Spring has sprung with a cascade of bubbling notes and winged wonder

You can sniff it in the air; days are warmer and nights too. Birds are singing, geese are honking and at last we’ve had a fair bit of rain. Spring has arrived, my favourite time of the year, and I can feel it in my bones.

For me the first real sign of spring was the sound of what Roberts Birds describes as “a cascade of bubbling notes, first descending scale, then ascending; likened to water pouring from a bottle”.

Do you know it?

I’m sure you do and you’ve heard it too. It comes from the rain bird, as many of us call it, whose real name is Burchell’s coucal.

It’s a lovely sound and for several mornings in a row as dawn peeped over the hills and it was time to get out of bed to make a cuppa, a pair of rain birds sang their duet.

They’re called that because very often they can tell that rain is coming and it’s amazing how often they are right.

What’s more, it wasn’t long after that the skies opened and it rained as it hasn’t rained for many months.

It poured last week from Friday evening until Sunday morning, all 66mm of it; so much that as it pelted down I needed to climb into my waterproof rain suit, pull on a pair of wellies, and scoot down to the end of our jetty to bail water out of my boat.

I’m told the lesser striped swallows that arrive in these parts around this time, are indeed here.

I haven’t actually seen any that I could positively identify, they’ve all been too far away, on the wing chasing insects, but my guess is they are these delightful little birds that nest under eaves and on veranda ceilings.

It was around this time last year that I received an e-mail from Lindsay Bridger who forwarded to me a letter from his sister, Lorna, who lives in the Haga Haga area.

She told a fascinating story of a pair of lesser striped swallows successfully raising two broods of chicks a year in the same nest, often doing repairs when needed.

“In 2015, all of that changed when a flock of white-rumped swifts arrived and tried to take over the nest. A lot of chirping and chasing by the swallows ensued but the swifts managed to break the nest and evict three swallow chicks.

The swallows tried to repair their nest a couple of times, but to no avail. The swifts just broke it again.

“Eventually the swallows rebuilt the nest with a larger bowl and without an entrance tunnel. They sat around on my window-sill for a few days until the swifts moved into the nest and appeared settled,” Lorna wrote.

“Once all calm had returned, the little swallows built a new nest, with two entrance tunnels, next to the old one that the swifts occupied. With no interference from the swifts, they managed to successfully raise three chicks before it was time to return to their winter home.”

There is a way, I am told, to prevent swifts taking over swallows’ nests and that is to hang a length of wire netting, about 40cm deep, in the swifts’ flight path.

It should be about 60cm away from the nest.

Apparently the swallows will fly under it, then swoop up to the nest. Swifts, however, are unable to do this and soon move off to look for other nesting sites.

Lorna’s story amazes me. I understood the two species were sworn enemies. To have each living side by side without any apparent enmity, is bizarre. It must be a rare occurrence.

Finally, crowned eagles … aah, now there’s a bird I love. It’s huge, powerful and majestic.

East London and its environs has a good number of these “royal” raptors that have territories in and around the city, and there are even more of them up and down the coast.

I’m told by our two resident ornithologists – Phil Whittington and Carl Vernon – that there are six to 10 known pairs around the city and if you take Gonubie into consideration, there could be another two.

Carl is doing a count and would love to hear from you to share any information you might have.

Drop him a line at carl@bonzabay.co.za with any sightings or nest sites you might have about crowned eagles.

They certainly have a lot of food available in the area that consists mainly of dassies, duikers and monkeys.

Doug Kunhardt of Viskop, on the Cefane River, submitted a fascinating sequence of photos of a monkey kill made by a crowned eagle.

The story with photos is on the elmuseumscience blog site. – robinrosst@gmail.com

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