Bird Refugees

Contributor: Leonie Twentyman-Jones

Photographs: Margaret Richards

Even before the devastating June fires, we had noticed many changes in the birds frequenting our Leisure Isle garden. Flocks of little Cape canaries, White eyes, and Streaky-headed canaries started arriving in much larger numbers than previously – mostly heading for the bird baths but then staying to investigate food sources as well. Clearly the word was out that there was a constant supply of water, albeit steadily diminishing, from our rain water tanks!

Bath time for Cape Canaries

The garden has always attracted many sunbirds, including the Southern Double-Collared, Greater Double-collared and Amethyst sunbirds, because of the constant presence of nectar-containing flowers like Cape honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis), Crane flower (Strelizia regina), Wild dagga (Leonotus leonurus), Krantz aloe (Aloe arborescens) and in early spring the lovely orange cobra lily (Chasmanthe aethiopica). Last year’s bulbs multiplied very satisfactorily so we have been able to create splashes of orange all over the garden as well as supplying additional food for the sunbirds. However after the fires even more sunbirds than usual have been seen and friends on Thesen Islands and at Hunters Home have found a similar increase in their gardens. Even while the hot wind was howling through the garden, heat-blasting the shrubs and shredding and stripping leaves and flowers, a male Lesser Double-Collard Sunbird was desperately collecting nectar from the last remaining flowers of the Cape honeysuckle. How he managed to keep airborne in that velocity of wind was incredible.

Olive woodpecker

No doubt because of the fires, birds that are usually found in wooded, evergreen forest areas have also recently been seen on Leisure Isle, the Heads and Hunters Home. These include Olive Woodpeckers, Terrestrial brownbuls, Green Wood-hoopoes and the Brown-hooded Kingfisher.  For a few days a pair of Olive Woodpeckers seemed as though they were seriously considering making a nest in our garden. They spent three days busily excavating a good hole in an old tree, with the male doing the initial heavy work and the female rounding the edges and deepening the hole. Although the female seemed happy with her new home and would arrive each morning and call for her mate, he would not arrive – he had clearly decided that the neighbourhood wasn’t quite up to his expectations and was investigating further afield. A group of Terrestrial brownbuls have moved into a friend’s garden in Hunters Home. They usually prefer the shadowy undergrowth of thick evergreen forests, but seem happy to forage away, chatting companionably to each other, under a dense group of bottlebrush shrubs. The Brown-hooded Kingfisher, which despite its name seldom eats fish, and normally lives in wooded areas, is often seen sitting in a tree or on our gate post, patiently looking for its prey of insects or small reptiles.

No doubt these refugees, and others like them, will continue to live in areas lucky enough to escape the fires where there is shelter and food, until it is safe for them to return home.