The summer rains arrived in Windhoek, Namibia, during December and the transformation that these showers wrought to the landscape was both immediate and spectacular. With the greening of the vegetation, the insects, the animals and the birds all become enthused with new vigour, not least amongst them being the gorgeous Southern red bishops (Euplectes orix).
We went for a walk to a reed bed located not far from our home in the Windhoek suburb of Avis, to find that the reeds had sprouted to well over two metres in height, and that an enthusiastic breeding population of Southern red bishops had taken up their annual residence. We dashed back home for cameras and binoculars and returned to spend a delightful hour or so watching the antics of the little birds.
The reeds in this small area are densely packed and in consequence the birds are very difficult to photograph clearly as there is invariably some vegetation obscuring at least part of the bird. But as always, patience is rewarded by the occasional clear sighting.
The males in their splendid red and black plumage flitted amongst the reeds like oversized bumble-bees, fluffing out their feathers and putting on a wonderful display for any passing females. The females, although pretty birds in their own right, lack the impressive colours of the males and are quite easily overshadowed as a result. Of course, come the end of the breeding season, the males will lose their present spectacular plumage and take on the comparatively drab plumage presently sported by the females. During this period the birds can be quite difficult to identify correctly as they blend in with many other LBJs.
The majority of the birds, both males and females, seemed to be very active during the time that we were there, in the early part of the morning, and spent very little time actually perched.
Numerous woven nests are tucked away in the reeds, surprisingly well hidden from casual view. The males weave several nests from grass and other plant material at the start of the breeding season in an effort to attract females and, as they are polygynous, each male would hope to mate with several females before the season is over.
Incidentally, the Southern red bishop is found throughout most of the southern African region; but there is also a Northern red bishop, which is generally similar in size and plumage, and which is found only north of the equator.