Tag Archives: birds

Winter Landscape: A Study

Winter Tree 1 – Gold

Haiku 116

Sunlit and golden

Stark in early morning mist

A murmuration



I have mentioned before that it never really looks like winter here in Cape Town, as most of the trees and plants are Evergreen and many bloom beautifully throughout winter.

Winter Tree 2 – Blue

However, my neighbour’s tree is always a good indication of the seasons as it is deciduous. It stands out in its starkness in the surrounding winter vegetation.

One night it was lit up by the setting evening sunshine and a lovely golden colour, as you can see in the first photo.

Early one morning the light was completely different, bathing the tree in cold blues and turning the branches black, as shown in the second photo.

Winter Tree 3 – White

I love to see the tree swathed in a rare early morning mist. It was difficult to capture this shot as, even though it was misty, I was shooting directly into the sun. This third photo shows the tree in winter white.

Finally, one day the tree was overwhelmed with Red-winged Starlings, all whistling away to each other. I tried to capture them perched on the top most branches. Again it was difficult to get the shot as the light was dim and I was shooting directly into what little sun there was. The fourth and final photo shows the starlings.

Winter Tree 4 – Starlings

Absolutely marvellous to see them all, and even better to hear them.


post script: A flock of starlings is called a murmuration; which is also the name for when they swoop about the sky in large co-ordinated groups.

You can listen to their beautiful whistling here. This is a good audio recording of hundreds of the starlings chattering away to each other, but not a good video. You can also hear the solitary haunting whistle of one bird here. This is what mystified me in my earlier post, The Mysterious Evening Whistler!



Marvellous Mousebird

White-backed Mousebird 1

I was waiting in my front garden for my friend to pick me up last week, as we were going out for lunch.

I looked up and saw a bird sitting in the bougainvillea. He was a little hard to see at first, but then I noticed his long tail. Hooray, it was a Mousebird; more precisely, a White-backed Mousebird, (colius colius.)  His white back is only visible in flight.

White-backed Mousebird 2

As I had my camera with me I managed to take a few shots. He sat there quite happily, staring down at me, till some rowdy Hadedas flew by, squawking loudly and scaring him away.

You can see the serious thorns on the bougainvillea, particularly in the first photo. Those thorns tear me to shreds whenever I attempt to prune this massive ‘tree’! I’m surprised any birds want to sit here, but, apart from this lone Mousebird, Cape Bulbuls frequently do so.

White-backed Mousebird 3

I only see these birds rarely in my garden. Sometimes one would sit in the apple tree. However, they perch so vertically that they blend in with the branches and are hard to spot.

I tried to get a good shot of this little guy, but it was difficult as I was taking pictures from underneath him with the bright sky as a background. The shadows of the bougainvillea made him all stripey!

White-backed Mousebird 4

Still, it’s always nice to see him in my garden.


Fiscal Shrike

Fiscal Shrike 1

I was hanging out the washing when I heard some birds giving an alarm call in the neighbour’s tree. There was quite a raucous going on, so I knew the birds were trying to defend their nests or chicks from a predator.

Perched right on the top of the tree was a bird that was causing all the trouble. However, squint as I might, it was too far away for me to make out properly. I thought maybe it was a bird that I haven’t seen around our garden for a very long time.

I went back to the house to fetch my trusty Canon camera and took a few shots on maximum zoom, hoping that when I enlarged the photos later on my laptop I’d be able to make out what the bird was.

Fiscal Shrike 2

And there you have it. It was a Fiscal Shrike, also known as the Butcher Bird here.

He was a little tricky to identify from underneath, as you can only see the white chest and a little of the black back and head. The adults have a lovely white stripe in their wing feathers when seen sideways on, or a white V shape from above.

We used to have a resident mating pair in our garden. The young chick would be seen begging for food, sitting on the fence, or the pole of the rabbit enclosure.

Fiscal Shrike 3

The photo above shows what I was working with and why the images are blurred. Yes, the Fiscal Shrike is sitting right on top of that tree!

I know they get a bad rap, as they eat other birds’ eggs and chicks, but they are beautiful and I have missed them.


You can listen to a short clip of the Fiscal Shrike singing here.


Lady Sunbird

Female Lesser Double-Collared Sunbird 1

Lately we have had many visits from the lovely Lesser Double-Collared Sunbirds, since planting more honeysuckle around the garden.

The other day my husband told me there was a sunbird on the plants on the stoep. I grabbed my trusty Canon and took a few shots before it flew off.

Female Lesser Double-Collared Sunbird 2

I apologise for the poor quality of the photos. It was very much a point and click exercise in the hope I caught something; as you can see from the last photo below.

Yes, the little bird is in there!

Female Lesser Double-Collared Sunbird 3

Looking at my photos later I realised it was a female sunbird.

The funny thing is, both my husband and I were sure it was the male sunbird that we saw, with his bright green iridescent plumage, not the female, with her drab grey-brown.

I scanned my photos carefully, but there was no sign of a male anywhere; only the female.

Just shows how the eye and the mind can play tricks on you!


Bemused Visitor

Racing Pigeon 1

Haiku 109

Looking for water

A pit-stop in my garden

Somebody’s fancy



I don’t know who was more surprised when I opened my front door the other day; me or the pigeon.

Clearly a cut above the laughing doves I usually see in my garden, the tag on this racing pigeon’s leg proclaimed his ownership.

Mr Fancy Pants was a fine muscular fellow, but looked rather bemused to see me.

Racing Pigeon 2

I have been visited before by a tagged racing pigeon, which also hung around in the front garden. When it was still there the next day I was worried a cat would get it, so I drove it all the way to the World of Birds sanctuary.

I didn’t want to have to do that again, so very slowly, I closed the front door and crept away.

Luckily for me, when I checked later, the racing pigeon had flown on his way.


post script: Yes, I know the water in the bowl looks disgusting, but this bowl is the preferred bird bath used by pigeons in my garden. The ‘dirt’ is all brought there by them. In the back garden there is a perfectly decent proper bird bath, that the Cape Bulbuls prefer, and many bowls on the stoep, that the Olive Thrushes prefer.

Still, once Mr Fancy Pants had left I did fill up the bowl with fresh water again.


Big Foot!

Hadeda 1

Haiku 106

Stomping round my stoep

Checking out my flower pots

Sticking your beak in!


Hadeda 2

I am used to seeing hadeda looking for insects on my lawn. However, I was surprised to see these two hop up onto the stoep and proceed to search all my flower pots for a tasty morsel.

Hadeda 3

Starting with the pansies, they were certainly having a good root around in each pot.

Hadeda 4

Despite their size, they do no damage to my garden; unlike the destructive Guinea Fowl. Rather the hadeda eat harmful bugs in the lawn.

Hadeda 5

One then moved on to the Asparagus Fern pot.

Hadeda 6

While the second crossed the stoep to see what he could find on the other side.

Hadeda 7

Finishing up on the lavender pot, he then hopped off to join his friend on the lawn.

I like that you can see some of the colours on his wings here. From a distance he appears a dull sort of grey, but when the sun catches his feathers just right, you can see the iridescence.

Hadeda 8

Their tour of my stoep finished, they went back to poking around in my lawn.


post script: A hadeda is an ibis, Bostrychia hagedash. And Big Foot should need no introduction!


The Mysterious Evening Whistler!

Mystery Visitor Bird 1

I was sitting on the stoep as the sun set, ice-cold white wine in hand. It is the best time of day to relax and unwind. Suddenly I was aware of a distinctive whistle.

It was a clear flute sound on a descending scale; no trills. It was repeated by another and then answered again by the one closest to me in the trees.

Obviously bird calls; but I could not for the life of me place the bird.

I searched through my excellent book on birds, ‘Newman’s Birds of Southern Africa’, to no avail.

Even Google let me down, as despite clearly searching for common garden bird calls in South Africa, it offered up parts of the USA!

I mentally went through all the common garden birds I knew of that visited my little garden.

The tiny birds would be too small to make such a loud whistle. This ruled out common visitors such as the: –

Lesser Double-Collared Sunbird; Cape White Eye; Mossie (Cape Sparrow)

or rare visitors such as the Common Wax Bill.

I know the calls of the medium-sized birds and none of them ever sounded like this so that ruled out the common visitors :-

Laughing Dove; Olive Thrush; Cape Robin; Cape Bulbul

or the migrational European Swallow

and the rarely seen (nowadays anyway) Fiscal Shrike; Cape Canary; Cape Weaver; White-backed Mouse Bird.

The larger birds would not make that clear whistle either, so this ruled out:-

Guinea Fowl; Hadeda; Egyptian Geese; Pied Magpie

and certainly not my elusive midnight visitor, the Cape Eagle Owl.


Having completed my investigation I realised just how many wonderful birds actually visit my tiny garden! I am very lucky.

Mystery Visitor Bird 2

Now I like puzzles and mysteries; but I like even better to solve them!

I would hear this particular bird call, always in the early evening and from ‘invisible’ birds somewhere high up in a tree. I could never see them.

Finally one day in the middle of the morning I heard a very similar call. I looked out of the kitchen door (it has a half door option and I usually have the top open) and saw a few birds in the neighbour’s tree.

This was my mystery bird!

It was impossible to identify them by eye, so I rushed for my trusty Canon and took a few shots of the tiny specks in the tree. (See the first photo of the tree) Enlarging these later on my computer I found one photo that identified my mystery bird as it flew off. (See the second blurred photo of a bird flying out of shot!)

It was a starling!

Now we occasionally get red-winged starlings, but I think this may be the pied starling. It has a pale underbelly and its wings do not have that reddish-orange that is distinctive of the aptly named red-winged starling.

Red-winged Starling 1

Either way, mystery solved. Phew!