkwood tree and disappeared amongst the foliage; and Redwinged Starlings showed off their russet wingtips against the bright blue sky as they went in search of tasty morsels.

Best of all, I at last managed to capture a Lesser-striped Swallow peeping out of its nest. More of that later …

HARK THE UNUSUAL NOISE

HARK THE UNUSUAL NOISE

I was comfortable sitting in the shade of the forested part of the garden. The Cape– and Village Weavers were pecking away at the seed I had scattered earlier and would, now and then, latch onto a large (for them) piece of bread and fly up to a nearby branch to consume it at leisure.

My pot of Earl Grey tea was nearing its end when I turned my attention to the Forktailed Drongo up to its usual antics of stealing titbits from the beaks of other birds. It was good to hear the Sombre Bulbuls calling nearby; the Laughing Doves were combing the lawn for seeds and I idly watched Bryan the tortoise amble along, munching as he went. It was an idyllic scene.

The unusually persistent calls of the Cape Robin had barely registered in my languid state until the calls seemed to become louder and more agitated. I realised they came from the thick foliage near the pool, but was too comfortable to investigate – until I noticed the weavers, the Olive Thrush and the Forktailed Drongos swiftly fly towards the sound.

As I approached the pool, I noticed a flurry of feathers as the afore-mentioned birds flew in an out of the leaf cover, all flapping their wings and making a loud noise. I looked up at the leaf canopy from underneath in time to see a large Boomslang winding itself sinuously through the branches. As it looped across towards another tree, the slack, thick cable of its body was repeatedly attacked by robins, weavers, a Black-collared Barbet and even a Speckled Mousebird.

The snake moved swiftly and gracefully, winding in and out of the branches with ease towards a shallow nest balancing precariously in a fork of cotoneaster branches. Neither the mobbing of the birds nor the cacophony of their protests seemed of concern.

I turned away to call P to witness what was happening. My attention was diverted for seconds only … the Boomslang disappeared! As you can imagine, I checked the draping stems of canary creeper very carefully before moving an inch. The agitated birds began to disperse and soon all was quiet. The soporific air of a hot afternoon reasserted itself.

Cape White-eyes resumed their search for insects, the weavers returned to the seed tray, the Laughing Doves tramped across the lawn, and the Cape Robin – which had alerted me to this drama – flew off towards the direction of the fig tree.