A feeling of elation lingers as the soft rain which has fallen over the last two days, soaks into the parched earth and the raindrops glisten like jewels. The dam levels supplying Cape Town’s needs are still way below par but through this respite we can visibly see the vegetation greening up and the first signs of spring are emerging. Through my dining room window there’s a buzzing scene. Wagtails are in-coming carrying nesting material, while the sugarbirds and sunbirds flit about foraging for nectar. The protea pincushions (Leucospermum) are coming into bloom though i still put out the occasional bottle of sugar water (fructose/sucrose formula) for the sunbirds.
The ‘tweeting’ going on is full of robust conversation; the wagtail pair call constantly with urgency – “Where are you, where? Bring in the next twigs, need fluff, fluff?” While the sugarbirds have the gruff throaty voice of nightclub singers; deep and croaky. They have the least melodious of songs while the dainty sunbirds have ‘chirp’; full of small bird attitude. My guidebook describes their calls as a wheezy single “tsearp” or double “teer-turp”. And with that, a jubilant “hallelujah” from all of us here on the rainy shores of the Cape Peninsula.
The aloes, this year are putting on a fine show and the sunbirds visit as if these nectaries are the best five star offerings. The male Malachite sunbird (Nectarinia famosa) sports bright breeding plumage: he dazzles in bright iridescent green-blue feathers and the bright yellow pectoral tufts make a bold statement. Nest building and egg incubation are undertaken entirely by the female so the male bird has ample time to show off. It takes about seven days to build the nest and another fortnight to incubate the eggs.
Malachite sunbird in breeding plumage
Posing to show off the pectoral tufts.
Malachite sunbirds are useful pollinators for the aloe species.
Winter flowering aloe species.
The Malachite’s curved bill is covered with pollen from the aloe blooms.
This little sunbird – a female malachite appears to be revelling in a light rain shower. She dipped in and out of the puddles skimming across the pavers with her bill. What a delight to watch her, a flurry of feathers and lightness of wingbeats- a dainty dance.
South Africa is classed as ‘semi-arid’ and even in a year of good rainfall, water resources are stretched. The Western Cape falls under a winter rainfall area and the dams should be brimming, yet the levels are only averaging 62.3% full. It does not bode well for the dry summer months ahead; water restrictions are in place across the country as the drought conditions stretch into a third year.
The little Cape sunbirds which flit to and fro over the backyard wall sport the most amazing colours. There are three species: the Malachites, Orange-breasted and the Southern double-collared. The males are fabulously attired, their iridescent colours sparkle in the sunlight and we marvel at the extraordinary beauty. The Orange-breasted males really do steal the show, they are gorgeous. We’re attuned to their “chat” and the various calls between the species. Yesterday’s tweets took on a different mood – a jubilant, joyous kind of crowing, and there flaunting his yellow breeding epaulettes was a jaunty little Orange-breasted male. Mrs was building a nest in full view of our diningroom window and there he was displaying. Curiously when feeding the yellow epaulettes were retracted, tucked back under his wings. Bang on time too, their breeding season coincides with the ericas (heath) blossoming over winter.