Our garden is not yet mature enough to be a haven for breeding birds; however we have recorded some breeding attempts and these are increasing as the garden matures.

 

One of the successes has been a pair of Spotted Thick-knees (Dikkops) who make their breeding presence pretty obvious by their loud hissing and posturing if you approach too close. The first time I encountered them near the compost heap at the bottom of the garden, I thought I had disturbed a snake and jumped back with some alarm.  There were 2 eggs in a shallow scrape on the ground and I was able to monitor them on a weekend basis over the next 6 to 7 weeks.

Spotted Thick-knee eggs in Stanford village garden. Photo: Richard Masson

Spotted Thick-knee eggs in Stanford village garden. Photo: Richard Masson

As they became more comfortable with my presence, I was able to photograph the progress from eggs to tiny babies to sub-adults.  It is a pleasure to have them in the vicinity – we often have them darting around on the lawn in the evenings and their beautiful calls are so special and bring to mind author Dick Pitman’s one chapter heading in his book,  A Wild Life, a memoir of his time in Zimbabwe – “The Haunted Cry of the Thickhead”.  .

 

Spotted Thick-knee with chicks in Stanford village garden. Photo: Richard Masson

Spotted Thick-knee with chicks in Stanford village garden. Photo: Richard Masson

Spotted Thick-knee with chicks cadging lift in Stanford village garden! Photo: Richard Masson

Spotted Thick-knee with chicks cadging lift in Stanford village garden! Photo: Richard Masson

 

In late October 2013 I witnessed some interesting new breeding attempts in the garden.  The first was a Cape Robin Chat with nest building material in its beak, landing in a moonflower tree at the front entrance and then disappearing under the eaves of the garage roof.  I could not locate a nest in the eaves of the roof but then I did not want to approach too closely whilst I observed the robin which was very industrious with her work.   I checked the inside of the garage, but there was no evidence of a nest in the wall or roof into which the robin was disappearing.  I remained mystified for the rest of the day.

On the following day I waited in the garage and soon resolved the conundrum.  Dearly Beloved is a collector of woven baskets and there are 3 baskets hanging decoratively from the roof beams to one side of the garage.  The robin had ingeniously used the meeting point of the 3 baskets to site its nest.  I was able to watch over the next 2 weekends the completion of the nest and the robin on the nest.   This was not a success however and she left, hopefully to find another more suitable spot.

 

Cape Robin Chat nesting in basket in Stanford, Overberg. Photo: Richard Masson

Cape Robin Chat nesting in basket in Stanford, Overberg. Photo: Richard Masson

The next discovery was the result of us having 5 dogs and the care Dearly Beloved bestows on them.   They receive regular brushing, particularly Gebo, the Toy Pom who sheds copious soft hair which is ideal as nest lining material.  This is deliberately left in the garden for the birds to find.  The most regular user was a Malachite Sunbird who flew off across our neighbor’s garden towards the vlei, happy with the fluffy find.

Sadly, I was not able to follow and locate her nest.  The next builder observed using our pet’s hair was a Southern Double Collared Sunbird who kept flying back through our veranda to a stand of Banana Trees.  Our grey water is used to support these banana pits and with the constant moisture supply, growth is luxuriant.  The sunbird sited its nest below 2 banana leaves which provided perfect protection against the rain.  The photographs of the nest clearly show that it is Gebo’s hair that being used in the nest.

Southern Double collared Sunbird building her nest with dog's hair in Stanford garden. Photo: Richard Masson

Southern Double collared Sunbird building her nest with dog’s hair in Stanford garden. Photo: Richard Masson

 

In the same banana patch, about a metre away from the double collared nest, a pair of Malachite Sunbirds built their nest using the same strategy of using banana leaves to provide protection against the elements.  The nest was less than 2 metres from the bedroom window and we were able to observe them closely without disturbing them.  They were successful and fortunately I was home on the weekend the babies left the nest and the begging fledglings were very photogenic.

 

Female Malachite Sunbird feeding chick in Stanford village garden. Photo: Richard Masson

Female Malachite Sunbird feeding chick in Stanford village garden. Photo: Richard Masson

 The Malachite Sunbird chick a little older and a little greedier! Photo: Richard Masson

The Malachite Sunbird chick a little older and a little greedier! Photo: Richard Masson

 

Birds are ingenious in finding sites with relative security from both the weather and predators by taking a chance on the facilities provided by us humans.   At the same time as the Malachites were breeding in the banana pit we discovered a Cape White-eye nest in a potted Gardenia tree on the front veranda.   You can imagine the fun I had over the weekends going from the banana pit to the front veranda to observe our breeding birds.  It instills also a wonderful anticipation for what we might discover with the new breeding season about to start.

 

Cape White-eye feeding chicks in Stanford garden in the Overberg. Photo: Richard Masson

Cape White-eye feeding chicks in Stanford garden in the Overberg. Photo: Richard Masson

 

Slightly older Cape White-Eye chicks with ferocious appetites! Photo: Richard Masson

Slightly older Cape White-Eye chicks with ferocious appetites! Photo: Richard Masson

 

INGONYI (Birds): Beautiful Fertilisers of Earth

 

Our people, throughout Africa, believed many strange things regarding birds. First of all, our general name for a bird in Zulu is ingonyi while in Sesotho and Tswana it is ngonyani. These are beautiful, strange and mystical African words which mean “fat” or “fattening”. Now…. What has a bird to do with being fat? Our people believed that, like the animal herds that used to criss-cross the face of Africa, birds were bringers of fertility. We believed that the great bird migrations that used to come into our skies at certain times of year brought fertility to or “fattened” the land. For this reason, a bird, any bird, is called the fertiliser or fattener …ingonyi.

 

Another belief regarding birds is that they are the souls of human beings who have reached a high state of perfection. When you have been reincarnated seven times on Earth, as either a human or an animal, you are raised by the Gods to the state of a bird, the freest creature in the world; a creature that is a friend to the air, friend to the land and friend to the water. This is the ingonyi – the freest of the free, the fattener, the fertiliser.

 

Cape weaver nesting in Stanford garden. Photo: Richard Masson

Cape weaver nesting in Stanford garden. Photo: Richard Masson

You find a saying all over Africa, in various languages, one that was stressed upon our people again and again; if you kill a tree, you are killing a bird. In Setswana the say, “setklara seswala kinyona” and in Zulu “ummuthi uzalwanyone” – both of which mean, “the tree is given birth to by the bird.” Why did our people say so? Our people noticed that when birds from far away rest on the branches of certain trees, sooner or later you would see strange trees growing at the feet of these big trees, since the seeds were excreted in the past by migratory birds. The Bakgathla people have a proverb that says if you shave the great Earth Mothers green hair, she will lose her feathered licebirds found, in other words, if you destroy trees, birds will no longer come to bring fertlilty.”

 

Credo Mutwa – courtesy of Wildlife Campus

Article and photos by Richard Masson. See more of Richard’s exquisite photographs of birds observed in Stanford in the overberg: http://scenicsouth.co.za/2014/05/stanford-in-the-overberg-is-a-birdwatchers-paradise/