12 November 2012

Birds in the Garden

Well this weekend the garden was a flutter of activity, caused by the rain abating and the sun coming out, one of the great offshoots of this is that the Flying Ants emerge and this is such a rich source of protein for the birds that you are likely to see all sorts of birds partaking in the feast. Even Raptors that would normally eat the smaller birds are content to eat flying ants and the result is an unforgettable period among the birds. Imagine having raptors flying mere meters away from you while you stand there watching in awe, even forgetting at times that you have a camera in your hands. Here are a few of the birds that I remembered to take photos of.

African Dusky Flycatcher - with his reward

Booted Eagle

Bronze Mannikin - also with his prize, even seed eaters can't resist the feast

Lesser Honeyguide - a seldom seen and photographed bird

Lesser Honeyguide

Longcrested Eagle - "watching me watching you"

female Violetbacked (Plumcoloured) Starling 

male Violetbacked (Plumcoloured) Starling

Yellowbilled Kite - showing how agile they are catching in his talons then putting it in his beak

Yellowfronted Canary - another seed eater with his protein prize

15 September 2012

Bird Ringing 09.09.2012

With rain falling for a few days beforehand you never know what to do when it comes to ringing, do you believe the weather forecast or not. Well 2 out of the 3 weather forecast’s that I use told me that Sunday 9th Sept would be perfect and the 3rd was undecided, so the word went out that ringing would take place, and what a day it was. The nets were up before the crack of dawn (normal practice), which meant that they were up before 05h45.

In total 21 birds were caught in the patch of forest that I use, now catching birds in a forest is difficult, however this patch is low enabling some of the canopy birds to be caught. Out of the 21 birds 7 were recaptures, including Greenbacked Camaroptera, Redcapped (Natal) Robinchat, Whitebrowed Scrubrobin, a Pair of Terrestrial Brownbul the female of which was ringed here 6 years ago and recaptured 5 times since it was ringed, and the best recapture (beauty wise) was a Gorgeous Bushshrike that was ringed here in November last year as an immature bird and was now in full adult plumage.
Gorgeous Bushshrike

Some of the birds that were new captures included an Emerald Spotted Wood Dove, a bird that is very seldom recorded on our coast so this was special, in fact it is one of those birds that is not easily seen. Another special bird was a Knysna Turaco, these must be one of the most attractive birds around, the facial markings are exquisite and I challenge any woman to apply makeup so perfectly. Other birds included a pair of Southern Black Tits, not a common bird and very seldom caught in the nets. One of the last birds was an immature Orangebreasted Bushshrike.

Emerald Spotted Dove

Knysna Turaco

immature Orangebreasted Bushshrike

11 September 2012

10 Years of Bird Ringing on the Umzumbe river Floodplain

Since I started ringing Just over 10 years ago I have been ringing at the Umzumbe River Floodplain, in fact my first session as a qualified ringer was at this location and has been a firm favorite ever since. The floodplain is a large area surrounded by hills on all sides except for the southern side which is bordered by the Umzumbe River, I have on occasion used 2 shelve Taiwanese nets on the river to catch waders, the hills on the other sides are planted with sugar cane except for one section which consists of indigenous coastal forest/bush. Most people will tell you that sugar cane is not a good habitat for birds, however my ringing success here has proven otherwise. Wherever possible I try to use the drainage streams as fly through zones for the birds, and this has proven successful, but nets erected between cane fields is also very productive.

The Floodplain showing my ringing sites

In total to date I have ringed 4474 birds of 117 species, this is not including birds ringed by visiting ringers, this figure would easily add another 300 to 400 birds to the list. My ringing site for the massive Barn Swallow Roost is actually on the floodplain although it is about 900m from the roosting spot at the reedbed, so this does account for a large number of the total birds ringed, with 2108 Barn Swallows being ringed here to date, it has however accounted for 2 recaptures, one a bird ringed in England and another was a bird I ringed on the Floodplain and recaptured just short of 2 years later.

Male Yellow Weaver
The next most common bird is the Yellow Weaver with 274 birds being ringed here, and a host of recaptures including the 2 longevity records for the species. As can be expected the most common birds are definitely Weavers with Spectacled being the third most ringed at 190 birds, both adults and immatures are caught this can prove interesting when people battle to identify the immature birds, with Village, Thickbilled, and Cape also being caught, along with Fantailed Widowbird (145). Something that would not be expected here would be the Darkbacked (Forest) Weaver but a few have been caught here in the middle of the sugarcane.

Cape White-eyes also feature strongly coming in ranked as the fifth most ringed with 125 birds being caught. Another very common bird is the Sombre Greenbul with 89 birds being ringed ranging from very young birds just having left the nest to adults. Four species of Robins have been caught, surprisingly the most common is the Cape Robinchat with 65 birds being caught followed by the Redcapped (Natal) Robinchat with 54 birds, the other 2 species are Brown Scrubrobin and Whitebrowed Scrubrobin in that order.

This habitat is possibly the best place on the KZN South Coast for Warblers with no less than 11 species being ringed, recently local birders have been joining in at this location and are now honing their Warbler ID skills, they are all finding it much easier in the field now than before. The Warbler list is as follows

African Reed (African Marsh) Warbler            73
Little Rush (African Sedge) Warbler                55
Great Reed Warbler                                        41
Marsh (European Marsh) Warbler                   27
Lesser Swamp (Cape Reed) Warbler              21
Darkcapped (Yellow) Warbler                          9
Eurasian Reed Warbler                                     5
Sedge (European) Warbler                               4
Willow Warbler                                                3
Knysna Warbler                                               1
Garden Warbler                                               1

As you can see it is “Warbler Heaven” and anyone interested in learning more about these little birds are welcome to join the ringing sessions at this location, November to January are the best times but anytime from October to March can be productive. In addition to the Warblers other LBJ”s include Rufouswinged Cisticola (58 birds), Tawnyflanked Prinia (10 birds), Neddicky (6 birds), Rattling Cisticola (3 birds), Croaking Cisticola (3 birds), Redfaced Cisticola (2 birds), Le Veillants Cisticola (2 birds), Plainbacked Pipit (2 birds), Grassveld Pipit (1 bird) and Buffy Pipit (1 bird).

Little Bittern
Unfortunately some of the other species have only produced 1 or 2 birds but these are wonderful to see and they are known to be in the area at all times it is just that we don’t always get them in the net, these include Little Bittern, Redbacked Shrike, Redfaced Mousebird, Blackthroasted Wattle-eye, Southern Tchagra, Fiscal Flycatcher, Little Swift, Eurasian Nightjar, Fierynecked Nightjar, Water Thick-knee, Harlequin Quail (KZN Rarity), Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Threebanded Plover, Blacksmith Plover, Spotted Thrush (in winter at the forest edge), Grey Waxbill, Orangebreasted Waxbill, Little bee-eater, Malachite Kingfisher, Pygmy Kingfisher and Redheaded Quelea to name a few.

Orangebreasted Waxbill
In addition to this the area can produce some great birding with Crowned Cranes being seen early on most mornings, Redchested Flufftails can be heard, Greater Flamingo can rarely be seen on the river, waterfowl are often seen flying overhead as are raptors in the form of African Fish Eagle, Longcrested Eagle, Black Sparrowhawk and African Goshawk.

In closing here’s to the next 10 years of ringing at this site and an open invitation to anybody to join the ringing sessions at this, one of the special birding spots on the coast.

A full listing of birds that I have ringed at the site

Little Bittern                             1                             Bar-throated Apalis                           1
African Goshawk                   1                             Green-backed Camaroptera            28
Natal Spurfowl                        2                             Neddicky                                           6
Harlequin Quail                        1                             Rufous-winged Cisticola                 58
Ringed Plover                          1                             Rattling Cisticola                                3
Three-banded Plover              9                             Red-faced Cisticola                           2
Blacksmith Lapwing                4                             Le Vaillant's Cisticola                        2
Little Stint                                 2                            Croaking Cisticola                              3
Common Sandpiper                 2                             Lazy Cisticola                                   1
Common Greenshank              2                            Tawny-flanked Prinia                      10
Wood Sandpiper                      6                            African Dusky Flycatcher                 3
Red-eyed Dove                       1                             Black Flycatcher                               1
Water Thick-knee                    1                             Fiscal Flycatcher                              1
Tambourine Dove                    30                           Dark-capped Yellow Warbler           9
Diederik Cuckoo                      2                             Black-throated Wattle-eye                1
Burchell's Coucal                    9                             African Paradise-Flycatcher            3
European Nightjar                    1                            Cape Wagtail                                     9
Little Swift                               1                             African Pipit                                      1
Speckled Mousebird                27                           Plain-backed Pipit                              2
Red-faced Mousebird               8                            Buffy Pipit                                         1
Pied Kingfisher                        1                             Olive Thrush                                      7
Malachite Kingfisher                33                           Yellow-throated Longclaw               5
African Pygmy-Kingfisher       12                           Common Fiscal                                 3
Brown-hooded Kingfisher        2                            Red-backed Shrike                           3
Little Bee-eater                        23                           Southern Boubou                              7
Black-collared Barbet               3                            Southern Tchagra                             1
Yellow-rumped  Tinkerbird      23                           Olive Bush-Shrike                            11
Lesser Honeyguide                 5                             Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike          4
Cardinal Woodpecker              1                             Black-bellied Starling                         4
Rufous-naped Lark                 1                             White-bellied Sunbird                       19
White-throated Swallow          6                            Grey Sunbird                                   57
Barn (European) Swallow   2108                          Olive Sunbird                                   65
Lesser Striped-Swallow         40                           Collared Sunbird                             11
Brown-throated  Martin            5                            Amethyst Sunbird                           13
Black Saw-wing                       9                            Cape White-eye                            125
Black Cuckooshrike                 10                           Dark-backed Weaver                        4
Fork-tailed Drongo                     1                           Spectacled Weaver                       190
Square-tailed Drongo                1                           Lesser Masked Weaver                    3
Black-headed Oriole                  1                           Village Weaver                               104
Dark-capped Bulbul                  74                          Cape Weaver                                   21
Terrestrial Brownbul                10                          Yellow Weaver                              274
Sombre Greenbul                     89                          Southern Masked-Weaver                 1
Spotted Ground-Thrush            3                           Thick-billed Weaver                          15
African Stonechat                   28                           Red-billed Quelea                               7
Natal Robin-Chat                     54                           Red-headed Quelea                            8
Cape Robin-Chat                     65                           Southern Red Bishop                        23
Brown Scrub-Robin                  7                           Red-collared Widowbird                   26
White-browed Scrub-Robin      6                           Fan-tailed Widowbird                      145
Garden Warbler                        1                           Magpie (Pied) Mannikin                        1
Willow Warbler                          3                          Bronze Mannikin                                26
Great Reed-Warbler                 41                         Red-backed Mannikin                          6
Lesser Swamp Warbler           21                         African (Blue-billed) Firefinch           34
African Reed-Warbler              73                         Red-billed Firefinch                             1
European Marsh Warbler         27                         Orange-breasted Waxbill                    6
Eurasian Reed-Warbler             5                          Grey Waxbill                                     10
Eurasian Sedge Warbler           4                          Common Waxbill                                48
Little Rush Warbler                  55                          Pin-tailed Whydah                               4
Knysna Warbler                        1                          Yellow-fronted Canary                     63
                                                           Brimstone (Bully) Canary                 10

9 August 2012

Forktailed Drongo eating a Magpie Mannikin

Nature can be cruel, these photos are not meant to shock you but depict a previously un-photographed event. It has been recorded on numerous occasions where Forktailed Drongo's have caught and eaten small birds that weigh about 8 to 10 grams, the Magpie Mannikin however weighs on average 16 grams. The Drongo's normal diet consists of insects, however last year I recorded the event where one bird was catching Bronze Mannikins and eating them.
In less than 10 minutes 85% of the Magpie Mannikin had been consumed by the Drongo before he flew off with the balance to a spot where he would not be disturbed. At one point another Magpie Mannikin landed in the tree above the Drongo and watched what was going on, I wonder if it was the partner of the Drongo's meal.

Forktailed Drongo sitting in the tree with his catch

Starting to eat, you can see a bit of flesh to the left of the Drongo's beak

Pecking at the neck

Pulling at a piece of flesh

Holding his catch - almost through the neck

Getting a better grip

Head is almost gone, you can see the Mannikin's beak

Tugging at his food

Where now?

Almost off

Time to start on the body

29 July 2012

Recent Bird Sightings

A selection of three birds that I recently photographed in my birding area. The first a Cape Griffon Vulture is such a graceful bird in flight that you can't get enough of them. The second is a Crowned Hornbill a bird that is common in our area but this was the first sighting in my garden. The third is another special bird that is endemic to Southern Africa and a winter visitor to our coast.
Cape Griffon Vulture
Such a graceful bird in flight

Cape Griffon Vulture
Just to show that the do sometimes flap their wings

Crowned Hornbill
Having a snack. Amazing how delicate they can be

Crowned Hornbill
What a beak, I have had one bite my finger once, it took another person using both hands to open its beak so I could remove my finger

Gurneys Sugarbird
Endemic species to Southern Africa and a winter visitor to our coast from the Drakensberg
Gurneys Dugarbird
Telling me to get the camera out of his face

7 July 2012

Greater Flamingo on the Umzumbe River

Periodically we get unusual birds arriving in our area and this week we were lucky enough to have an adult Greater Flamingo arrive. Although not a rarity they are very uncommon in this area so at least there was something different to look at instead of the usual birds. On Thursday there was also a Great White Egret close by. below are a few photos of the Flamingo and Egret.

Greater Flamingo

Greater Flamingo

Little and Large
Greater Flamingo and a Little Egret

Great White Egret

19 June 2012

Bird Ringing Umzumbe Floodplain 17.06.2012

Winter can be a very boring time for ringing as the palearctic migrants are all in Europe and most of our local birds are in their drab non-breeding plumage, however most of these birds are either moulting into breeding plumage or are already in ful breeding plumage. What this means is a mystery, are we going to have a warm winter or even no winter to speak of at all, one thing for certain is that those people who don't believe in Global Warming and/or Climate Change need to start looking at nature.
Below are a few photographs of some of the birds that were caught, I am not including some of the common birds that have been published in other posts.
sub adult Redcapped Robin Chat
male Redheaded Quelea coming into breeding plumage
male Redbilled Firefinch
female Redbilled Firefinch

Brimstone Canary

21 May 2012

Forest Ringing in Gwala Gwala

I have always maintained that ringing in the forest is not easy with quality birds being caught and ringed, not quantity which we get in other locations. For those who joined in the quality birds certainly made an appearance.
the first bird out of the nets was a superb "Brown Scrub-Robin"
Brown Scrub-Robin

This is one of those birds that is not easily seen, so this was a real treat, however things soon took a step up when another Robin was caught, and this is the only true Robin in South Africa, the others are either Scrub-Robin's or Robin-Chat's. There are other true Robins within Southern Africa, but these are found out side of our borders. When the immature White-Stared Robin was caught attitudes changed as the realisation of my words sunk in. This robin is listed as an attitudinal migrant and visits us on the coast for winter.
immature White-Stared Robin

We then caught a few common birds like Greenbacked Cameroptera, Natal (Redcapped) Robin-Chat, Olive Sunbird and then a recapture of a male Collared Sunbird which I ringed here on 16th July 2005, not a bad record for a bird that weighs in at 7 grams.
Following these "common" birds more forest specials started to appear and we then caught 2 Lemon (cinnamon) Doves, this is another name that recently changed and why it was changed to Lemon Dove is a complete mystery as the prominent colour is a Cinnamon colour.

Lemon (Cinnamon) Dove

Then a Squaretailed Drongo was caught, this is a bird that is a forest special and is sought after by a lot of people. You can clearly see the stiff hairs on this photo.

Squaretailed Drongo

4 May 2012

Drakensberg Mountains Trip 20th to 27th April 2012

It was time to spend a week away and a trip to the mountains was long overdue, here are a few of the 600+ photos that I took during the week.

What a view!! Imagine waking up to this everyday?

the best form of rodent control you could wish to have. Spotted Eagle Owl. Why do people still use poisons?

Bird of the Year

African Fish Eagle. Just love this photo for its artistic value

Greater Double Collared Sunbird. The colours are just amazing

Although common the Egyptian Goose is still an attractive bird

Burchells Zebra. Two families would visit on a daily basis