Southern Cape winters are often cold and wet, with cold, clammy mists regularly rolling in from the sea. We love visiting our home in Mossel Bay, which is seen by many as the start of the famous Garden Route, but our winter visits are usually kept short, although the conditions can be a tonic after a few months of the dry Highveld winter of our main home in Pretoria, with no rain for months stretching from May to mid-October.
One of the floral attractions during winter in the Southern Cape is the proteas and aloes that flower and enrich the green landscape with their bright orange, yellow and red colours, attracting the nectar lovers such as the Sugarbirds and Sunbirds.
When we visit Mossel Bay in the winter months, there is a great sense of anticipation as we land at George airport and head along the highway for the short drive to our home, soaking up the lush green winter scenery and particularly the aloes planted here and there along the highway, colourful in their winter dress.
300 Flowers a day! That is how many flowering Proteas the Cape Sugarbird / Kaapse suikervöel (Promerops cafer) may visit during a day to meet its energy requirements.
Having watched them in action in our garden, I can well believe that figure – they maintain a frenetic level of activity amongst the Protea species, mostly of the Pincushion variety, that we have in our garden, flitting from bush to bush and flower to flower, then flying off rapidly in search of the next one, long tail swishing about in their urgency.
The yellow dusting on the forehead is the pollen picked up from dipping deep into the flowers, which then gets carried to the next flower.
Alongside the Cape Sugarbirds, other nectar loving species look positively sedate, including the Double-collared Sunbirds, both Southern and Greater species which are wonderful to watch with their brightly coloured, shiny plumage as they feed on the equally colourful flowers.
The males of these species are similar looking but, if you have binos handy or can get close enough, they can be fairly easily identified by the width of the bright red band across their chests – the Southern Double-collared Sunbird / Kleinrooibandsuikerbekkie (Cynnyris chalybeus) has a narrow band while the Greater Double-collared Sunbird / Grootrooibandsuikerbekkie (Cynniris afer) has a much broader band of red.
Both take the prize for the longest name for a small bird!
Look carefully at the next photo and you will see the thin “tongue” which is hollow and with which the sunbird sucks the nectar – much like a flexible syringe.
Both of these species are guaranteed to brighten up your day, just as they add colour, vibrancy and action to your garden in the Southern Cape in the middle of the winter.
All the photos in this post were taken in our garden in Mossel Bay, which Gerda planned to be as indigenous as possible and to survive with the minimum of attention during the months when we are elsewhere.