SEPTEMBER 2020 GARDEN BIRDS

We have been treated throughout the month by the scarlet blossoms of the Erythrina caffra, which attracts a variety of birds throughout the day. A flock of Speckled Mousebirds make regular forays there to feed on the nectar.

Meanwhile, I am greeted daily by a flock of Laughing Doves perched either on the telephone line or in a nearby tree, waiting for me to put out seed for them. They would eat me out of house and home, so they are treated once a day only!

I have mentioned that two Common Fiscals have become regular visitors. The un-ringed one is increasingly tame / brave enough to perch on me and to eat food from my hand. I suspect it now expects to have its private supply of food for it hovers above my shoulder until I have sat down and then inspects what I have brought out. It once even came into the house when we were having tea indoors because of the inclement weather, but made its way out very quickly. The fiscal pictured below (with a ring) is a long-time garden visitor, yet maintains a distance. I have always used its ring as a means of identification. Now that we see the two of them on a daily basis, I have noticed other differences: this one does not have the same distinct eyebrows as the other, and it has a permanent dark spot on its front.

Some of you remarked on the crest of the Dark-capped Bulbul last month and so I feature one again, along with a good view of the yellow vent under its tail.

Another bird that got itself lost indoors was a Speckled Pigeon that probably entered through an open window in the bathroom. I first saw it on top of a cupboard in the upstairs passage and opened the window closest to it and left – only to return to my study a while later to find it perched on the curtain rail, having knocked photographs from the windowsill and scattered papers from my desk all over the floor! This time I caught it behind a curtain and almost shoved it out of the nearest window.

Of special note is the return of White-rumped Swifts in greater numbers. There is still no sign of Lesser-striped Swallows: I wonder if they ‘know’ there is no mud here with which to build their nests.

My September bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
African Hoopoe
Amethyst Sunbird
Black-collared Barbet
Black-headed 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
Dark-capped Bulbul
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Red-eyed Dove
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-throated Wryneck
Red-winged Starling
Sombre Greenbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift

AUGUST 2020 GARDEN BIRDS

This has been an interesting month for watching birds in our garden, beginning with the unmistakable sound of Red-necked Spurfowl under my bedroom window early in the morning. I counted six – not regular visitors, yet I am pleased to see how far they have ventured into the garden. One even hopped up onto the raised bird bath for a drink.

The Black-eyed Bulbuls (Dark-capped these days!) are courting – I watched a pair canoodling on the branches, looking very lovey-dovey – in numbers. This morning I counted eight of them in the feeding area. Several Speckled Mousebirds can also be seen cosying up to each other. The two Common Fiscals (one ringed and the other not) are clearly rivals and dart in and out trying to avoid each other. When they do meet they set up a loud haranguing match and have even attacked each other! I have observed a fiscal spreading out its tail feathers when confronted by a Black-collared Barbet at the feeding tray – determined to stand its ground. The barbets nearly always arrive as a pair. Another regular pair of visitors is the Streakyheaded Seedeater.

I put out both fine and coarse seed daily as well as filling up the nectar feeder. Other fare usually includes fruit, finely chopped pieces of meat, cat crumbles, or fat smeared on biscuits or thin slices of bread. This month I decided to take careful note of who ate what:

Dark-capped Bulbuls have enjoyed fat, cheese and fruit.

Both Common Fiscals seem to eat anything that is not fruit and are particularly partial to meat. This one, however, snitched part of my breakfast!

While the Red-winged Starlings are partial to fruit, they also eat cheese. This female is about to tuck into the pears.

Speckled Mousebirds prefer fruit and are prepared to wait their turn for it.

I usually associate weavers with eating the grain. These Cape Weavers, however, are tucking into a piece of fish. They also eat cat food, cheese, and fat.

The pair of Cape Robin-chats usually wait in the wings for the main rush to be over before they feed. I have seen them eating fat, as well as tiny portions of meat. This one has been eating cat food.

Common Starlings seem to eat anything. They tuck into fruit, cheese, fat, bread and cat food with relish.

I associate Cape White-eyes with fruit, nectar, and aphids. Yesterday though a few of them made off with tiny cubes of cheese.

My August bird list is:
African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul (Black-cap)
Black-headed Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin-chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Crowned Hornbill
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Longbilled Crombec
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Red-eyed Dove
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-throated Wryneck
Red-winged Starling
Spectacled Weaver
Sombre Greenbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver
Yellowfronted Canary

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

TWO SPECKLED BIRDS

We are familiar with birds being named for certain physical characteristics that make them easy to identify. Short-tailed Pipit, Cape Glossy Staring, and Red-fronted Tinkerbird come to mind. A glance through a bird guide index reveals two speckled birds: the Speckled Pigeon and the Speckled Mousebird.

According to the Collins Concise English Dictionary, ‘speckled’ describes small marks, usually of a contrasting colour, as one might find on eggs. The source of the word is spekkel, which comes from Middle Dutch.

It is probably their white spotted wings that prompted the name change of the Rock Pigeon to Speckled Pigeon (Columba guinea). The former name adequately described its penchant for choosing mountains, cliffs and rocky gorges for its habitat in the wild.

Speckled Pigeons have made themselves very at home in man-made structures, whether in towns, on farms, or in game reserves. One pair moved into a gap in our eaves several years ago. Our  home now hosts about six pairs!

While grain farmers might rightfully regard them as pests – they gather in large flocks when feeding in grain fields – they can be pesky in suburban gardens too. Apart from their increasing numbers, these birds are larger than the various doves that come down to feed on the grain I put out for them. A few have even learned how to muscle in and dominate Morrigan’s feeder, filled with fine seed to attract smaller birds such as weavers and the Bronze Manikins.

The Speckled Mousebird (Colius striatus) survived the name changes. There is one on the left of the above photograph. They have the habit of clinging closely to the branches and disturb easily – especially when a camera is nearby!

A marked characteristic of Speckled Mousebirds is the bill, which is black on top and white underneath.

Granted, it isn’t always easy to see these overall grey-brown birds very clearly in between the branches and foliage, but where the speckled part of its name comes from, I am not sure. Some ornithologists describe a distinct fine barring on the mantle and rump that are visible at close range – perhaps this is visible when one is very close. What is understandable is that the texture and colour of their plumage, their long tails and their general behaviour resembles that of a mouse – hence ‘mousebird’.  The Colius part of their name means scabbard or long sheath – a clear reference to their tails. Flocks of them regularly work their way through the garden in search of fruit, leaves, buds, flowers and nectar.

LOOK UP AND YOU WILL SEE …

… four birds in a tree. Granted, not all four are in the same tree.

The first is a Grey-headed Sparrow looking a little miffed at having been shoved aside at the bird feeder by a flock of Bronze Mannikins hard at work carting grain to their hungry youngsters perched nearby.

Next up is a coy looking Olive Thrush eyeing out the bird bath below.

An indignant Cape Weaver showed his impatience at having to wait for space at the bird feeder.

Lastly, a bright-eyed Speckled Mousebird surveying the prospects of food sources in the garden.