THIS PUB IS MINE!

There has been no substantial rain for months. The heat causes the bird baths to evaporate so quickly they have to be filled more than once in a day. The ‘pub’ or nectar feeder is a draw-card for a variety of birds too. This Spectacled Weaver was not in the mood to share:

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DECEMBER 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

What an interesting month this has been for observing birds in our garden! The Lesser-striped Swallows are making yet another valiant attempt at rebuilding their mud nest. Here we are, past mid-summer, and they have still not managed to complete a nest nor raise a family. Finding suitable mud in these drought conditions must be difficult – I suspect they collect it from the edges of the rapidly drying-up dam over the road.

Despite several Village Weavers in varying states of maturity populating the garden, a number of them have recently been hard at work weaving their nests very high up in the Natal Fig.

A pair of Hadeda Ibises are also nesting in the fig tree.

The prolonged drought has resulted in a dearth of nectar-bearing flowers, making our nectar feeder so popular that I have been filling it twice a day for most of this month. It is visited regularly by Fork-tailed Drongos, Village Weavers, Cape Weavers, Black-eyed Bulbuls, Amethyst Sunbirds, Greater Double-collared Sunbirds, Black-headed Orioles as well as a Spectacled Weaver.

A pair of Red-winged Starlings began the month stuffing their beaks with apple flesh to take to their chick and, before long, were bringing their youngster to the feeding table to feed it there. It is now able to feed itself.

Life is not easy for birds: an alarm call from a Cape Robin had me interrupting our lunch to see what the problem was. I approached the bushes outside the dining room very cautiously as I was met with a flurry of birds including a fierce-looking Bar-throated Apalis, an agitated Paradise Flycatcher, a Thick-billed Weaver and several weavers. I only managed to photograph the alarmed robin before seeing a Boomslang weaving its way sinuously among the branches just above my head – time to beat a retreat!

On a different occasion the alarm call of a Cape Robin, combined with the frantic chirruping of other birds, drew me outdoors towards the thick, tangled hedge of Cape Honeysuckle. Mindful of snakes, I approached it very cautiously until I became aware of a distinctive clicking sound, kluk-kluk, which convinced me of the likelihood of finding either a Grey-headed Bush Shrike or a Burchell’s Coucal raiding a nest. It was neither. The vegetation as well as the hurried movements of Village Weavers, a Bar-throated Apalis and a particularly agitated-looking female Greater Double-collared Sunbird made photography nigh impossible. It was several minutes before I was able to ‘capture’ the nest-raider. This time it was a Southern Boubou.

What greater pleasure could there be, just as the year is drawing to a close, to have not one Hoopoe visit our garden, but four!

My December bird list:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Saw-wing
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pin-tailed Whydah
Red-billed Woodhoopoe
Red-chested Cuckoo
Red-eyed Dove
Red-fronted Tinkerbird
Red-winged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Southern Red Bishop
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift
Yellow-fronted Canary

WONDERFUL WEAVERS

Weavers are amazing birds – you only have to watch the males weaving their intricate nests from grass to know that. We, with all our fingers and thumbs, would be hard-pressed to even try, yet they manage this process – often hanging upside down to get their work done, using their beaks only!

They are gregarious and rather noisy birds. The most common weaver in our garden is the Village Weaver, closely followed by the Cape Weaver. Both are present in fairly large numbers that wax and wane throughout the year, so we can observe them in the full flush of their breeding plumage as well as in their drab winter tweeds. Southern Masked Weavers occasionally drop by and – very infrequently – a Spectacled Weaver pays a visit. Singular, because I have only ever observed one of them at a time.

There is plenty of food in our garden to sustain them throughout the year as the weavers not only eat seeds, but tuck into the fruit I put out, and readily feed off the nectar from the aloes or the Erythrina blossoms as well as visiting our nectar feeder when the natural sources are scarce. I have also observed them eating termite alates.

Village Weavers (Ploceus cucullatus) used to be known as Spotted-backed Weavers as its characteristic feature is … its spotted or mottled back! The cucullatus part of their name refers to their hood or crown. The name Village Weaver probably derives from their habit of nesting near human settlements. The completed nests are kidney- shaped with a large entrance on the underside.

Casual observers often confuse them with the Southern Masked Weaver (Ploceus velatus) which looks similar in passing, but only superficially.

The Southern Masked Weaver has a dullish red-brown eye and, notably, a mostly plain back with a greenish tinge. The crown of breeding males is bright yellow with a narrow black forehead and black facial mask that forms a point at the throat.

Apart from its mottled black and yellow back, the Village Weaver has a distinctive dark red eye and its black hood extends further down its throat than that of the Southern Masked Weaver.

Cape Weavers (Ploceus capensis) are endemic to South Africa and are easily recognisable by their bright yellow colouring and the orange facial blush of the males during the breeding season. The irises of these birds are very pale. Capensis refers to the bird first being identified in the Cape peninsula.

The Spectacled Weaver (Ploceus ocularis) is also yellow, but sports a neat black eye-stripe. I have yet to get a good photograph of one in our garden and am re-using one of the very few I have. Ocularis refers to the eyes. It is interesting to note that these weavers retain their distinctive plumage throughout the year. Unlike the gregariousness of other weavers, the Spectacled Weavers tend to be solitary, forming a permanent pair bond.

Their nest is of a particularly interesting shape. This one, seen in the Addo Elephant National Park, was too far away for a clear photograph but you can get an at least see the long entrance tube.

MARCH 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

March is a time of subtle seasonal changes. Despite it being the official start of autumn, it is ironic that we sometimes experience some of the hottest days here – in between some that are so chilly that one cannot help wondering if winter is being impatient! On one such morning I looked out of the window to see some African Green Pigeons catching the warmth of the early rays of the sun whilst perched in the top of the Erythrina caffra.

The evenings remain balmy and in the still night air we are regularly entertained by the comforting sound of Fiery-necked Nightjars along with the pinging noises made by the insectivorous bats that swoop all over the garden just after the sun sets. One morning I was sitting outdoors when the flock of doves swished into the air as one and disappeared in a flash – so did the weavers – and the Pintailed Whydah that had been pecking at seeds below the feeder.  An eerie silence mantled the garden, leaving me baffled – until I saw a Eurasian Hobby alight from the fig tree and settle into the Cape Chestnut, where it stayed for some minutes. Within seconds of it flying off, the garden came alive again! The Village Weavers continued to scatter seed from the feeder.

A Spectacled Weaver inspected the nectar feeder.

A more cautious Redeyed Dove perched on a branch and observed the other birds feeding on the lawn for some time before deciding to join them.

My March bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
African Harrier-Hawk (Gymnogene)
Barthroated Apalis
Barn Swallow
Black Crow (Cape)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Shrike (Fiscal)
Common Starling
Egyptian Goose
Eurasian Hobby
Fierynecked Nightjar
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redeyed Dove
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Speckled Mousebird
Spectacled Weaver
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift

JULY 2016 GARDEN BIRDS

This month has been characterised by very dry and chilly weather, although we have enjoyed some much-needed rain over the past few days. Apart from the Cape Robins obviously being in courting mode since last month, other birds have got in on the act too – Olive Thrushes, Fork-tailed Drongos, Black-eyed Bulbuls, and even the Knysna Louries have been chasing each other around the garden. Some Cape Weavers have even been building a practice nest in the back garden. I have also seen Mrs. Greater Double-collared Sunbird collecting feathers from the lawn.

I was delighted to see a Cape Wagtail bobbing about last week for they bring such a feeling of joy to the garden.

Cape Wagtail

Klaas’ Cuckoo showed up this morning and a Burchell’s Coucal appeared in the garden last week – good signs that spring is on its way. It has also been pleasing to see the odd Malachite Sunbird in passing and more of the Black-backed Puffback. The latter has become a fairly regular visitor this month, as has a pair of Spectacled Weavers.

Spectacled Weaver

My July bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackbacked Puffback
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou Shrike
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Chinspot Batis
Common Starling
Crowned Plover
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Jackal Buzzard
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Malachite Sunbird
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver
Yellowfronted Canary