The small bird bath we were gifted over a year ago has provided good service from where it was positioned in the shade of a vachellia (acacia) tree. Constructed from solid concrete, it is very heavy for its size. I have at last mustered the strength to roll it across the lawn and heave it into a much more appropriate place in the little flower bed next to our pool. Here I get the benefit of seeing the visitors and they are only a hop away from thick shrubbery should they need shelter in a hurry. A Speckled Pigeon was the first to inspect it:
This is new.
Mm … the water looks good.
It tastes good too.
It tastes very good indeed!
And so it is that the new position of this bird bath has gained its seal of approval. It has since been used by weavers, doves, bulbuls, barbets and a host of other birds.
This has been the month for subtle seasonal changes. Whatever the calendar might suggest, nature knows what to do when. So it is that the Pin-tailed Whydah has lost his long tail feathers and the tweed of his winter coat is beginning to shine through his worn out tuxedo; the Cape Weavers no longer carry a deep blush; and the weavers in general are all looking a little tatty. Although the Lesser-striped Swallows departed for northern climes earlier in the month, a few White-rumped Swifts continue to fly low over the garden or can be seen twisting and turning high in the sky against the late afternoon light. Thankfully, the Hadeda Ibises are waking later now that the early mornings remain darker for longer!
A pair of Olive Thrushes either chase each other from the feeding area or appear singly to pick out food from the feeding tray and take it to the ground to eat.
A pair of Southern Boubous have become regular visitors to the feeder, usually only one at a time, and I hear them calling to each other during the day. The beautiful orange Cape Honeysuckle is coming into bloom and already the Southern Masked Weavers are biting the tubular flowers off at the base to get at the nectar.
Now that the Common Fiscals are no longer feeding their fledglings I see them less often. The tame one we call Meneer still alights on the garden table now and then to collect its personal handout. Speckled Pigeons seem to breed throughout the year. There are now a lot of them living in our roof!
These two Laughing Doves seem to have run out of things to say to each other.
A Cardinal Woodpecker announced its presence nearby recently with a typical rat-a-tat sound as it tapped at old wood for insects. It took me a little while to spot it through a tangle of shrubbery, where it was hammering away at the trunk of a long dead plum tree.
Green Woodhoopoes pay fleeting visits to the garden to probe old wood, between dry aloe leaves, and cracks for food. This one is a youngster, still lacking the bright beak and the patterns on its tail. It was exploring a tree in the company of several adults.
Speckled Pigeons are regular visitors to the feeding area in our garden – several of them live in our roof, so can be regarded as local residents. A superficial glance will assure you that they all look similar, with little in the way of differentiating one from another. Except … for the past ten days or so I have noticed one limping, although it has never come close enough for me to see what its problem might be. Then came the day I happened to have my camera at hand …
As I couldn’t get close to the bird I used the telephoto lens to see what might be wrong with its leg or foot. It looks as though some thin wire has got wrapped around its foot. Not only the foot, but perhaps around the ankle too. The next photograph suggests this may have happened a long time ago for the foot is misshapen.
This next blurry photograph shows there is still a length of wire trailing from the leg.
My instinct is to try and catch it to remove the wire, but it won’t let me get anywhere near it. Instead, I watched as it landed on the edge of the bird bath for a drink.
It then bathed and flew to the top of our roof. I still see it now and then, eating seed among the other pigeons and doves. Its presence serves as a reminder of how resilient we can all be when called upon to dig deep.
As we are experiencing the heat of summer, it seems fitting to draw attention to the attraction of water for birds and animals. I start in my garden then travel through my archives to a wonderful time spent – oh so long ago – in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
An Olive Thrush chooses a quiet moment to step into the shallow bird bath tucked into a shady section of the garden, where there is plenty of cover nearby to duck into should the need arise. It glances around whilst standing stock-still, as if it is assessing what dangers might be lurking around before it takes a few sips of water then splashes itself liberally in the bird bath.
Five Cape White-eyes gather for a communal drink and bathe at a different bird bath in a sunnier spot – still with plenty of cover to dive into if necessary.
This Speckled Pigeon casts a wary eye upwards before settling into the same bird bath for a drink.
Further afield, a lioness slakes her thirst at a water trough in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
So does a Gemsbok, accompanied by a trio of Cape Turtle Doves.
Lastly, a Yellow Mongoose ignores a swarm of thirsty bees to drink at a bird bath set underneath a communal tap in one of the rest camps in the Kgalagadi.
We have come to the end of a year, the form of which none of us could have imagined. Watching the birds in our garden has been a saviour to me in terms of pleasure, variety and purpose – especially during the early days of the pandemic lockdown when we couldn’t even leave our homes. We have endured a dreadful drought, relieved a little by some light rain this month. Yet, the birds have endured. Their comings and goings are proof that life continues and their hope and the justification of their behaviour in terms of a belief in the future is one worth emulating: we need to dream, to make plans, and to believe in our future. Never mind that we have pandemic-related restrictions placed on us with little warning, that our plans have to change … we are adaptable creatures and are able to ‘make a plan’ in order to make the best of what we have. I take heart from the Lesser-striped Swallows that have had to wait for the rain to produce the mud they need to build their nest – only to have it fall down soon after completion. They take stock of the situation and try again!
An interesting variety of birds have visited our garden this month. Many are residents, while others are summer visitors. A Brown-hooded Kingfisher perched above one of our bird baths shortly before Christmas – the first I have seen here for some time. The ‘Friendly Fiscal’ has faced stiff opposition as the ringed one has become bolder and a third Common Fiscal has discovered a ready source of food. The three of them clash fairly often and the Friendly Fiscal has to keep a beady eye open when he comes. I was absolutely thrilled when it ate from my young grandson’s hands twice during his short visit here with his family.
Laughing Doves abound, as usual, and some are adept at clinging on to the hanging bird feeders to get to the source of the seed instead of pecking at the seed that has fallen to the ground. Meanwhile, we have been entertained by the calls of the Red-chested Cuckoo, Diederik Cuckoos and a Klaas’ Cuckoo. I am delighted to at last get a photograph – albeit not a good one – of the latter for they are not easy to spot among the thick foliage. This one is perched in a Pompon tree in which the buds are clearly visible before they burst open to reveal their beautiful pink blossoms.
Other birds that are notoriously difficult to photograph because of their ability to ‘disappear’ in the foliage are the African Green Pigeons, of which there are several feasting on the figs of the Natal fig tree.
Several Speckled Pigeons live in our roof yet they too enjoy the shade of the fig tree during the December heat.
Red-winged Starlings visit the figs daily to get their fill.
My December bird list:
African Green Pigeon
Cape Turtle Dove
Southern Masked Weaver
Southern Red Bishop