Birding, lockdown style

I’m not a birder but I know a few and I once had avid birding clients who roused mild curiosity in me. I don’t think I’ll ever become a very good birder with the sort of patience required but I know where to take my clients for good birding. Just before lockdown I spent a few happy hours with my birding friend Cathy Jenkins doing reconnaissance for such a client – at our local sewage works, best birding spot in Cape Town!

During lockdown I was very grateful to be in a house with a garden. My garden is small but there are big trees in neighbours’ larger gardens and I have plants that attract birds, such as aloes that are much loved by beautiful sunbirds.

As I sat on my verandah day after locked-down day, on an old couch (little did I know when I had put it there instead of throwing it away that one day it would become more used than any other seat in the house), I gave the birds a lot more attention than ever before and felt the urge to identify them. This is a birder ‘thing’… the list, the ID, the checking off, followed by some bragging or at least sharing with other birders. And for many, not me, taking good photos with big heavy zoom lenses.

I wasn’t taking great photos so sharing was not going to be of much value and my lockdown inmates were only mildly keen. Well, one didn’t care at all, to be honest, and the other was not always fast enough to react. Also, the two dogs get in the way of silent, motionless, bird-watching. They don’t chase them if I’m around but they are immune to my entreaties to sit still.

Anyway, out came the bird book and, with a level of patience I didn’t know I possessed, I managed to identify all the birds that came to my garden, or neighbours’ trees, and even in the street.

  • Southern masked weaver – not often seen but they live in a tree a block away from my house
  • Cape sparrow – very common
  • Cape battis – a brief visit last winter
  • Red winged starling – permanent residents, very cheeky, pretty song
  • Olive thrush – this was very exciting because I’d never even heard of them
  • Cape bulbul – there are several nests nearby so lots of juveniles flit in and out of the trees at great speed
  • Cape turtle dove – most promiscuous of all, non-stop shagging all day long
  • Black sparrow hawk – most impressive and exciting sighting of all
  • Hadeda ibis – the loudest bird in Africa, bless it, we just love to hate them
  • Southern double-collared sunbird – most delightful of all, attracted to my aloe
  • Spotted eagle owl – this one is only heard, not seen, at night, but is very distinctive
  • Crow – the less said about this noisy road kill lover, the better
  • Helmeted guinea fowl – poor things, all over the street and railway line, we’ve pushed them out of their habitat
  • Egyptian geese – as for the guinea fowl, beautiful birds, trying hard to keep family safe

A chance silly Facebook post led me to a fabulous birding group – #BirdTheFeckAtHome. This is for real birders but even ‘amateurs’ and non-birders will enjoy it because humour is almost de rigeur. It’s run by Australians but members are from all over the world. They keep an awesome Google spreadsheet to record all birds globally. The humour is classic Aussie style and I love the playful rivalry between Aussies and New Zealanders. Join it now, lockdown is not over and it’s the best FB group in the whole universe.

As I was writing this entry, there was drama in my sky! The photo is not at all worth posting but one of my lockdown inmates witnessed a sparrowhawk being attacked by 4 starlings! It’s the second time we’ve seen this so it must be fairly common behaviour but for us this is quite exciting and I will be sure to ask birders about it. In the meantime, some of my rubbish cell phone photos from the garden.

Sorry for the hideous photos – taken with a cell phone and zoomed, not a good combo. A dove on the left having a wash after a love session, and the pretty olive thrush on the right.

I highly recommend this book for beginners. All my birds are in there, except for the sparrow hawk. The tree on the right is a white pear that I planted 2 years ago. It’s still rather small but is already starting to attract some birds, to my delight. At the moment it’s flowering and when the flowers finish they’ll be replaced by little berries – I can’t wait to see if birds come to eat them.

One again, here is my crowdfunding link – please support if you can and I thank you in advance.

About Francoise Armour

I run a small touring company (Tours du Cap) at the bottom of Africa, to show visitors the beauty and vibrant culture of the country I have lived in since my parents brought me here from France as a child. I enjoy taking photos and wish I had learnt to do it properly. I enjoy writing but don't do enough of it. I enjoy walking in the mountains that surround me and I marvel over the views and the flowers and the amazing rock formations. I have a small, cute, clever, black dog of indeterminable breed, named Vida, who reminds me regularly that walking and getting out is not only for when tourists want it.

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A note to all accidental visitors:

I am not a photographer and do not claim to have any particular skills whatsoever in that department. I have enormous respect for those who can see the potential in a scene and can create a great photo. Good photography is an art, in my opinion.

I am just a happy snapper, I have no special lenses or accessories, my camera is very simple and it's usually best to leave the setting on auto.

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