Breeding Afoot

Here’s hoping the Black Flycatchers breed on the old stoep again, Last time was in a cycling helmet; before that in the bougainvillea creeper that has been removed. This time a plastic flower pot modified and mounted for the purpose.

They have filled the pot with nesting material and the female is starting to spend more time in it. She’s there in the the top right close-up pic, you can just see her tail.

Here are the nests from years gone by, in the creeper and in the helmet:

Late Lunch?

That’s different, I thought. Something had zoomed into the Albizia at speed and the birds had scattered.

A juvenile Little Sparrowhawk. She sat for a while peering around and up and down intently. To me it looked like she was on the hunt. Then she darted off in a flash. I hope she got something to eat.

Meanwhile the Hadeda was unfazed, gathering nesting material.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Spring Sprung

Spring birding has been great. Some poor but fun pics of what’s been buzzing about.

– Cardinal Woodpecker – only one, but I inserted him three more times using FastStone –
– three birds in one shot! – top Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Spectacled Weaver and female Black Cuckooshrike bottom – I added in a clearer pic of the cuckooshrike –
– Yellow-bellied Greenbul – left one is same bird added in (a bit small!) – insert was nearby – there were three of them –

Above: Cape White-eye and African Firefinch – Spectacled Weaver – Olive Thrush

– the Lodders came to visit and Louis casually shot a Grey Waxbill while we were talking – see in the inset how she flashed her scarlet rump lingerie at Louis –

Below: A Pegesimallus robber fly; The tail hanging down from the branch? A vervet monkey; Temnora marginata (a sphinx moth); Ceryx fulvescens (yellow sleeved maiden moth); and – the white moth possibly a citrus looper? Thanks, iNaturalist.org for help with identification.

The female Black Cuckooshrike returned and I got a better view. Pics are poor as I took them through my dirty window rather than open up and spook her. One bird, I compiled this montage with FastStone again.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Lifer at Home!

Blustery day with a warm wind after the cold of the last few days. Rather unpleasant outside, so I sat in the lounge and re-read my Damon Runyon.

– the view from my couch – thank goodness for Zeiss binnies! –

What’s that in the birdbath copse? Just Cape White-eyes. And that? Ah, a Yellow-bellied Greenbul in the afternoon sunlight. I took a couple shots for the record with my little Canon compact with its lovely 25X zoom.

What’s that behind him? Two canaries, No, next to them. A mannikin. Now two of them. Wait, they look bigger. Thank goodness for my binocs. I’m sure . . . I’m not twitching, am I?

Must take pics. One from the lounge with the little Canon on full zoom:

Then some from much closer, on the cottage deck using my tripod. Upper beak silver, not black? Check. Chest white, less dark below the chin? Check. Dark shoulder flash? Check. That broad orange bar on the flank? It is! It’s a Magpie Mannikin! Bogey bird of mine for decades; and after searching all over for it, up and down the east coast, I nail it in my own front garden!

Luvverly! Lonchura fringilloides

Nailed at Last II

A while ago I spotted an Ashy Flycatcher in my garden and wrote about ‘nailing it at last!’

This morning I got up at 5.40am, made a cup o’ coffee and settled on my lazyboy chair warmly dressed and covered in an old sleeping bag, binocs in hand. Lovely windless, cloudless morning.

And boy, what a parade!

I saw the Tambourine Dove above; More listed below.

Two drongos chased a Mother-of-Pearl butterfly over the grass and meadow, over the pool towards me and then right under my patio roof, where one of the drongos nailed it. It flew off to that same tree you see below and ate it, shedding the wings. Pieces of wing spiralled down slowly in the still air.

– collage of another Mother-of-Pearl I found dead near Durban Botanic Gardens –

And then to top it off, for the first time here, I saw this at last – I’d heard of sightings down the valley, but I hadn’t seen him in my garden yet. Now I have!

– a silhouetted Grey Cuckooshrike, Coracina caesia

Sunrise was behind them, so poor pics but nice and clear in my binoculars.

A Grey Cuckooshrike! Louis in the valley had been crowing and I’d been fuming. Now I’m his equal! Ha!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Saw: Weavers Spectacled and Thick-billed; Starlings Red-winged and Black-bellied; Sunbirds Olive and Amethyst; Greenbuls Sombre and Yellow-bellied; Dark-capped Bulbul; White-eye; Red-eyed Dove; Olive Thrush; Hadeda; Yellow-billed Kite; Purple-crested Turaco; Flycatchers Black and Dusky; Fork-tailed Drongo; Yellow-fronted Canary; Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird; Egyptian Goose; Speckled Mousebird; Barn Swallow; Barbets Black-collared and White-eared; Lesser Honeyguide; Black-backed Puffback; Black-headed Oriole;

Heard: Grey-headed Bush Shrike, Crested Barbet, Southern Boubou, African Firefinch, White-bellied Sunbird, Klaas’ Cuckoo

The Pirates of Palmiet

Hauling out the garbage early this morning a screeching drew my attention to the sky in the SE and there they were: Four pirates in jinking flight heading my way.

Luckily a Kite flying across their path drew their attention; they immediately launched an attack, buzzing him and strafing him and really getting ‘in his face.’ He dodged lazily but kept heading due east towards the rising sun. Four sorties they launched, wheeling round, gaining height, then flying straight at him again.

Then they broke off and laughingly resumed their journey NW, up the Palmiet valley.

Aargh! Me hearties, I heard ’em shouting as they flocked off.

https://www.xeno-canto.org/explore?query=rose-ringed%20parakeet

~~~oo0oo~~~

pics: In flight: thumbnail from nature picture library – Right – wikipedia – thanks.

Rose-ringed parakeets originally come from India and North Africa, but have spread far and wide. Their spread has various adverse effects on the ecology:

The ring-necked parakeet is one of the most successful invaders. A gregarious Afro-Asian parakeet, it has now been recorded in over 35 countries outside its native extent of occurrence. Despite being one of the most introduced bird species throughout the world, its interactions with native biodiversity and environment are not completely known and rely mainly on anecdotal evidence. Future researchers are therefore required to fill these gaps. Trunk cavities represent the preferred breeding sites of these alien parrots and indicate potential routes of direct and indirect competition with native hole-nesting bird species, such as nuthatches and starlings (woodpeckers, barbets, etc). Interactions with tree squirrels, bats and insects are rarely reported but may be more severe than currently known. Droppings by ring-necked parakeets may alter the herbaceous vegetation under the roost but direct cause–effect relationships for this phenomenon are hard to assess if no data about floral composition before the time of invasion is available. The ring-necked parakeet is a potential reservoir of a plethora of diseases transmittable to humans and wildlife. No data concerning ecosystem recovery after the removal of ring-necked parakeets is available, as eradication and numerical control programs are often hampered by the emotional affiliation which links humans to these bright birds.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Nailed at Last

What’s that at the birdbath? Luckily the camera is on the tripod nearby and I manage to get a few shots. Ah! An Ashy Flycatcher, the old Blue-Grey Flycatcher, Muscipapa caerulescens

As he leaves he calls and I have my mystery bird that I’ve been hearing, ‘knew that I knew,’ but couldn’t identify. Nailed him down.

That was yesterday. Today he flew round and round my garden to the tops of all the trees, calling continuously. A piercing call for such a little fella.

~~~oo0oo~~~

thanks xeno-canto.org for the call recording

Birdbath Flurry

The birdbaths have been quiet. Maybe the winter rain we’ve had? Yesterday was different, we had a little flurry. I heard the tirrilink of firefinches and there they were, at the dripping tap birdbath. They usually hide from me.

– African Firefinch and Spectacled Weaver –

A Dark-capped Bulbul, A Dusky Fycatcher and Cape White-Eyes joined them.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Special Little Ducks

On honeymoon in America in 1988 we saw lots of ducks! America has so much water; In the Everglades, Yosemite, the Puget Sound, Wyoming and Cape Cod we went looking for water – rivers, creeks, lakes and ponds, islands and sea inlets – and saw plenty of waterbirds, including thirty species of swans, geese and ducks. Being from Africa, the specials I was really looking out for were the swans – we saw Trumpeter and Mute – and the eider ducks – we saw the Common Eider.

But there was another special duck we really wanted to see! As huge fans of the Pygmy Goose in Africa, we noticed it had a rival: The Harlequin Duck. What fabulous little birds:

– African Pygmy Goose Nettapus auritus & Harlequin Duck Histrionicus histrionicus

I was reminded of this by a great post on DailyKos, where I learnt (a lot) more about the Harlequin Duck:

“I remain in awe of this plucky little duck and its amazing life history. I think of Harlequins as “feathered salmon” — making these epic lateral migrations from the ocean to inland freshwater streams to breed, similar to the upstream migration of salmon to freshwater spawning habitats. After pair-bonding at the coast, the male Harlequin follows the female inland to her natal stream, just as adult salmon home to the stream of their birth. Along whitewater streams within old-growth forests, the female selects a well-concealed nest site in a tree cavity, on a stump, or on a small cliff. Once she lays her clutch of 5-6 eggs, the male departs for molting grounds on the coast, leaving the female to incubate and raise the brood alone. In late summer, the female and her brood migrate together to the coast to ride out the storms of winter. What a life!”

We saw our Harlequin Ducks off beautiful Orcas Island while lurking naked in a hot tub overlooking an inlet to the Puget Sound.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Pygmy Goose pics by By Derek Keats on wikipedia and Harlequin Duck pics by giddy thing on DailyKos and By Peter Massas on wikipedia – Thank You!

Explorers 18. Verreaux

Jules Pierre Verreaux (1807 – 1873) was a French botanist and ornithologist and a professional collector of, trader in, and sometimes thief of natural history specimens.

Verreaux worked for the family business, Maison Verreaux, established in 1803 by his father, Jacques Philippe Verreaux, at Place des Vosges in Paris, which was the earliest known company that dealt in objects of natural history. The company was later run by his older brother Édouard. It funded collection expeditions to various parts of the world. Maison Verreaux sold many specimens to the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle to add to its collections.

Jules Verreaux began his training in the family business at just 11 years of age, when he accompanied his uncle, naturalist Pierre Delalande, to the South African Cape. They stayed there exploring and collecting from 1818-1820, among their achievements being the first hippopotamus skeleton acquired for the Paris Museum of Natural History. Back in Paris, Verreaux attended anatomy classes under zoologist Georges Cuvier, and began to show an aptitude for taxidermy.

Verreaux worked in South Africa again in 1825, where he helped Andrew Smith found the South African Museum in Cape Town.

No stranger to scandal in his lifetime, while in South Africa Jules Verreaux was summoned to court after a woman claimed to have borne his son. Verreaux had previously asked Elisabeth Greef to marry him, but revoked the proposal. The young mother then brought a suit against him, but lost the case as Verreaux was still a minor at the time of the proposal in 1827.

He was reputed to have set out on the trail of various already extinct and mythical creatures in the Cape, including the unicorn.

More body-snatching: In 1830, while travelling in modern-day Botswana Verreaux witnessed the burial of a Tswana warrior. Verreaux returned to the burial site under cover of night to dig up the African’s body where he retrieved the skin, the skull and a few bones. Verreaux intended to ship the body back to France and so prepared and preserved the African warrior’s corpse by using metal wire as a spine, wooden boards as shoulder blades and newspaper as a stuffing material. Then he shipped the body to Paris along with a batch of stuffed animals in crates. In 1831, the African’s body appeared in a showroom at No. 3, Rue Saint Fiacre. It was later returned and buried in Botswana in 2000.

Jules’ brother Édouard delivered a consignment of collections back to Paris in 1831, and returned to South Africa with the third Verreaux brother, Alexis. Alexis remained in South Africa for the rest of his life, while the course of Édouard and Jules’ lives over the next decade is somewhat confused. Some sources say that both travelled to China and the Philippines and remained there until 1837, but it is also possible that Jules stayed in South Africa during this time. He seems to have returned to Paris in 1838, in which year a large number of his collections were lost in a shipwreck while being transported back to Paris.

In 1864 he took over as assistant naturalist at the Paris Museum. In 1870 he left France at the start of the Franco-Prussian War, seeking refuge in England. He remained there for the concluding three years of his life.

Jules Verreaux left a particular legacy in ornithology. Verreaux’s Eagle (Aquila verreauxii) and Verreaux’s Eagle Owl Bubo lacteus bear his name; More a trader than a scientist, his specimen labels often give only the country of provenance and are sometimes attributed to localities incorrectly, perhaps to make them more commercially valuable, but diminishing their scientific value.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Sources: JSTOR; wikipedia
Anon., 1874, Ibis, 16(4): 467-469
M. Gunn and L.E.W. Codd, 1981, Botanical Exploration of Southern Africa
M. Molina, 2002, “More notes on the Verreaux brothers”, Pula Botswana Journal of African Studies, 16(1): 30-36.

Explorers 19. Delalande

Pierre Antoine Delalande (1787 – 1823), French naturalist, explorer, and painter from Versailles, was the son of a taxidermist in the Musée d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris. He worked for the museum from a young age, and became the assistant of Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. He was also a painter who had trained in the studio of animal painter Jean-Baptiste Berré, situated in the Jardin des Plantes, and who exhibited landscapes and animal paintings in the Salons de Paris.

As an employee of the Museum, Delalande travelled to southern Africa in 1818, accompanied by his 12-year-old nephew Jules Verraux. They made three journeys into the interior between November 1818 and September 1820: eastward along the coast from Cape Town; northward to Olifants River; and northeastward from Algoa Bay as far as the Keiskamma River.

On their return in 1821, they took back an astounding 131,405 specimens, among them the museum’s first complete whale skeleton (from a 23 metre beached whale he dissected in situ over a period of two months), as well as giraffes, rhinoceroses, a hippopotamus, and human remains (some of them unearthed (i.e stolen) from an old cemetery in Cape Town and from the Grahamstown battlefield). He also brought back a mineral collection, 10,000 insects, 288 mammals, 2205 birds, 322 reptiles, 265 fish, 3875 shellfish, and various human skulls and skeletons from a Cape Town cemetery and from the 22 April 1819 Battle of Grahamstown between the invasive British forces and the local Xhosa. All the living plants in their collection were abandoned in Cape Town and many specimens of their extensive herbarium were lost in transit.

He returned to France with his health badly damaged by tropical infections. For his efforts he received the Légion d’Honneur but no financial reward. Shortly before his death, he published an account of his expedition in the museum bulletin.

He is honoured in the specific names of a swallowtail butterfly, Papilio delalandei ; three birds, Delalande’s sand frog Tomopterna delalandii in the picture above, three lizards, a gecko and a snake.

Sources: JSTOR; wikipedia; M. Prevost and J. Balteau, 1933, Dictionnaire de Biographie Française: 662-663.

Hluhluwe with Jess

Just two nights with Jess at Hilltop camp. This time the luxury of ‘breakfast included’ in the restaurant, while for dinner we grilled big juicy steaks both nights.

Dad, you’re not taking photos of impalas, are you?! Jess likes to keep moving, looking for the Big Five and teases her friends who want to take pics of things she’s seen before! Yes, Jess, I like their bums and I like the different sizes, three Moms, a teenager, a pre-teen and a toddler. Hmph!

Omigawd! You seriously stopped for a butterfly!? she teases next. Don’t worry, it’s all a game.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Birds n Ballies

. . and a lower quota of Booze.

Lang Dawid came to visit after decades in the hinterland. Always very organised, he sent bearers ahead of his arrival bearing two lists: Ten new birds he wanted to see; and Three old bullets he wanted to see.

We delivered thirty percent of his bird list: A Red-capped Robin-Chat, A White-eared Barbet and a Terrestrial Brownbul;

Forty percent if you count the bonus male Tambourine Dove that landed in a patch of sunlight, a lifer for Dave.

– Dave’s dove –

All this thanks to Crispin Hemson showing us his special patch, Pigeon Valley in urban Durban. Talk about Guru Guiding! with his local knowledge, depth, anecdotes, asides and wandering all over, on the ground and in our minds. And his long-earned exalted status in this forest even allowed us to avoid arrest while climbing through a hole in the fence like naughty truant schoolboys. Whatta lovely man.

– Crispin scans, Dave holds his bazooka at the ready – turn a blind eye to the bottom left corner –

Then Dave and I retreated home to my patch in the Palmiet valley, where Tommy had cleaned up, readied the cottage for Dave’s stay and started a braai fire. Spot on, Tom!

One hundred percent of Dave’s list of old paddling mates arrived. Like homing pigeons, Allie, Charlie and Rip zoomed in. So I had four high-speed paddlers in their day on my stoep, race winners and provincial and national colours galore. We scared off any birds that might have been in the vicinity (feathered or human), but had a wonderful afternoon nevertheless, with lots of laughs.

After they left Dave and I had braai meat for supper; This morning we had braai meat for breakfast and he was off after a fun-filled 24 hours. I sat down to polish the breakfast remains and another cup of coffee and as a bonus, a female Tambourine Dove landed on my birdbath:

– not Dave’s camera –

A tragic consequence of their visit was an audit of my booze stocks the next day. Where before they’d have plundered, this time I ended up with more than I’d started with. How the thirsty have fallen!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Dave’s camera equipment is impressive: a Canon EOS 7D Mk2 body;
https://www.techradar.com/reviews/canon-eos-7d-mark-ii-review
and a 500mm telephoto lens and his go-to, a 70-200mm lens. His main aim is getting a pic of every bird he sees. He shot his 530th yesterday here in Pigeon Valley. So he chases all over Southern Africa ticking off his ‘desired list.’ A magic, never-ending quest: there’ll always be another bird to find; there’ll always be a better picture to try for.

Here’s an adventure Dave and I shared back when we were bachelors, not ballies. That time it was beer n boobs, not birds n ballies.

~~~oo0oo~~~

~~~oo0oo~~~

Amphibiphobia?

A Fierce Feathered Dinosaur took um at a Faithful Amiable Amphibian who was just doing his duty recently. The Redwing Dinos were filled with amour and nesting fervour. They had their eye on a spot on my stoep – the Black Flycatcher nest.

But le frog was on duty, determined to put them off.

The male starling pestered him

‘e chest-bumped le frog; who landed with a splash

Undaunted, le frog he say Mon Dieu and went back on duty; whereupon ‘e got attacked from le rear and landed face-down, falling on hard tiles ‘e did, shame. ‘E almost croaked

I picked ‘im up; I patched ‘im up; I gave him le pep talk. So zis time ‘e decide No More le Watchfrog! Zis time ‘e OCCUPIES!

So far so good

~~~oo0oo~~~

The Chairman of the Celestial Bird Club

We’re birding in Hluhluwe game reserve.

‘It’s an Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike!’

No, better! It’s actually a Starred Robin! I said excitedly.

A frosty silence descended.

‘DO YOU KNOW I’M THE CHAIRMAN OF THE HERMANUS BIRD CLUB?’ came the imperious question.

That’s very nice, I said without taking my binocs off the robin, But that doesn’t make a robin a shrike. Look at its beak.

‘Harumph’

A classic attempt at eminence over evidence. Whattahoot!

We moved on, back to our bush camp near Lake St Lucia. Things were uncomfortable, as Jess and I were actually their guests, and mine host’s ego was wounded.

Oh well.

That night I aimed my tiny little 22X Kowa spotting scope at the full moon, setting the tripod low so the kids could get a lovely look.

Again I felt the ambient temperature drop drastically. There were mutterings by Ma, sending The Chairman of the Hermanus Bird Club scuttling off to his son’s bungalow and emerging twice with two large wooden boxes and one small one. A huge tripod emerged from one of them. Unfolded, it resembled the Eiffel tower. From the other box a white tube like an Apollo rocket. The Professional Celestial Telescope! After much assembling and urgent furtive instructions the fussing codgers and the favourite son start searching for the moon. Hey! It’s not easy to find with those bazookas. You move it a millimetre right and you’ve got Jupiter; a millimetre left and its Mars. Go too far down it’s Uranus. Eventually the moon is located and focused on. Ma, Pa and favourite son step back satisfied, and invite the kids to look at THIS telescope. A real one. A chair has to be found for them to stand on.

Oh, I much prefer that one, says the grandkid and then Jessica agrees, and then the other grandkid says Yes, That one’s much better, POINTING AT MY TINY KOWA! It’s a social disaster! Their own grandkids betraying them in their moment of triumph!

I hastily step up to their scope and say Ooh! Aah! and Wow! Magnificent! Powerful! What else? All you can see is white. It’s focused on an insignificant bath mat-sized area of the moon. Whereas with mine you can see the whole moon the size of a dinner plate, this one you could see a dinner plate on the moon. Except there’s no dinner plate to see. Mine shows mountains and craters, this monster shows white.

Cast a pall on the evening it did. Gloom descended. Some went to bed early after some muttered explanation of how the better telescope WAS actually much better.

Hilarious, if a bit stressful at the time for a polite person.

~~~oo0oo~~~