We relocated to Mossel Bay towards the end of last year – somewhat unexpectedly, although it was always part of our medium-term planning. So you can expect the emphasis of my blog to shift towards the Southern Cape and away from the northern parts of our country, where we have lived for some 50 years.
However the Southern Cape, and in particular Mossel Bay are very familiar to us, having spent ever-increasing periods in our house here over the last 12 years and is the perfect place to spend our retirement years.
Our home in Mossel Bay is situated in the Mossel Bay Golf Estate which has a variety of habitats and gardens which attract many species of birds and this brings me to the subject of this post – the Spotted Eagle-Owl, which “put its hand up” (figuratively) to become the focus of a post by popping up in a number of places around the Golf Estate over the past few weeks.
It also seemed like a good opportunity to get back to the essence of my blog, which after all is called “Mostly Birding” for a reason ……
Here are some images of Spotted Eagle-Owls taken over the last while around our home and on my walks in the estate and adjoining nature areas:
Spotted Eagle-Owl bubo africanus Gevlekte Ooruil
Neighbour Catherine, knowing my interest in all things birding, popped over in the middle of the day to say there was an Owl in her garden, so I went to have a look, taking my camera of course. There it was perched on the garden wall and I surmised it was a juvenile, based on the lack of the “ears” (not really ears but protuding tufts of feathers for camouflage, not for hearing) which are a feature of the adults
‘Goodness, but it’s tiring being awake all night – am I ever going to get used to this …’
‘Hmmm – suppose I should keep a watch out even though I’m still young’
A few days later I noticed another Owl, this time an adult, sitting on the window cill of the neighbour’s house in broad daylight. More than likely the parent of the above juvenile.
A week or so later again, neighbour Jan, phoned to say there was an owl in the trees in his back garden, between our two properties. I could not see it from our balcony which is a level higher than Jan’s house so I went downstairs to our garden and quickly spotted the owl on a branch partly concealed by foliage. I positioned myself as best I could without disturbing the owl and took a few shots against the strong backlight of the morning sun.
My daily late afternoon walks take me all over the golf estate – my favourite walk being the one that takes in the nature area to the south and west of the estate as there is always something of interest.
One of my walks included an unusual encounter with an owl, which stood in the middle of the track as I approached and didn’t seem intent on flying away. I waited for a while to see what it would do, concerned that it was ill or injured, but after some 10-15 minutes I walked slowly past it as it moved to one side, eyeing me all the way but seemingly relaxed.
I kept a look out for this owl on my later walks as I was concerned about its health – I believe it was the same owl I spotted twice on the golf course itself, flying about without a problem so assumed it had recovered from any problem it may have had.
This species is well-known in the suburbs of our cities and towns and is often heard calling softly – wooo, hooo – and perched on roofs and streetlights from where it hunts insects, reptiles, rodents and the like.
Oh, and it’s good to have neighbours who keep you informed about birdlife in the garden ….
I have taken a bit of a sabbatical from blogging so far this year, so to get things going again I thought I should take a belated look back at 2022 …..
During 2022 my photo library increased by some 2000 images and for this retrospective (Yes! I’ve always wanted to use that word) I have limited my Photo Pick to the 40 images which appeal to me the most, often for different reasons – some are technically good (well, I think so anyway) others are reminders of a particular moment or place or special sighting – the very brief comments tell a bit of the story of each image. So to start with ….
One of the first places we visited in 2022 was the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley near Hermanus – the evening light was magical
I love the moodiness that overcast skies bring to a scene and this one had the benefit of a sunlit foreground and overcast background
The classic view of Table Mountain from Milnerton beach, a stone’s throw from where I was born
This unusual view of the southern Cape coast was taken from my seat in a plane on its way to land at George
A double rainbow over Mossel Bay just begged to be photographed
Our drive to Weltevrede farm near Prince Albert was an absolute delight with views like this around every bend
Evening tranquility at the dam on the farm Prior Grange near Springfontein, Free State
Our stay in Victoria, Australia provided widely contrasting experiences
Atlasing in the southern Cape around Herbertsdale provided this beautiful early-morning scene along the winding road
Another moody scene, this time with fishermen providing the focal point
Paternoster beach was another excellent spot for sunset photography, with gulls adding that extra punch
The flowers in the Postberg section of the West Coast National Park were spectacular (a separate post on this still to come)
Another view of the iconic mountain that I grew up with, this time from the waterfront at Cape Town
I spend most of my photographic energies on capturing images of birds, not always successfully. These are some of the better ones
The photo of a Cape Longclaw shows why it was given that name
This is a photo by Estelle Smalberger who kindly allowed me to use her images. What a privilege it was for me to be the one to first find this species – never before recorded in southern Africa!
Such elegant birds….
Cape Weavers treated us to a show while building their nests in front of our patio
Some of the birds seen during our Australia visit
My favourite bird photo of the year! Just seeing this scarce bird is a treat, capturing an image in flight from one bush to the next is a bonus
Cormorants are not colourful birds, but those eyes….!
Darter creating an arty pose
The Cape Batis likes to stay concealed so I was happy to capture this image as it flitted about in the depths of a bush
Not as clear an image as I would have liked but the in flight action is just perfect
Our favourite Cape Town destination is Kirstenbosch – always an opportunity for a few pleasing images
The Other Stuff
We visited a butterfly sanctuary which was great for close ups of some of the beautiful specimens
Nice to watch the Zipline in operation at the Point in Mossel Bay – now if I was a tad younger…..
The little village of Friemersheim has been turned into a living Art Gallery (more in a future post)
That sign conjures up all kinds of thoughts, doesn’t it?
A view from the inside of the Singapore Airlines plane that took us to Australia via Singapore
A tranquil scene on one of my atlasing trips
Cow in the flowers….behind barbed wire
People in the flowers on a sunny day
I can’t imagine a life without photography .. or birding of course
When we returned to our Mossel Bay home recently we were once again thrilled to find the Cape Weavers (Ploceus capensis/ Kaapse wewer) working diligently at building nests right outside our upper floor living area. It was a repeat of the scene of a year ago, which I featured in a post at the time (https://wordpress.com/post/mostlybirding.com/10946)
They are a source of entertainment from dawn to dusk and leave me feeling quite exhausted just watching their frenetic activity as they build one nest after another, hoping to impress the female weaver who “pops in” for an inspection at fairly regular intervals.
We have had up to four male weavers nest-building at a time and currently there are at least two vying for the attention of the female, whose arrival is greeted by a display by the anxious males, who hang below their best nest and display.
The display is nicely described by Roberts VII Multimedia Birds of Southern Africa as follows :
Once nest initiated, male displays at nest by ruffling feathers, shivering partly spread wings, swivelling body and singing. If female enters territory, male displays either hanging below nest or perched alongside; may also pluck leaves from near nest. If female enters nest, male responds with high-intensity wheezing song, either while hanging below nest or during circular display flight. Female apparently tests nest strength by pulling at material inside nest, then, once male leaves nest entrance, sits in nest chamber looking out of entrance; chases off male if he approaches at this stage
The images I took of one of the males show some of the above behaviour
The male will even get upside down in order to impress the female …
Some two years ago I posted about a memorable swim at Santos Beach in Mossel Bay, the coastal town that is our home for a large part of the year. On that occasion it was a unique spectacle of nature as hundreds of terns and gulls gathered to feast on shoals of anchovies that had come so far inshore that swimmers could literally scoop them from the sea. (https://mostlybirding.com/2020/02/18/a-swim-to-remember/)
In early February this year we witnessed an even rarer happening in Mossel Bay, which started on Sunday 6th February 2022 on that same beach – Santos – and continued throughout the week, spreading to the harbour area and as far as the Point.
The Story Begins
From sunrise on Monday morning, small knots of people could be seen gathering at strategic spots along the shoreline of Mossel Bay, many dressed in bush clothing, with binoculars draped around their necks and carrying ‘weapons’ of varying size, the latter often covered in camouflage material designed to conceal them.
Their actions were strange – one moment they would be gazing out to sea or scanning the beach and harbour with their binoculars, the next moment they would be on the run to a nearby vantage point, hiding behind anything they could find and pointing their ‘weapons’ at the object of their interest.
At other times they would stand around talking animatedly, checking their phones constantly, then at some signal rushing to their vehicles and driving anxiously to another of the favoured spots, there to repeat the procedure.
At the harbour, a designated National Key Point in South Africa, the gathered groups encountered some resistance to their endeavours, as security personnel approached menacingly, ordering them to refrain from entering the harbour area and from pointing their ‘weapons’ in the direction of the harbour.
This led to several verbal skirmishes and the mood of the increasing number of ‘attackers’ seemed to take a turn for the worse. However a message, possibly from a ‘Central Command’, had the groups heading off to one of the other points and calm returned to the harbour once again.
This continued throughout the day and for the rest of the week, with the initial groups of ‘attackers’ being replaced on a daily basis by new groups arriving from all over South Africa.
What was Going on?
It could only be one of two things –
the start of an armed insurrection, or
twitchers gathering to see and photograph the latest addition to the Southern African list of birds
I’m glad to say it was the latter, especially as I was initially responsible for starting the scramble to see this first time vagrant to our shores!
And the ‘weapons’ referred to in the story above are, of course, the long-lensed cameras favoured by birders (the ‘attackers’) trying to capture an image of the bird for their records.
How it Happened
It all started with a trip to Santos beach with my daughter Geraldine and son-in-law Andre, for a late afternoon swim just after 6 pm on Sunday 6th February 2022. We parked and walked down the steps and across the grassy embankment towards the beach – ever on the lookout for birds, I noticed that there were about a dozen gulls in the fresh water pond that forms in the middle of the beach at the stormwater outlet, drinking and bathing at the end of a no doubt busy day of scavenging and resting.
As we got closer to the pond I stopped dead in my tracks, let out a mild expletive and said to Andre and Geraldine “That’s a Franklin’s Gull!” – it stood out like a sore thumb amongst the similar sized Grey-headed Gulls lined up at the pond, with its black hood and dark, slate grey wings contrasting with the mostly white head and pale grey wings of the similar sized gulls normally encountered in Mossel Bay.
This excellent photo (by Estelle Smalberger the next day) best represents the view we had of the gull at the pond
I had come to the beach for a late afternoon swim, so had none of my usual birding paraphernalia – no binos, no camera, not even my otherwise ever-present phone, so Andre dashed back to the car to get his phone. Geraldine and I stood and watched the gull intently while we waited but, as luck would have it, the gull finished drinking and bathing a few seconds before Andre got back and it flew off in the direction of the harbour.
I buried my head in despair for a few seconds, then shrugged it off and we enjoyed the swim we had come for.
Fortunately the gull had been quite relaxed and allowed us to approach within a few metres of its spot alongside the pond, so I was able to confirm in my mind the instinctive first ID of the gull as a Franklin’s Gull.
This was without any of the usual aids, simply based on having seen the species in Canada some years ago – the breeding plumage with full black hood and white eye crescents were what clinched it for me, without considering other possibilities……..I mean, no other gulls with a fully black hood occur in Southern Africa, so what else could it be ……. ?? (The Black-headed Gull, also an occasional vagrant, looks similar but its hood is a chocolate brown colour)
Once I got back home, I posted a message on the local birding whatsapp group, at 8.13 pm to be precise, suggesting that all keep a lookout for a “Franklin’s Gull” in the Mossel Bay area.
At the same time I recorded the sighting on my Birdlasser app which shows the location of the sighting on a map (this shows the corrected species name)
Some time later, at 9.32 pm, Rudi Minnie responded with some amazement and undertook to be at Santos beach at first light on Monday morning.
And there I left it, happy that I had spotted a rarity, one that is recorded only sporadically along the west and east coasts of South Africa and one that would no doubt be of interest to a few birders ……
Monday dawned sunny and warm and I headed out early to the Vleesbaai area where another rarity – a Baillon’s Crake – had been reported, my plan being to hopefully find it and atlas the pentad at the same time. While waiting patiently for the crake to put in an appearance (one juvenile popped out briefly, too quick for a photo) I kept an eye on the messages from those looking for the “Franklin’s Gull”.
First to confirm it was Edwin Polden at 6.42 am and Rudi Minnie shortly thereafter, followed by the first photos at 7.01am.
Some other Mossel Bay birders followed up with their own photos, providing more detail of the gull’s features
Trevor Hardaker, chair of the SA Rarities Committee and the undisputed ‘king’ of rarities in Southern Africa joined in the discussion, expressing his concern about the initial ID and imploring photographers to send a photo of the gull’s upper wing colouring. There was some speculation about his reason for this request, which became more urgent as the minutes ticked by.
Fortunately Estelle Smalberger was able to post a photo showing the upper wing of the gull with all-black wingtips –
and the reaction from Trevor was instantaneous :
Some 7 minutes later Trevor sent an email alert to the thousands of subscribers around Southern Africa to let them know about this ‘Giga’ rarity, a new species record for the sub-region, which had many of them, including Trevor himself, re-arranging their lives to get to Mossel Bay without delay and hopefully see the gull.
Laughing Gull vs Franklin’s Gull
It took the expertise of Trevor Hardaker to correctly ID this gull and it was based on the differences in upper wing pattern which are nicely illustrated in these excerpts from a guide book which he posted
This is the Laughing Gull – (in non-breeding plumage so without the black hood)
And this is the Franklin’s Gull –
The reaction after Trevor sent out the alert was not unexpected – there are a number of birders in the region who will go to any lengths to add a species to their lists for the southern African sub-region and this new species presented a golden opportunity for the ultra keen twitchers. Some must have literally upped and rushed to the airport and found a seat on a flight to George, as the first arrivals from Gauteng were in Mossel Bay that same afternoon.
Others made quick arrangements and drove long distances to Mossel Bay from all over SA. This continued throughout the week, with clutches of anxious twitchers staking out the favourite spots and sharing messages until they too were able to ‘tick’ this new species and get a photo or two.
The gull became a celebrity visitor overnight and by far the most photographed bird in SA that week as several hundred birders descended on the town over the 6 days it remained there.
Here is a selection of photos posted on Facebook and Whatsapp groups –
I managed to get a few images of the gull when it was perched on the wall near the harbour
In The News
The presence of the celebrity gull soon spread to the newshounds and articles were published in several newspapers – at first the local Mossel Bay and George papers carried the story which then spread to the Cape Town newspapers. It even made the national SABC newscasts.
Laughing Gulls, named for their raucous call which sounds like a high-pitched laugh, are monogamous and form long-term pair bonds. They breed in large colonies from April to July on the Atlantic coast of North America, the Caribbean and northern South America.
They are coastal birds found in estuaries, salt marshes, coastal bays, along beaches (where I first found it) or on agricultural fields near the coast. My previous (only) sighting of Laughing Gull was on the Varadero Peninsula on the north coast of Cuba during a memorable visit some years ago.
Laughing Gulls are gregarious birds, noisy and aggressive in nature and don’t hesitate to steal the prey of other birds.
Topmost in many birder’s minds was the question “How did it get to Southern Africa?”. That’s an impossible one to answer but several ideas were postulated such as –
there have been numerous previous vagrant records in the UK and western Europe so perhaps this was another which then proceeded to migrate south as it would normally do in its home territory and only stopped when it reached the southern end of Africa
ship-assisted vagrants are not unknown so perhaps it hitched a ride on a ship that passed Mossel Bay, from either east or west and thought, as we do, that it looked like a rather nice place to spend some time
And that sums up the newest addition to the Southern African bird list. Trust Faansie Peacock to be the first to add it to his brand new birding app called Firefinch, due to be fully launched this year, already partly available
What a shame that the handsome Laughing Gull stayed in Mossel Bay for just a week – the following Sunday it was nowhere to be found…… who knows where it went next and whether this species will ever be seen in the Southern African region again.
But it had provided a lot of excitement for the birding community during its short stay!
My last post (“Birds on the Beach”) highlighted one of Southern Africa’s most iconic birds, the African Penguin. This time the spotlight falls on another iconic species, this one being about as far removed from penguins as it is possible to imagine. Not that I had intended to write about this species at this juncture, but it drew attention to itself in ways that I simply could not ignore…..
Here’s how it happened –
I was on an atlasing trip out of Mossel Bay, which I try and do once a week, and was heading along a minor gravel road north-west of the town. After many years I have found that the most efficient way of atlasing (recording species in a defined area called a pentad) requires a combination of very slow driving, with windows open to pick up bird calls, combined with regular stops to get out of the car and scan the habitat all around.
Just as an aside, the ‘window open’ part had already paid huge dividends when I picked up a call which sounded warbler-like, emanating from roadside bush. I stopped and got out to listen carefully and when the bird carried on its warble I recorded it on my Iphone, knowing that it would probably not show itself and I would have to ID it on call alone.
This was fortunate as I realised that it could be a Marsh Warbler, considered a rarity in the Western Cape, which I duly reported to the SA Rare Bird News along with my recording. It was confirmed by Trevor Hardaker who runs the news service and he included it in that evening’s emailed report.
Anyway, back to the main theme of the post –
At one of my stops next to a wide field, I noticed a lone male Common Ostrich on the far side and, as I did so, he began trotting in determined fashion towards where I was standing alongside my SUV.
‘Hello’, I thought, ‘this could be interesting’ – but my camera was in the car and the ostrich was approaching quickly so I grabbed my phone, set it to video and started filming. Halfway across the field the ostrich stopped and called, a deep booming call that has been likened to that of a lion in the distance.
Turn your sound up to maximum to hear the call….
The ostrich continued coming towards me until it was just a few metres away, then suddenly went down onto its haunches and performed its courtship display, swinging its neck from side to side with wings spread wide. At that stage I was glad of the fence separating us – who knows what he might get up to next!
Still not satisfied that he had attracted my attention, it seems, the ostrich came even closer, just a metre or two from where I stood amazed, with just a flimsy fence separating us, and once again performed the courtship display.
This is when I believe the ostrich started having second thoughts about my suitability as a partner and he went behind the bushes for a minute or so then reappeared, giving me the once over and, I imagined, showing signs of mild doubt, even confusion as he eyed me from behind the bushes. That final tail flip is very telling…
I decided not to confuse the misguided bird any further and drove on….
However, I couldn’t help wondering about this strange encounter for the next day or two and came up with a few possibilities to explain it –
It was a very short-sighted ostrich
It was very lonely in that field all on its own
It was trying to prove its ‘wildness’ so that I might be persuaded to add it to my records for the pentad list*
* This last one probably needs some explanation for those not familiar with atlasing protocols and the status of the Common Ostrich in the southern Cape. Ostriches in this part of South Africa have been farmed for well over 100 years and most ostriches encountered are in fact of the ‘domesticated’ type, although not distinguishable from ‘wild’ ostriches which are generally only found in game and nature reserves. Atlasing protocols allow for recording of ‘free flying’ birds only which translates to ‘wild’ birds in the case of ostriches which of course are flightless, so none of the ostriches in the farming areas will be eligible.
Oh, and there’s one more possibility – perhaps I look more like a female ostrich than I had previously imagined….. Here’s a recent photo of me to let you decide
With the new year barely out of the starting blocks, it’s once again time to select the photos which best represent our travels and nature experiences during 2021, plus a few others that appeal to me for various reasons. Despite the ongoing restrictions brought upon all of us by Covid 19, we still managed to travel fairly extensively, although it was limited to the borders of South Africa.
I’m hoping you will find some of my favourite images to your liking – if you do, please take a moment to mention them in the comments at the end of the post.
During a normal birding year, I take a couple of thousand images of birds – this past year, for various reasons, I did not get out in the field birding and atlasing as much as I would normally have done, nevertheless when it came to choosing images I was happy to find that it was as challenging as ever.
Observing birds going about their daily business is often fascinating – when that business involves raising youngsters it becomes really special.
We were treated to a very special “show” during the late winter / early spring months of August and September this year while resident in our Mossel Bay home, which started with a casual comment from our neighbour (a non-birder who happens to be our brother-in-law).
My journal chronicles it as follows :
Day 1 : (1st August 2021)
Brother-in-law – let’s call him Tienie (mainly because that’s his name) – posed a question “what’s that bird in the garden with the long tail that likes the Protea bushes ?”. Well, there weren’t too many options so I surmised immediately that he was talking about the Cape Sugarbirds that frequent our garden almost year round.
So I eagerly followed up with “why do you ask?” and it turned out he had noticed a nest in one of the Protea bushes in his garden, with said Sugarbird in attendance and when he investigated further he was able to spot what he thought were “two fluffy babies” in the nest. My guess is that the chicks had been born in the last day or so.
Tienie’s comment had sparked my interest more than he could realise, even though he knows I am a keen birder, and Gerda and I commenced a daily check from our bedroom balcony, which has a good view of the Protea bush in his garden.
The nest was quite well concealed among the stems and leaves and it was not always easy to pick up details, so I started by doing a recce from Tienie’s garden, carefully approaching the bush on foot to confirm for myself that there were chicks in the nest.
The only evidence I could pick up was an adult female apparently feeding the chicks which I could not see, while the adult male stayed in the vicinity, occasionally going to the nest himself.
We continued to monitor their progress at various times during the following days, but had to interrupt our observations as we had booked a trip to Franschhoek from 6 to 11 August, after which we resumed keeping an eye on the activities around the nest.
I was thrilled to see that the chicks were preparing to fledge as they were clearly visible in the nest and spent time perched on top of the nest, presumably working up the courage to explore the world around them.
Both adults were never very far from the nest, venturing out to forage for something and taking turns to feed the chicks, whose appetite had by now increased exponentially.
As I had suspected, the chicks had fledged and the great news was that they had chosen to spend their day in the trees right in front of our enclosed braai room which is almost level with the canopy of the trees, so we had the best views of the two young Sugarbirds.
They were still being fed by both adults and were moving about now and again, but chose to spend most of their time on a small but sturdy branch, as the wind was strong and was testing their ability to balance themselves to the utmost.
The fledglings were getting stronger by the day and starting to lose their “baby fluff” but had no tail to speak of and were still dependant on the adults for food
They hung around for another day or two and soon we were not able to find them at all, so presumed they had moved elsewhere in the vicinity. We didn’t spot them again until –
What a nice surprise to find one of the youngsters feeding itself on a Protea flower in our front garden, its tail now well developed and the young bird now confident and strong, which it displayed by flying quickly and directly from one bush to the other with none of the hesitancy of an inexperienced bird.
It was a real privilege to see these Sugarbirds develop from new-born chicks to their juvenile independence and to be able to observe them at such close quarters
When we returned to our Mossel Bay home recently we were thrilled to find the Cape Weavers (Ploceus capensis/ Kaapse wewer) hard at work building nests right outside our upper floor living area. They provide endless entertainment with their constant activity, never stopping from dawn to dusk.
The post has been updated to include an image of the chicks being fed – they are growing fast
With the new year in its infancy, it’s time to select a few photos which best represent our 2020. In some cases, selection is based on the memory created, in others I just like how the photo turned out, technically and creatively. Despite the restrictions brought upon all of us by Covid 19, we still managed to travel, although it was limited to the borders of South Africa.
Birding and bird atlasing takes me to many places that would not otherwise feature on our travel map – here’s a selection ….
The Other Stuff
And to end off …… me and my pal Saartjie (who belongs to the Leonards but I get to borrow her now and again)
Just to repeat some of the background to our lockdown experience while in Mossel Bay…..
Top of my list of activities to keep me occupied under lockdown was birding / atlasing and to make it more interestingBirdlasser came up with a “South African Lockdown Challenge” for which I registered. Any species that I logged on the Birdlasser app would be counted towards my personal total during lockdown and could be compared with others doing the same. I knew that I would not be very competitive, but saw it as an inspiration to keep up regular birding / atlasing during the lockdown.
The rules were simple – any bird species recorded in or from the garden would count – the “from the garden” bit makes it really interesting as it means a bird flying overhead or at a distance, even a kilometre or more away, counts, as long as you can confidently ID it.
The central habitat is of course the garden itself – in our case a small one – literally a u-shaped strip of lawn between 1 and 2m wide on three sides of the house, with the front side having a well-established rockery type garden on both sides of the driveway.
Our patio and enclosed stoep, where we have meals and tend to spend most of our time, looks over our neighbour’s gardens and has a sweeping view of part of the golf course and of the open sea beyond the cliffs.
These colourful little bundles of energy are an absolute joy to watch as they fly from one sweet flower to another, hyper-actively on the go all day, fueled of course by the nectar of the aloes and honeysuckles which flower at this time of year.
One thing I discovered about the smallest of them – with one of the longest names in our region – the Southern Double-collared Sunbird, is that their wings beat so fast that they make a whirring sound as they fly about.
The wing beat of Hummingbirds is a lot faster, causing the humming sound after which they are named, but I would hazard a guess that sunbirds are high up in the rankings of birds with the fastest wing beats.
I had never noticed this whirring sound before, but it became a calling card of this species when we were in the garden during the lockdown period, immediately alerting us to their presence and was the signal for me to grab my camera, in the hope of capturing an image while they prodded the flowers with their long curved bills.
The bills are unique in that they are both long and slender, down-curved at just the right radius to reach deep into the similarly curved flowers that they prefer – just another example of nature’s perfect partnerships. The tongue of the sunbird can extend to almost the same length as the bill and is tubular with projections at the tip to suck up the nectar while feeding. So long flowers such as the honeysuckle suit them perfectly –
Four species of sunbird visit our garden, some more regularly than others, depending on the supply of nectar-producing flowers (and the neighbour’s feeders) and seasonal changes.
Most regular visitor is the Southern Double-collared Sunbird – like most of the sunbirds there is a distinct difference between the male and female colouring – known as dichromatism. Compare this colourful fellow with the photo of the female above and following the next one as an example.
Occasionally the cousin of the last species, the Greater Double-collared Sunbird will pop in, but the smaller Southern species outnumbers it by at least ten to one in our garden. Although larger than the Southern species, this is not always discernible when there is nothing to compare it with, so I usually rely on the width of the red band across the chest, which is about double the width in the case of the Greater species.
The Amethyst Sunbird with its all black glossy plumage is a regular at certain times of the year while completely absent at other times. It was a regular visitor during the lockdown period, but less conspicuous and seldom staying very long. I wasn’t able to capture an image of the male, so have included one from an earlier trip.
The most recognizable sunbird is the Malachite Sunbird, mainly because of its glossy green plumage and because it has a longer tail than any of the other sunbirds in the region. It was scarce during the lockdown months and seems to visit us more often during midsummer – November to February. This photo is from an earlier trip to the southern Cape
Cape Weaver in Action
Not far behind the sunbirds in the energy stakes are the weavers and I discovered that they also have a liking for a drop or two of nectar now and then (who doesn’t like a bit of sweetness after a meal?). Now weavers have a shortish, thick bill rather unsuited to prodding into flowers such as honeysuckle so they take a shorter route to get to the nectar – to my horror as a lover of flowers but interesting to watch.
They go straight for the jugular, as it were, nipping the entire flower off just above its base and so gaining direct access to the nectar, which they quickly take a sip of and move on to decimate the next flower. Fortunately they seem to be rapidly sated, so once again the natural balance remains intact.
One Cape Weaver was intent on building a nest and chose an overhanging branch of our neighbour’s tree which was no more than 2 metres from our patio window, affording us a grandstand view of its efforts. And did he keep us entertained!
I suspected the male was fairly young, otherwise he would not have been attempting to construct a nest so late in the season, with winter just around the corner. At a guess, he was possibly getting in some practice for the next breeding season, honing his all-important nest-building skills while impressing the female in his life, who was constantly around to inspect and comment on his prowess.
This carried on for around a month – some days there would be no interest on his part to continue, other days he would be coming and going for a large part of the day, modifying the grass structure, adding a few strands here and there, twisting and turning and hanging underneath all at the same time.
Here the female is bringing some weaving material to the nest – clearly not confident that the male would pick the right material
Don’t worry, I’ve got this …..
Eventually it seemed he was satisfied after checking it out from the top and bottom and getting the nod from the female, after which it all went quiet and the weavers became less conspicuous. Perhaps they had realised that the cold and windy weather was not conducive to raising youngsters and that they would be better off next season – let’s wait and see.