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Just a Few Birds Around Town ( Nelspruit, S. Africa)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

                                        White-fronted bee-eater. Is he not magnificent?

At the start of my trip in February 2012, my dear friend Peter Lawson picked me up at the airport, took me to the lovely Karen Bullen's fabulous home perched on a hillside in Nelspruit, South Africa, then picked me up the next morning for some birding. And oh, what birding we had. These are a few of the birds to be had right around town. This is a white-fronted bee-eater. Oh my gosh. I was OK until I saw the blue panties. Then I lost it. Yes, this is my favorite bee-eater. Until I see a Carmine. Or a European. Gah. Turquoise overload.

They just sit around like any robin in the trees surrounding farm fields and you think, "What would I do if I saw this in my backyard in Ohio?"

This was the great fun of birding in South Africa in its summer. Birds undreamt of. My previous visit had been in the dead of the austral winter, in July 1994. No bee-eaters, very few rollers. They were everywhere this time (in February, South Africa's summer).

Some birds were familiar, like these cattle egrets. Cattle egrets are native right here in South Africa, and have only been in North America since the 1940's. No one knows how they got here, but they've become a familiar fixture from Maine to Florida. They don't mind if they're following elephants or Jerseys. Even cooler, cattle egrets are a bona-fide Neotropical migrant in their new home, tracing new migration routes to Central and South America, routes never taken by their ancestors. I use cattle egrets as one measure of the behavioral plasticity of birds.

Cage bird fanciers will recognize this common waxbill. So cool to see birds you're used to viewing as they ricochet around a parakeet cage, living their good lives out in the wild. I love the red bandit mask.

This is a fan-tailed widowbird, and sharp naturalists will note immediately the resemblance to red-winged blackbirds. No relation at all; red and gold epaulets just happen to look sharp with velvet black, and it's a color combo that translates well in damp well lit grassy landscapes. It's a good example of convergent evolution.

That's not a bird, but it was crawling across our picnic table. I wish we had geckos in Ohio.
We could definitely use more lizards around here.

because then we might have hadedas ( a very noisy kind of ibis) as garden birds. Don't miss the pink iridescence on his wing!

Yes, I dream of living in South Africa!

These links go to Columbus' Midwest Photo Exchange, one of the last real family-owned photo stores in Ohio. Sonnie the Canon Guy will take care of you when you're ready for that rig upgrade.


I have geckoes on my front porch. Just sayin'.
No hadedas yet, but give 'em time.

Oh my goodness! Bee-eaters! The only bee-eater species I've been lucky enough to see is the gorgeous Rainbow Bee-eater of Australia, and it was love at first sight. I'd been admiring them in my field guide for weeks, hoping I'd run across one, and one day the other field assistant on the project and I were walking out to the study site when we suddenly realized there was a whole flock of 'em in the red gum trees above our heads. It was magical.

A bee-eater's blue it, love it :o)

August is South Africa's summer?

No, August is South Africa's winter. I took this trip in February 2012. Would that my blogposts were that current, but it has taken me until now to edit and winnow it all down to over 700 photos. Have amended the post to clarify.

You are talkking about my backyard from childhood. I do not recall seeing bee-eaters, but I did grow up seeing rollers. My favorite--Mzilikazi's roller (lilac-breaster roller).
On our trip last year, I loved seeing the weaver nests again.

aaah, you are making me homesick! I hope you saw a crested barbet, the punk rockers of the barbets, or a jackie hangman, who hangs his kill on thorn trees to dry into jerky!

Posted by Anonymous August 20, 2012 at 6:46 AM

Your writing about things such as "behavioral plasticity" and "convergent evolution" makes my neocortex do little synaptic happy dances. Love your big- picture view along with those amazing fine details that most would miss.

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