Swee Waxbills at Kirstenbosch

When we lived in Namibia we were fortunate enough to come across a number of different kinds of waxbills and were always delighted when the colourful Blue and Violet-eared waxbills came to feed in our garden.  We don’t see enough of these sweet little birds in our garden here in Durban for some strange reason, so imagine how pleased we were to have a chance to photograph Swee waxbills (Coccopygia melanotis) during our visit to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town in December.  We also saw Common waxbills whilst we were there, but, as their name suggests, they are fairly common, so our focus was on the Swees.

Swee waxbill

We followed a happy pair flitting about in the flowers, calling to each other with gentle ‘swee swee‘ sounds.  They are easy to tell apart as the male’s cheeks and ear coverts are black, whilst the female has a pale grey face.  Both have reddish orange tail markings and distinctive black upper and red lower mandibles.

Swee waxbill Swee waxbill

They are mainly seed-eaters, but also forage on the ground or on plant stems for small insects and larvae.  They’re mainly found in small groups or pairs, which are monogamous and territorial.  When they are ready to breed (between October and April) the building of the nest is a team effort, with the male bringing in the material.  According to Roberts Birds of S A, larger clutches of eggs are sometimes laid by two different males (between three and nine eggs) at one day intervals.  Both parents are involved in the incubation and the feeding.

Swee waxbill

It certainly was a treat to see these lovely little birds in such a nice setting and to be able to add a few more photos to our collection.

Southern double-collared sunbirds at Kirstenbosch

Last week I posted some photographs of the Orange-breasted sunbirds that we saw at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town.  This week their cousins take centre stage; the beautiful Southern double-collared sunbirds, which flit amongst the Proteas and Ericas of Kirstenbosch gathering nectar and doing their bit for pollination.  Also known as the Lesser double-collared sunbird (Cinnyris chalybeus) this little sunbird has a wider habitat than the Orange-breasted sunbird and, not being restricted to fynbos, is found further afield in the Karoo, and in the forests and gardens in the eastern parts of  South Africa.

Southern double-coloured sunbird

The sunbirds that we photographed here don’t have the familiar broad red breast band as they are in their eclipse plumage The adult males in the Western Cape moult in October to December, so we were probably just a little early to see these beautiful birds in their full finery.  We often find birds quite a puzzle to identify when they aren’t dressed in their full colours.

Southern double-coloured sunbird Southern double-coloured sunbird

Their diet mainly consists of nectar, which is drawn up after inserting their long curved bill into the corolla tube of the flower.  If there is no tube, the bill is used to pierce the base of the flower.  During this feeding pollen sticks to the bill and tongue and is transported to the next flower, allowing the bird to perform its pollinating function without any effort.  These sunbirds don’t only rely on nectar for their nourishment, but also eat small invertebrates like beetles, insects, spiders and larvae.

Southern double-coloured sunbird

Breeding pairs are monogamous and quite territorial during the breeding season.  The female lays between one and three eggs that she incubates over a period of thirteen to sixteen days.  The eggs are oval and vary enormously in colour.  Nests are occasionally parasitised by Klaas’s Cuckoo, which, as you can imagine, must have these little sunbirds worn out finding food for their ever-hungry and much larger adoptees!

Southern double-coloured sunbird

The flowers at Kirstenbosch certainly provide a beautiful backdrop for enjoying these happy little birds.  Next time I’ll blog about the waxbills that we saw in the same area.

Orange-breasted Sunbirds at Kirstenbosch

One of the fun things about being a bird lover is that it gives you an opportunity to seek out places where you know certain birds are found.  This happened to us this Christmas when we visited Cape Town for a couple of days.  We knew that Kirstenbosch (our national botanical garden), with its beds of colourful Proteas and Ericas attracted a variety of birds, so a plan was made to brave the crowds to photograph the local feathered residents.  We were mainly on the hunt for Sugarbirds (which alas proved elusive on the day) and Sunbirds that are endemic to fynbos, and what a delightful few hours we spent there.  I will focus on the Orange-breasted sunbird this week, as this beautiful bird is extremely photogenic and fortunately not too camera shy.

Orange-breasted-sunbird-Kirstenbosch

I photographed their detailed information board which saves me from writing about them myself – how clever was that!  Just click on the photo to enlarge it for reading.

Detailed information on sunbirds Orange-breasted-sunbird-Kirstenbosch

The flowers at this time of the year are quite beautiful and are obviously full of nectar for the birds.

Orange-breasted-sunbird - female

The females are rather drab compared to their gorgeous male counterparts.

Orange-breasted-sunbird-Kirstenbosch

 

Next week I’ll put up pictures of the Lesser double-collared sunbirds – also very sweet and quite active in the fynbos.

A Stitch in Time

Wilkinson’s World has been somewhat neglected for the last six months, I’m afraid.  It’s not that we haven’t been on any exciting adventures, although these have been few and far between with Rob’s workload, but I have been very preoccupied with my latest hobby – quilting.  At the end of a busy year, or the beginning of a new one, it’s always a good idea to think about that very precious commodity called Time.

Time piece

I read somewhere (I think the author was Seneca) that people are quick to guard their personal property and spare no expense to do so (especially those of us who live in South Africa), but when it comes to squandering their time, folks are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.  We tend to live as if we are destined to live forever, never sparing a thought to our own frailty, and it never occurs to us how much time has already passed.  We also don’t think that the hours and days we are devoting to somebody or something may very well be our last.

Cat-quilt

And on that sombre note, I am reminded of the hundreds of happy hours that I have spent this last year absorbed in making quilts and items for family members.  It has been a real labour of love.  There’s always that gut-wrenching time before they open the gift when I wonder if they will love it and whether all those (sometimes back-breaking) hours were worth the effort.  Then the satisfaction on seeing their happiness and gratitude when they set eyes on it and I know that each stitch was worthwhile after all.

Foggerty

My lovely sister, Franky, has written and illustrated three children’s books about the adventures of a frog called Mr Foggerty.  I decided to surprise her by making cushion covers depicting the front covers of all three of her books.  Her tears of gratitude when she received these gifts made every minute meaningful.

Foggerty-2 Foggerty 3 in the making

I made this sweet little cot quilt for my grand-daughter, Kyra, who has been given strict instructions by her mom to look after it as it is a family heirloom.  It was hardly a masterpiece, but what a lovely thing to call it a family heirloom!

Kyra's quilt

Months in the making was a colourful quilt with lots of pictures so that our twin grand-daughters could play “I Spy”.  They are still a bit young for that, so will have to rely on Mom and Dad to play “Find a …” until they know their alphabet.

I Spy quilt

I ended the year off making a Christmas table runner to be donated to Hospice.  My friend loved it so much that she ended up buying it off me and I donated the cash to Hospice instead.

Christmas runner

So, was my time wasted?  Hopefully not.  I know I brought a lot of joy to my immediate family and gave a lot to myself in the process.

Neil Diamond ends my blog off, with the fourth verse of his song “Hell Yeah” in which he sings :

“If you’re asking for my time,  Isn’t much left to give you, Been around a good long while, So I gotta say it fast, Time is all we’ll ever need, But it’s gotta have a meaning, You be careful how it’s spent, Cause it isn’t going to last.”

Happy new year!!

 

Four frogs, a cricket and a snake

So let’s assume you’re a young man who’d like to attract a partner.  What would you have to do to make yourself appealing?  I guess you’d probably opt for personal grooming and fancy clothes and jewellery to enhance yourself, then you’d add an accessory like a smart car and you’d flash your credit card around.  Unless you’re really ugly and arrogant you’d probably catch the eye of some eligible female pretty quickly.  This sort of mating behaviour isn’t peculiar to homo-sapiens – birds have to do it as well in order to attract a mate.  Obviously they don’t have the same tools as humans, but they do have to be quite well equipped to prove their capabilities of providing for the needs of a mate.

Southern ground hornbills

Most male birds have lovely plumage to make themselves attractive to the rather dowdy females of the species.  They often have beautiful long tail feathers or are brightly coloured, like the Southern ground hornbill.  Sometimes they even have their legs adorned with jewellery!  This hornbill is quite a heavy bird that looks rather like a turkey, with a gorgeous red face and a red inflatable throat.  It uses a deep booming call to advertise its territory and then struts around gathering food to show that it’s a good hunter.

Southern ground hornbills

It’s always exciting for us to come across Southern ground hornbills in a game reserve.  They are not often found outside protected areas and are listed as vulnerable in southern Africa, so we feel quite privileged when we see them.  They’re usually found in pairs or in groups of up to five birds and because they spend their time foraging, it’s not uncommon to see them with loads of food in their beaks.   This must make them very appealing to the opposite sex – what mate wouldn’t like to be presented with a number of crickets, frogs and a snake to snack on or to feed her young with.

What a mouthful!

Good providers they may be, but when it comes to feeding babies, they don’t measure up at all.  They usually have two little ones and the firstborn, being stronger, is fed all the food.  The second young one usually dies of starvation within a few days.  Perhaps this is why there are so few of them around.

Mealtime

They are excellent foragers and spend their time gathering insects and small reptiles and mammals, often co-operating with each other in the quest for food.  Once they find it, they keep adding more to the collection, often putting the food down on the ground and then gathering it up again until they have full beaks.

Look out for them next time you’re in a national park – and check out what they’re having for dinner!

Callfinder© – A winner from SAPPI

What would life be like if we were unable to get out into nature to rejuvenate and restore our minds and spirits?  I can’t imagine actually.  For me, getting out into the garden or into the bush and watching the birds and wildlife is an integral part of my life.  So imagine my delight when my family (thanks Pete and Lauren) gave us a wonderful tool as a Christmas gift.  Not just any garden or household tool, but a nature tool!  An innovative tool that teaches you about the birds and their calls and actually helps you call them to you.  Let me tell you more …

African Paradise Flycatcher

SAPPI (originally South African Pulp and Paper Industries Ltd) is big in conservation in South Africa and they are a major contributor to education and knowledge in the field of birds.  Together with other sponsors they have collaborated with birding experts to bring out the amazing Sappi Birds of South Africa Callfinder©.

Sappi Birds of SA Callfinder

Not only did we get an informative bird book with beautiful photos, but it came with an electronic device that communicates with the photo of the bird and plays its call.  How neat is that!  This of course adds an entirely new dimension to birding and should be an absolute boon to beginners and experts alike.

A nifty device - Callfinder

We tried ours out in the Kruger National Park with mixed results.  We had seen an Indigobird on a tree in the distance and couldn’t make out the colour of its beak and legs, which obviously is key to identifying it.  We decided to play the Callfinder© to see if we could match the call it was making.  Rob pointed the device at the photo of the Village Indigobird and its call rang out.  Imagine our amazement when the bird flew right up to our vehicle.  We were able to identify it immediately.  We unfortunately thought that we’d be able to call all birds with the device, but the majority weren’t quite as obliging as the Indigobird.

Magpie Shrike

We have by no means tried every photo in the book, but on our trip we found quite a few birds that came closer on hearing a call, and they were :  Magpie Shrikes, the African Paradise Flycatcher, White-crested Helmet Shrikes and a Grey-headed Bush Shrike.  The Magpie Shrikes were most successful – we were trying to photograph one, played the call and about twelve flew up to our car.  So it looks like the Shrike family is the most curious of the lot.  The Grey-headed Parrots shrieked back at us on hearing the call and we were able to locate them in the tree above us.  Such fun!

Grey-headed Bush Shrike

I doubt whether it was the developers’ intention to call the birds to one, but it does happen and great care has to be taken not to distress the birds by playing their calls repeatedly. The calling of birds needs to be done judiciously at all times.  This is a wonderful tool for identifying their calls and committing them to memory for your field trips.

This fabulous book and Callfinder© will really help folks learn more and aid them in identifying all those birds that have previously been labelled as Unidentified Flying Objects!  And I certainly hope that my blog helps boost their sales – they really have brought out a winner in my humble opinion.  Well done Sappi!

KNP – Punda Maria and Pafuri

Punda Maria, on the north-western edge of the Kruger National Park, is definitely worth a visit if you’re into bird watching.  We’d heard many times that it was a bird lover’s paradise in summer and our long drive north certainly proved worthwhile for this very reason.  According to the guide book this remote little camp that was built in the 1930’s was named Punda (meaning striped donkey or zebra) and Maria after the wife of the ranger, J J Coetzer, who founded it.  I doubt whether the ranger meant any disrespect by linking his wife’s name to a striped donkey!)

African Hawk Eagle

It’s a pretty camp set in rows on a hillside.  There’s a magnificent camping area overlooking a waterhole, which must be amazing in the dry season.  The only fault that we could find with our comfortable little chalet was that the thatched roof extended right down over the verandah and we managed to bump our heads on it a lot.  But as I said to Rob, if we bash our heads once or twice it’s an accident – after that it’s our stupidity.  After that comment we both kept our stupidity to ourselves.  There are some nice walks around the treed camp and lots of birds to be seen without even going for a drive.

Beautiful Baobab

We’d read that nearby Pafuri, on the border of Mozambique, was a must-see place for birds so we packed up a picnic basket and headed off slowly in that direction.  The vegetation in the area is somewhat different from the rest of the Park, which is probably what attracts the variety of birds that you don’t find further south.  Our first ‘lifer’ of the day was an African Crake that was wandering along the edge of the road.  Too fast for our cameras unfortunately, but we did manage to get a positive identification before it disappeared into the long grass.

Sharpe's Grysbok

I might have been unfair in a previous blog when I said that animals were few and far between in this area.  I’ve subsequently read blogs by folks who raved about all the game they saw in winter.  I guess the rainy season isn’t the time to see many animals as they don’t frequent the waterholes like they do in the dry season.  We were therefore grateful to catch a sighting of a shy little Sharpe’s Grysbok which isn’t common in the rest of the Park and was also a lifer for us.

Fiery-necked Nightjar

There are loads of raptors in the area and we ticked off an African Hawk Eagle, an Osprey and numerous Bataleurs and Peregrin Falcons.  The Bee-eaters and European Rollers provided lots of colour, as did the Violet-backed Starlings, Grey-headed Parrots, Red-headed Weavers and African Green Pigeons.  I learnt a new trick – focus about a meter off the ground when driving slowly and you could pick up a nice photo of a Nightjar taking a nap!  You have to have good eyes as they blend into the bark so well.

Rob on the Luvuvhu Bridge Pafuri

At Pafuri our next lifers were Lemon-breasted Canaries and Green-capped Eremomelas that were nesting right next to the Luvuvhu Bridge.  Unfortunately the river was about to come down in flood, as we found to our dismay when we drove to Crooks Corner.  The water was already lapping over the road when a police vehicle raced up to warn us to get away before we were trapped.  That was quite disappointing because the scenery along the river is probably the best in the entire Park.  Beautiful woodland picnic areas with lots of birds to be seen.

Woodland area along Luvuvhu River

We spent three days at Punda Maria and enjoyed every minute of our time there.  The Mopane Woodland and enormous Baobab trees make the scenery lovely and you never know if you’ll round a corner and come across an elephant munching on the leaves or rubbing up against a tree.  I definitely want to go back there in winter even though the summer migrants will have left.  It’s a place in Kruger that deserves a lot more of one’s time.  I only hope that it isn’t modernized too quickly so that the visitors pour into the place.  I think it would lose a lot of its charm if this happens.

KNP – Hyenas well spotted!

Anyone who knows me, knows that apart from birds and animals, the next great passion in my life (apart from Rob of course) is playing the card game of Bridge.  In case you’re wondering what Bridge has got to do with a nature blog, please just bear with me for a minute or two.  Often when one plays Bridge there are days when there is a predominance of contracts in the same suit, so for example a day will be dominated by Heart contracts or Spade contracts .  Most players comment on it when it happens, so it’s not just something that I notice.  Getting back to nature, I have found that a similar thing happens on our trips.  We find we go to different places and come across loads of a particular bird or animal even though they were not particularly on our wish list.  We saw this in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park with Secretarybirds (fourteen of them at one water hole) and it happened again on our recent visit to the Kruger National Park, when we seemed to see more Spotted Hyenas than usual.

Beautiful young Spotted hyena

We came across these animals just about every day we were in the Park.  We must have just been very lucky, because other folks commented that they hadn’t seen any.  So here is a selection of photos taken on different days at different times.

Spotted hyena on the hunt

These rather ungainly creatures have an important role to play in nature.  You can read more about them in our previous blog written way back in 2010.

This mother and baby came out of the bush and then lay down in the road and started a feeding session.  Too cute!

Mother and baby Spotted hyena Feeding time on the warm asphalt

They are nocturnal creatures, so one shouldn’t really see them about much during the day.

Spotted hyena - early morning Spotted hyena - early morning

In my next blog I will chat about our time in the Punda Maria/Pafuri area where the birding was especially rewarding.  Until next time ….

KNP – The Drive from Satara to Punda Maria

Most people who visit Kruger National Park make a point of going to the southern part because of its accessibility and proximity to international airports and the main centres of the region.  Fortunately the landscape is favourable for seeing an abundance of animals, including the Big Five.  Whilst it is nice to be able to see all these, one pays a price and the price is overcrowding, with many vehicles vying for positions to see the animals.  If, like us, you’re used to the relative peace and quiet of the game reserves to the north of South Africa’s borders, these crowds can be a bit off-putting.  So it was with happy hearts that we left Satara as soon as the gates opened and headed north to the quieter part of the Park – our destination for the day being the camp at Punda Maria.

Grey-headed Kingfisher

It’s a long drive of 245 kms and with a speed limit of 50 kms per hour it’s a good day’s journey.  It takes a long time to cover the distance because you stop often to look at birds and animals.  Our first great sighting was a tree full of White Storks.  They looked like baubles on a Christmas tree!

White Storks

We hadn’t gone much further when we were confronted by a small herd of elephants walking down the road towards us.  There was no way of getting past them and they seemed determined not to leave the road.  They ended up pushing us back a kilometer or two as they plodded steadily towards us, unconcerned about the time we were losing.  After what seemed like an eternity they left the road and we were able to proceed.  The area north of Olifants Camp has large tracts of Mopani trees, a favourite with elephants, so we were to see many more on our trip up to Punda Maria.

Elephants on the march

Dawn in the Park is an awesome time.  We came across a Yellow-billed Kite feasting on a hare.  The Kite was undaunted by our presence and made the most of its meal while we clicked away and got some nice photos.  The Kite wasn’t eating alone – can you see the beetle that was also interested in getting a piece of the action?

Yellow-billed Kite

Spurfowls and Koorhaans are also found in great numbers along this route.  They favour the road for some reason, which makes it easy to get photos of them.

Swainsons Spurfowl

The variety of animals thins out as you head north, so unless you’re a birder, you could be disappointed.  We saw loads of Spotted Hyenas, which I will blog about separately, but apart from them and the elephants, there were hardly any other animals.   Raptors, both large and small were plentiful, the smaller one’s being Amur Falcons, which were everywhere.  Close to Shingwedzi we saw a Broadbill Roller for the first time on the trip.  This, together with colourful Red-headed Weavers (both male and female), was very exciting.  There were European Rollers everywhere – it would be nice if the Broadbills and Racket-tail Rollers were as prolific.

Broad-billed Roller

We actually arrived at Punda Maria in good time, but the heavens opened up as we were unloading our vehicle, so poor Rob was drenched.  Nothing that a good cup of coffee couldn’t sort out though.  Next blog about the lovely area between Punda Maria and Pafuri – new ground for us.

Birding Weekend at Kruger

We’ve been silent on Wilkinson’s World for a while now, but that’s only because we’ve been away having a number of adventures.  A visit to Kruger National Park is always a treat for us, and this year we were fortunate enough to be invited to a birding weekend at Satara, hosted by SANParks Honorary Rangers West Rand Region.  And what a treat it turned out to be.  Not only did the Rangers take us to places that are normally off limits to the public, but we also had expert guides telling us about the birds and animals that we saw.  The night and dawn drives were especially exciting.

Golden-tailed Woodpecker

We were well prepped before arriving at Kruger and had been given official lists of birds we were likely to see in the area at that time of the year.  Our bird count could start within a 50km radius of Satara, which meant that once we came through Orpen Gate our list was open.  Needless to say, there were birds aplenty and it took us over four hours to cover the short distance from the gate to Satara.  By the time we reached our lovely thatched rondavel we’d already seen quite a number of the summer migrants (like European Rollers, Southern Carmine and European Bee-eaters).

Yellow-billed Oxpecker

The birding around Satara is especially good and there are a couple of great bird hides and dams within easy driving distance of the camp.  We arrived a day earlier than most of the other birders, so had an afternoon and morning free to drive around on our own.  Rob and I were in our element.  I drove so that Rob could work with his camera without having a steering wheel in his way.  We are at our happiest when we’re looking for birds and animals and when the animals are obliging about having their photos taken we are delighted.

Black Crake

The S100 road to Gudzani was especially profitable and we had magnificent sightings of Southern Ground Hornbills, which are the most vulnerable of the Hornbill species.  The shrike species were well represented, as were the cuckoos – we saw Jacobin, Levaillants and Dideriek Cuckoos regularly and there were Woodland Kingfishers in abundance, their distinctive calls always letting us know of their presence.   With the aid of our expert bird guides, the next day we saw both Common and African Cuckoo’s.  We only found them because the guides heard them calling and stopped to look for them.

Jacobin Cuckoo

As I said earlier, our night drives were special.  We were mainly on the look-out for owls and nightjars and they didn’t disappoint.  Spotlights swept over the trees and ground as we drove slowly along and we soon spotted a number of night animals – African Civits, Small Spotted Genets and of course owls, nightjars, lots of thick-knees and a tiny Buttonquail.  We came across a lion fast asleep in the middle of the road – sprawled out, he was obviously enjoying the warmth of the asphalt under his body.  He didn’t even lift up his head to acknowledge our presence even though we were less than a meter away from him.  We also saw a family of Spotted Hyenas as they came out of a culvert and stalked off into the night.

Fiery-necked Nightjar

Most of us were brave enough to rise before 4.00 a.m. to be in time for the dawn chorus.  We came across a pride of lions resting in the long grass shortly before our vehicle got stuck in the mud.  It took many minutes and lots of brainpower and manpower to extricate the truck as many of us stood by, risking life and limb while the drama was playing out.  Talk about living on the edge!

Lending a helping hand

The dinners provided for the birders were excellent and it was great to be in the company of people who share one’s passion for birds and the bush.  The weekend was sponsored by a number of high profile companies, whose generous product donations were well received.  We came away with quite a haul of useful items, plus plenty of reading material about the work of the Rangers and the Eco Trainers.  All money that we spent on the weekend went to further the important work of the Honorary Rangers and we were assured that their fund-raising efforts went to where they were most needed for the betterment of the National Parks.

Woodland Kingfisher

As numbers are limited for the birding weekends with the Honorary Rangers, we will feel very privileged if we are invited to attend next year – it was certainly well worth the long drive from Durban.  From Satara Rob and I took a slow drive through the Park up to Punda Maria to see what birds we could find further north.  More about that in our next blog.