JANUARY 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

Village weavers are probably the most ubiquitous birds in our garden and are resident throughout the year. We thus see them through all their phases, from winter drabness to the full sartorial splendour of their bright yellow breeding plumage.

Village Weaver

They used to be known as Spotted-backed Weavers until the International Ornithological Congress came up with a globally accepted set of common names. The name change has, I think, drawn attention away from a major distinguishing difference between it and the Southern Masked-weaver which looks very similar, but does not have the blotched back. The Village Weavers are often among the first birds to visit the ‘seed house’ and are not averse to tucking into the apples or drinking from the nectar feeder.

Village Weavers

The Village Weavers are avid nest builders and can frequently be seen flying around with strips of leaves or grass in their beaks. They will often start a nest and abandon it before completion and begin another in a different location. The name ‘weaver’ is an apt one and it is worth watching as they deftly weave the grass into the shape of a nest.

‘Our’ Lesser-striped swallows are tenacious about nest-building too. Having raised one chick from their newly located nest around the side of the house, the poor birds once again had to face the collapse of their nest. Undaunted, they are now placing experimental daubs of mud on the wall outside our front door!

Lesserstriped Swallow

My January bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Cuckoo
Black Saw-wing
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Greyheaded Sparrow
Gymnogene
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Red Bishop
Redeyed Dove
Redfaced Mousebird
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellow-fronted Canary
Yellow Weaver

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BIRDING OVER COFFEE

It was during a twenty minute coffee break in the shady part of our garden this morning that I observed an Olive Thrush hungrily stabbing at an apple on the feeding tray. Its head bobbed up and down as the juicy flesh was hastily consumed: eating as if there were no tomorrow. It wanted the fare to itself and chased off any other potential feeders – mostly weavers – which hovered on the branches above or dared to perch on the edge of the tray.

A pair of Rock Pigeons pecked at the coarse seeds scattered among the still un-mowed grass, joined by a small flock of Laughing Doves so skittish that they would ‘whoosh’ up in a flurry at the slightest sound: a power drill next door, a light aeroplane flying low overhead, or a heavy truck passing along the street below.

laughing doves

A more daring one later usurped Morrigan’s bench-like feeder for a more ‘secure’ breakfast.

laughing dove

A solitary Cape Weaver, sporting the delightful blush of the breeding season, took the gap during the absence of the Olive Thrush to swoop down and gobble up bread crumbs on the feeding tray. Village Weavers opted to feed on the fine seeds in the hanging feeder I call the ‘seed house’.

village weavers

In a surprising move a Southern Boubou hopped onto the ‘seed house’ to peck at the fine seeds within. It usually skulks along the ground to peck at titbits dropped from the feeding tray above or picks at the fruit. A more varied diet was called for this morning, for it then grabbed a sizeable morsel of bread to eat on the ground in the shadows before perching on Morrigan’s feeder for more fine seeds: peck, look around; peck, look around …

Meanwhile, Cape Turtle Doves cooed from the treetops whilst a bevy of Cape White-eyes flitted between the branches above me, chirping loudly as they scoured the foliage for food. Just then a pair of Grey-headed Sparrows perched on a branch, waiting their turn to muscle in between the weavers on the ‘seed house’. They too took the gap to breakfast on Morrigan’s feeder.

grey-headed sparrows

Then there was the Black-headed Oriole that came to quench its thirst.

blackheaded oriole

 

ACTION AT THE FEEDING STATION

The weavers are filled with spring energy at the moment. Many are tearing long strips off the leaves of the Giant Reeds that wave on the edge of our garden and have started looping them around the dangling twigs of the now almost bare Natal Fig. Their noisy chirrups reverberate around the garden for most of the day and they are quick to chase each other from tree to tree or to heartily defend their right to any food that is available. Here a Cape Weaver and a Village Weaver square up to each other while the bystander gets on with eating:

squaringup

The Streaky-headed Canaries still seem to prefer foraging for food in the back garden, so I was pleased to observe one sharing the ‘seed house’:

streakyheadedcanary

A sharp-eyed Cape Weaver was among the first to inspect the seeds I scattered on the lawn early this morning:

capeweaver

JANUARY 2015 GARDEN BIRDS

JANUARY 2015 GARDEN BIRDS

I have made you wait for the result of hours spent staring up at the nest of the Lesser-striped Swallows, camera weighing ever more heavily, hoping for an opportunity to capture one of them peeping out of the nest. Here it is:

lessserstripedswallowinnest

Thanks to the interest some of you have shown in the fate of this pair of swallows ever since their original nest fell down (see THE HOUSE THE SWALLOWS BUILT 2nd December 2014), I have been especially vigilant about checking on their progress.

It appears that Lesser-striped Swallows have a tendency to return to the same nest every year. Certainly we have had a pair nesting in the same place under the eaves for several years already – and feel rather privileged to be hosting them.They are not the only pair in the suburb, for during some late afternoons I have counted sixteen or more of these beautiful birds flying across the garden or wheeling into the air whilst emitting their characteristically high-pitched ‘chip’ and ‘treep, treep’ sounds.

Their flight patterns remind me of the poem D. H. Lawrence wrote called Bat. In it he aptly describes the movement of swallows as “spools of dark thread sewing the shadows together.”

The other day I was alarmed to note how much energy this breeding pair expended on repeatedly chasing off an aggressive pair of Fork-tailed Drongos, which are known to eat young birds. I wonder if they actually raid nests and were the cause of the first nest collapsing?

This has been a bumper month for watching birds in my garden. Some Southern Masked-weavers have been spotted among the regular flock of Village Weavers that descend on the garden in search of food. I have never seen them in large numbers.

It is evident that some of the Village Weavers are in the process of moulting: I regularly see a few with a feather sticking out awry and this morning had a wing feather float down to land on my tea tray. Looking at it closely, I see the edges look worn although the rest of the feather looks fine to my eye.

I attended an interesting series of lectures this week and discovered that the Bronze Mannikin has only been noted in our town since 1994 and since then has become so well established that it breeds in this area. African Green Pigeons arrived here in 2005 and can now be seen or heard daily – as I can testify from those who call from their well-camouflaged perches in the fig tree – and have also been known to breed here. Interestingly enough, there has been no sign of a Pin-tailed Whydah so far this year. I have not even heard one in the neighbourhood.

My January list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Cuckoo
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Black Harrier
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou Shrike
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Darter
Diederik Cuckoo
Fiscal Flycatcher
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Loerie
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Malachite Sunbird
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Red Bishop
Redeyed Dove
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redchested Cuckoo
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Southern Masked-weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Thickbilled Weaver
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowbilled Kite
Yellowfronted Canary

 

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.

JULY 2014 GARDEN BIRDS

JULY 2014 GARDEN BIRDS

July has been a good month for birding in my garden, largely thanks to a pleasant break early on and some less pressured weekends for a change! It has been pleasant seeing the return of some birds after an absence of some weeks as well as being able to add two new ones for the year.

The first of these is a Sacred Ibis. They used to be regular visitors to the dam across the road and below our house until the clump of mature blue gum trees were felled in the interests of water conservation. I cannot mourn their passing, for the dam has not been without water since – even in the driest of times.

The Sacred Ibises quite likely visit the refuse dump further up the hill, although I have not been out there to verify this. I think that the black lacy edge to their wings in flight make them look most attractive. They look such familiar birds, easily recognised in paintings from ancient Egypt. Apparently they were worshipped in those times – presumably where the ‘sacred’ part of their name comes from?

The other welcome newcomer to my garden list this year is the Redfaced Mousebird, doubtless attracted by the numerous berries currently available on several trees and creepers in the garden.

I was watching a Sombre Bulbul foraging in the foliage of the trees and bushes this afternoon. It too is attracted by the abundance of berries as well as picking its way through the remnants of the canary creeper, the flowers of which have now disappeared.

The last on my list this month is a Southern Masked Weaver, which I first recorded in February. It is not a regular visitor and I have not yet discovered where most of them ‘hang out’ in this town.

While on the subject of weavers, I notice that some Village Weavers and Cape Weavers are beginning to half-heartedly loop blades of grass or strips of leaves around thin branches – nothing more than that. More often than not the grass floats to the ground unheeded within seconds.Perhaps they have a better idea of when winter will draw to a close?

My July list is:
African Dusky Flycatcher
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou Shrike
Bronze Manikin
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Crowned Plover
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Laughing Dove
Olive Sunbird
Olive Thrush
Redeyed Dove
Redfaced Mousebird
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Black Tit
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Village Weaver
Yellow Canary
Yellow Weaver