A bird by any name
Barn Swallows are busy eating as much as they can for the long trip
SALLY I PROMISED in my last article that I would note the last day I saw a Yellowbilled Kite.
Well, that was March 15, and nary a one since then. These birds must have a really good communication system. It is amazing that a group of birds so widely spread over our province (and elsewhere too) can agree on a date to go north towards the equator and their winter holiday grounds. Somehow they achieve this and we wish them a happy time up there with no parental cares, no territorial problems — just time to relax and moult, and beef up for the next breeding season.
The Barn Swallows are still here as I write, but they too will be thinking of the long journey ahead and eating as much as they can to put on that little bit of extra weight so necessary for a successful migration. Birds cannot put on a lot of extra weight, for then they would not be able to fly, but a couple of grams can make all the difference to surviving a long trip. The change of so many common names of birds is still a problem for me and I have only just become used to calling the European Swallow a Barn Swallow. We have just had keen British birders visiting, and they informed us that the name used in England on many of the computergen erated lists is now back to European Swallow.
Oh, when will “they” just make a decision and stick to it? I am totally confused now.
Juvenile birds can be so confusing, as we found out on a recent visit to Cumberland Nature Reserve. There was this bright yellow bird with black on the wings and no facial markings, busily fossicking around as an insectivore would in an Acacia sieberiana. Was the eye dark or pale, was the beak dark or pinkish, what colour were the legs, how big was the bird — bigger than a weaver, weaver size, as big as an oriole, how many centimetres head to tail?
This was the busiest bird you have ever seen, never still for a moment, usually half hidden behind the feathery foliage. Eight pairs of binoculars and eight different opinions. We stood there until the bird finally tired of being gazed at and stiff necks drove us back to our picnic site.
Any decision on what we had been looking at?
Not really, probably a juvenile Spectacled Weaver said some, others just mumbled “don’t know” — and I was one of those. It would have been nice to turn it into a nice rarity like an African Golden Oriole, but it was probably too small; and now we will never know. Oh, the many joys of bird watching.
The hailstorm that devastated our garden last Monday must have also damaged large areas of natural seeding grasses as the queleas are back enjoying my daily food offering. There’s a positive to every negative if you just look for it.
Megan Bonnetard’s ‘Transience’ (detail) 2014, from her exhibition, Traces.
Ingrid Adams’s ‘23 Wave’, which forms part of her exhibition SUMIE.