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

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DECEMBER 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

This has been an excellent month for watching birds in our garden. However, in between entertaining friends and family, celebrating Christmas, and sneaking in a visit to the Addo Elephant National Park before the year ended, there have not been many photographic opportunities, and so you may have seen some of these pictures before.

Village Weavers have continued to entertain us with their cheerful chattering, bright yellow plumage and their constant bickering at the feeding stations. Despite several nests having been crafted all over the garden, few have actually been used for breeding.

Laughing Doves are regulars too: they queue up on the telephone cable in the mornings, waiting for me to scatter seed on the lawn. They gradually move from the cable to the trees, coming ever closer until they alight cautiously. The flock (for there are many of them now) rise in an audible ‘whoosh’ at the slightest movement or sound that triggers their alarm system, only to return moments later.

Cape White-eyes are among the first garden birds to stir before first light. They are making a meal of the ripening plums at the moment! These are figs in the picture below – I haven’t one of them gorging on the plums to show you.

The Greater Double-collared Sunbird has been making ‘guest appearances’ this month as there is plenty of other food about. I always enjoy the metallic sheen of its feathers.

After a brief absence, it feels good to have the Barthroated Apalis back.

My December bird list is:

African Darter
African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Cuckoo
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Heron
Blackheaded Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie (Turaco)
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redchested Cuckoo
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Speckled Mousebird
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Canary (Seedeater)
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift

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

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