Tag Archives: Familiar chat

Birding in Tankwa Karoo National Park

Last week I blogged about our camping trip to the Tankwa Karoo National Park.  As I said, we were blown away by the beautiful scenery, but that isn’t the only charm of this tiny arid park.  The bird life is also exciting and Rob was able to get some nice photos of the local avian residents.  So, before I start, let me ask you this – when is a tent not a tent?  When it’s a bird hide, of course!  Rob took his camera and wandered off along the dry river bed near the campsite, hoping to get photos of birds and animals, while I sat reading in our tent.  Imagine my surprise and delight when loads of birds came into our camp.  They didn’t see me and I had a wonderful couple of hours watching them unnoticed from our tent.  When Rob came back he immediately set up his camera and captured the shots that follow.

Southern double-collared sunbird

Most campsites have resident birds that are relatively tame, and this site was no exception.  A beautiful Familiar chat was quite at home around the tent, as was his constant companion, a Cape bunting.  They seemed to hang out together which was rather nice to watch.

Familiar chat

At times they were joined by two other buntings and happily pecked around on the ground for crumbs and insects.

Cape bunting

Two of the more colourful visitors were a Bokmakierie and this female African paradise flycatcher.  She came back often and wasn’t put off by the clicking of Rob’s camera at all.

African paradise flycatcher

Acting as if they owned the place was a pair of Cape spurfowl.  They wandered around and at times even got under our feet.  What beautiful feather markings these birds have.

Cape spurfowl

It being the Karoo, it wasn’t surprising that we were visited by a Karoo prinia.  These rather shy birds are not that easy to photograph as they flit about restlessly and hardly seem to sit still for a moment.

Karoo prinia

We placed a bowl of water on the ground hoping to see the birds drinking or bathing, but in spite of the heat and the desert-like conditions they weren’t interested in it at all.  It wasn’t in vain though, as we were soon visited by a field mouse that spent ages slaking its thirst.  It was so enchanted by this unexpected new water source that it disappeared into the bush and came back later with three more of its family.  They all drank as if they hadn’t seen water for years.  We tried this in the Central Kalahari once and our generosity had unintended consequences.  We had lots of birds drinking and bathing, but we also had a visit from a puffadder that wanted some water as well.  Not wanting to encourage snakes, we moved the water a long way from the campsite itself.

Karoo lark

Karoo larks, robins and batis’s were also spotted from out tent.  Later in the day we took a drive to a rather large dam where there was an abundance of waterbirds, but we couldn’t stay there for very long as there was no shade and the heat was a bit over-bearing.  If SANParks wanted any suggestions for improvements at Tankwa, I would happily recommend they erect a small shelter at the dam where people could sit in shade and watch the birds.

Next week I will chat about our drive up the stunning Gannaga Pass.

Bird of the Week – Week 84 – Familiar chat

The Afrikaans name for the Familiar chat is “Gewone spekvreter” which means “Common fat-eater“, a strange name that it apparently earned during the 1800’s when the Voortrekkers were migrating northwards from the Cape of Good Hope with their ox wagons and these little birds made a habit of feeding on the lard that was used to grease the moving parts of the wagons.

Familiar chat

A fairly small, dumpy bird with a length of about 15 cm, the females and males are similar in plumage colouration and the females are slightly bigger than the males.  They are rather drab birds, with brown to dark brown upper parts and under parts that are off-white to grey-brown.  The rump and outer tail feathers are orange while the central tail feathers and the tip of the tail are dark brown.  Bill, legs and feet are black; eyes are brown.

  Familiar chat

The Familiar chat is usually fairly tame and often approaches campsites and other habitation.  They are most often found on rocky hillsides, rocky outcrops and sparsely vegetated areas.  It often sits out in the open, perching on any raised stone, tree or fence post and has a habit of flicking its wings every time it moves.  It may be seen singly or in small groups.

The song of the Familiar chat is a soft garbled collection of peeps and chirps, while the alarm call is a much louder and harsher “chak-chak-chak”.

  Familiar chat

The Familiar chat hunts by flying down from its perch and taking its prey on the ground or may hawk flying insects from the air.  It also gleans insects from leaves and picks spiders from their webs.  It feeds mainly on insects, spiders, centipedes, and, when close to human habitation, food scraps and even pet food.

The Familiar chat is monogamous and builds a cup-shaped nest of soft plant material, feathers, wool or other soft material.  The nest may be placed in a variety of sites such as on the ground, in a tree, in old bird’s nests or in nesting boxes provided by obliging humans.  The female lays a clutch of two to four bright greenish-blue eggs that hatch after an incubation period of approximately 15 days.

  Familiar chat

The scientific binomial for the Familiar chat is Cercomela familiaris; Cercomela from the Greek for “black tail” and familiaris from the Latin for “familiar”.  Thus a familiar bird with a black tail, which describes any number of birds, including this one.

  Familiar chat