For the Birds

I’m not a birder. For the same reason I’m not a suicide bomber. Every faith has its fanatics, its extremists, its lunatic fringe who take things too far, and if wildlife were a faith, the birders would be the ones trying to sneak through airport security with a shoe-heel full of plastic explosive and a craft knife hidden in a hollowed out copy of Roberts Birds of Southern Africa.

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A birder quietly pursuing his gentle hobby.

These are not quiet, gentle people with a harmless and diverting hobby. These are people who will charter a small boat to sail out into South Africa’s famously stormy seas to see one particular type of petrel. Which looks exactly like all the other petrels. These are people who keep cross- referenced spread sheets of every bird they have ever seen, where they saw it, and when. These are people who plan family holidays around the possibility of seeing a tiny, nondescript little lark come flitting past. They’re looking for lifers; birds that they’ve never seen before that they can add to their life list. They are not to be trifled with.

My parents once went to a dinner party which nearly ended up in a fist fight. Glasses were knocked over, chairs upended, and two factions of birders ended up glaring at each other from opposite sides of the dining room, like rival gangs in a low rent production of West Side Story. All because one guy said he had seen a bird that another guy said he couldn’t have.

That's what I said, buddy. A Rufous -naped Lark. In June. Wanna make something of it?

That’s what I said, buddy. A Rufous -naped Lark. In June. Wanna make something of it?

As I said, I’m not one of them. Most of my life, I have been in love with wildlife in one form or another, but the birding thing just never quite caught hold of me. But a curious thing has happened. Over the years, I have learnt a lot of their names. I can identify a respectable number of them, but identifying things as they hop, half hidden, through the leaves of a tall tree or shoot past high in the sky doesn’t give me much of a thrill. Other things do.

Every now and then, you will see an otherwise nondescript little bird flap down to a dusty patch and lie down in the dust. It will spread out its wings and fluff out its feathers and just lie there for a while. Then it will hop up, dust itself off, and fly away again. It’s not having a rest, or even a psychotic episode; it’s having a bath. An ant bath.

Up a bit. Up a bit. Left. A little more to the left. Yes. That's the spot.

Up a bit. Up a bit. Left. A little more to the left. Yes. That’s the spot.

They have found themselves a nest of particularly aggressive nest of ants, lain themselves down on top of it, and invited the ants aboard. The ants will scavenge off any edible detritus from the bird’s feathers, and take out the odd parasite, but more importantly than that, if they get excited enough, they will douse the bird’s feathers with formic acid, nature’s own pest control. Some birds will even go so far as to pick up some ants and wipe themselves down with them.

Now that sort of thing does give me a thrill. Birds dance. They sing duets. They suddenly stop flying and drop from the sky like stones, only pulling up at the last second. Water birds waggle their bright yellow feet around to lure in fish. Eagles lock claws in the sky and spin around in crazy, uncontrolled circles. Doves, international symbols of peace and harmony that they are, have protracted and bloody battles, sometimes to the death. These sorts of shenanigans are worth watching.

And so, while I’ve never been a birder, I have become a bird watcher. I could go the rest of my life without seeing a brand new species to add to my life list, but I can sit for hours watching the boring old common ones in my garden do something new and interesting. Which is lucky. For me, if not you. Because I can’t carry on writing about the ecosystem of the Lowveld without doing the birds.

I’m starting small. There are over 500 species living in the Lowveld, and because I want to finish this whole thing before I die, I’m going to ignore most of them. I’ll just try to pick out some of the cooler ones.

Starting small

A tiny little bird. Being tiny.

A tiny little bird. Being tiny.

There are a handful of feathered leprechauns down in the bush which are referred to by the scientific community as “tiny little birds”. There are quite a few of them, with names like Waxbills, Firefinches, Indigobirds and Mannekins. They are all seed eaters. Some of them, like the Waxbills and the Firefinches, are actually quite pretty. They tend to hang around in little mixed groups, hopping around and tweeting quietly. And that’s all they do.

Two more tiny little birds. Also being quite small.

Two more tiny little birds. Also being quite small.

But it doesn’t matter. Because they are tiny. My Aunt used to have a herd of tiny cows, and we visited, we would all go out just to have a look at them being tiny. People get beside themselves with joy when they see those tiny horses that look like toys. We spend thousands on tiny dogs and tiny pigs. Because tiny things are just cool. Sheep are inordinately dull creatures, but if you filled up a field with tiny sheep, people would be lining up to watch them be tiny. Tiny things are just nice to have around.

Pin-Tailed Whydahs

Like most families, the “tiny little birds” have an embarrassing cousin. This is a pin tailed Whydah.

Move along! Nothing to see here.

Move along! Nothing to see here.

He’s tiny too. He also hops around tweeting quietly. Bit dull looking, though. The only thing that makes him mildly interesting is that he is a parasitic breeder, like the cuckoos. And then, when he starts to feel that familiar itch common to us all, this happens.

Hello ladies!

Hello ladies!

His beak goes red, his feathers black and white, and his tail grows beyond the realms of common sense. And tiny hell is unleashed. The growth of that unfeasibly long tail must be fuelled by testosterone. No more hopping around and tweeting. He spends quite a bit of his time displaying. He will fly up into an open patch and then bob up and down like a cork in rough water, tail feathers flapping about like streamers. He spends the rest of his time trying to kill everything.

Come at me, bro! I'll beat you so hard your dog will need an aspirin!

Come at me, bro! I’ll beat you so hard your dog will need an aspirin!

Pin-tailed Whydahs are spectacularly aggressive. They are territorial, but unlike most territorial creatures, they don’t only chase off other Whydahs. They will cheerfully see off other species of bird several orders of magnitude bigger than themselves. Because they have an inferiority complex. Because their cousins look like this.

It's not mine. I'm just looking after it for a bigger bird while he goes for a drink.

It’s not mine. I’m just looking after it for a bigger bird while he goes for a drink.

That’s a Long Tailed Paradise Whydah. It’s a bit more relaxed. Less to prove. It shouldn’t get too cocky though. It has a cousin from the Highveld that looks like this.

What do you mean, you're not interested?

What do you mean, you’re not interested?

Which is just silly.

Hummingbirds. Who don’t hum.

Drive,Arlene! Drive! It's trying to get into the car!

Drive, Arlene! Drive! It’s trying to get into the car!

I’ve always been jealous of the Americas, because you guys have hummingbirds. They seem utterly charming; more like huge insects than miniature birds. And we came so close. We have sunbirds. They are almost exactly the same. They’re tiny too. They feed on nectar from (and pollinate) plants that have evolved alongside them, growing brightly coloured flowers whose shape echoes the curve of their beaks.

They are beautiful, too. At least the males are beautiful. Their heads have an iridescent sheen than shines like black opal in the bright Lowveld light, and their chests tend to have bright splashes of red and green.

But they don’t hum. Sunbirds cannot hover, which is the main thing that makes hummingbirds so cool. They have to perch to feed.

Nice perch, loser!

Nice perch, loser!

Who’s a pretty boy then?

OMG-Trivia-11-12-11

These guys. These guys are pretty boys then.

The Sunbirds may be beautiful, but they pale to insignificance next to the Bee-eaters. Who, as you may have guessed, eat bees. Which is a tricky thing to do. They catch them on the wing, and then land, and use a nearby twig to scrape off the sting before swallowing the bee. Which is quite sensible. They eat wasps too. Which is not sensible.

Not content with eating bees and being beautiful. They do some other cool stuff too. They nest in holes in the ground, in steep riverbanks. And when they get cold, they snuggle.

How could you do such a thing? I can't even look at you right now!And neither can I!And neither can I!And neither can I!

How could you do such a thing? I can’t even look at you right now! And neither can I! And neither can I! And neither can I!

But mostly, they are beautiful. They are sleek and lean and streamlined, and coloured like shards of an African sunset fallen to earth, all pinks and blues and greens and deep, deep reds.

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Apartment living in the Lowveld.

Greater Honeyguides

Honeyguides are not beautiful. They can’t even claim to be ugly. They are dull. Uninspiring. Lacklustre.

This bird desperately needs to be noticed. the bee eaters don't. Anyone noticing a flaw in that whole intelligent design thing?

This bird desperately needs to be noticed. The bee eaters don’t. Anyone noticing a flaw in that whole intelligent design thing?

Or at least, they would be. But they have a party trick. They eat bees too. And unlike almost any other creature on the planet, they can digest beeswax. That’s not their party trick though. It’s how they get the beeswax that makes them cool. The bees round here are not to be trifled with. They can kill horses. And they nest in holes in trees, where they are hard to get at. Which should put them out of reach of dull little birds. But doesn’t.

As you go walking through the bush, most of the birds will either ignore you or flee. If you’re lucky though, you may be joined by a Honeyguide. He won’t ignore you. He will perch on a prominent spot and begin to flap about, making an insistent churring noise, like a box full of matches being shaken. When he’s sure that he has your attention, he will fly a short distance away and do the same thing. Like Lassie when little Timmy has fallen down the well, he wants you to follow him. Don’t.

He’s leading you to a beehive. A couple of hundred years ago, this would have been a remarkably considerate thing to do. These days, when almost everything we eat is laced with sugar, it is hard for us to imagine the lengths that our ancestors would go to get their hands on honey. To get some idea of what I’m talking about, Google the “honey hunters of Nepal”. People used to cheerfully risk death to get their hands on that tasty, tasty sweetness. And some of them still do.

The Honeyguide wants you to build a fire, smoke out the bees, and chop open the nest, so that he can move in and feast on the dead bees, grubs, and wax combs you leave behind. He must be almost permanently disappointed, now that people can just nip off down to the shops and buy a bag of sweets.

It’s not all bad for him though. If at least some of the experts are to be believed, he can always try his party trick on a passing honey badger.

Arts and crafts

When he's done with the basket, he's going to crochet a tiny blanket.

When he’s done with the basket, he’s going to crochet a tiny blanket.

If any of you are keen on gardening, you will know that your hobby is fraught with all sorts of hazards that non-gardeners would never be able to imagine. Everybody knows about snails. And slugs, and caterpillars. The gardeners among you will know about white scale, and fungal rot, and black spot. But only people who live in Africa will know about the bloody Weavers. They should be charming. They weave beautiful, tidy little hanging baskets, a different pattern for each different kind of weaver.

porkyhefer17

And then set about destroying your trees. Every day, the weavers will set aside several hours purely to pick off every single leaf growing around their nests. The ground below the nests will end up littered with fresh green leaves, like autumn without the pretty colours, and your trees will end up with huge, scraggly patches of bare, wintery branches, like winter struck just a tiny patch of your man-made paradise at the end of spring. They’re protecting themselves from snakes, and other predators. If the branches around them are bare, it’s harder for anything to get at them.

You can’t get too angry at them though. They have their own crosses to bear. Their females are from hell. Watching a weaver build its nest is fascinating. They will carefully choose a branch and put up a solid anchor of pliable green grass, and then start to weave a perfectly oval basket, with an open chute at the bottom for the female to go into to lay her eggs. Afters days of endless toil, they will sit back and invite the female in to come and inspect their handiwork.

And she will tear it apart, piece by carefully placed piece, tufts of drying green grass falling to the ground to join the leaves of your once-beautiful tree. Sometimes, she will find the perfect spot and simply drop the whole nest down onto the ground. I have two of them on a shelf next to me now, both made by the same long-suffering male. Because a male weaver is nothing if not persistent. He will just start again. And again. And again. Love does strange things to us men.

As I said before, there are lots of different weavers, and they all have different nests. There are nests with open holes in the side, and nests with long, round tubes sticking out the bottom.

And then there are the Red-Billed Buffalo Weaver nests.

300px-Red-billed_Buffalo-Weaver_nests_P1030134

This is either a Buffalo Weaver nest, or someone has been throwing glue covered sticks at a dead tree for several weeks.

They’re a mess. They are social nesters, so they don’t make neat, discrete little baskets. They just tack their nests onto each other. And they don’t weave their nests out of grass, they use twigs. So you end up with huge, untidy piles of sticks stuck up in a tree, big enough for eagles to nest on top. They are poor cousins to their counterparts on the other side of the country, though. Social Weavers make the biggest nests in the world. They can pull down trees.

Or cripple a nation's telecommunications industry.

Or cripple a nation’s telecommunications industry.

Penduline Tits.

A Tit. In the Penduline position.

A Tit. In the Penduline position.

Apart from their obvious appeal to the pubescent teenage boys of the world, Penduline Tits exist purely to make the Weavers look even worse in the eyes of their females. They make their nests out of felt. Or something very much like felt. They use spider-webs and plant fibres to make a neat little oval just like a weaver’s. But softer, and snugglier, and smarter. It has a false entrance, leading to a dead end. The real entrance is just above it, but is hard to discover since the Tit pulls it closed. Which is pretty smart for a bird. Especially a bird called a Penduline Tit.

The nest of a Penduline Tit. Or, as Teenage boys call it, a Penduline Tit Snort Giggle.

The nest of a Penduline Tit. Or, as Teenage boys call it, a Penduline Tit Snort Giggle.

Red Billed Queleas

There used to be a bird in North America called the Passenger Pigeon. Or rather there used to be lots of birds in North America called Passenger Pigeons. Lots and lots. Some say over three billion. And now there are none. Hunting and habitat change took them from being the most populous bird on the planet to extinction in a couple of hundred years. Good one, mankind!

We don’t always have such a devastating effect on the creatures around us though. This is a Red Billed Quelea.

Hang on a second. I'm just going to call over some of my buddies.

Hang on a second. I’m just going to call over some of my buddies.

It’s a kind of weaver. It doesn’t look very impressive, does it? But that’s not how you usually see them. You usually see them like this.

Ah. Here they come now.

Ah. Here they come now.

That’s quite a lot of birds. Which makes sense; because some experts believe that there are over 10 billion of them. Thanks to us.

There have always been a lot of Queleas, but the numbers really shot up when we started large scale farming. Queleas eat seed. The huge, open grass plains of Africa always provided them with a lot of food, but nothing like the abundance we provide. We may think that we are omnivores, but mostly, just like the Queleas, we live on grass seeds. If you took away rice, wheat, and maize alone, we would starve. And we grow our grass seeds in abundance. Which has proved to be rather nice for the Queleas.

In the bush, they are a joy to watch. They behave more like great, airborne schools of fish than birds. Great clouds of them fill the sky, dipping and weaving in unison. When they feed, they move in a great rolling cloud, the ones in the back constantly flying up to the front of the flock to find some uneaten seed. When they drink, the order is reversed. A great carpet of them will land at the water’s edge. The ones in the front will pause for a brief drink and then fly off, while the ones behind them shuffle forward. And all the time, thirsty Queleas will be landing at the back of the queue to wait their turn.

When they roost, it can be pretty spectacular, too. They will settle on a patch of bush like over-abundant fruit. They are tiny, but the sheer weight of their numbers can break substantial branches.

They are not a joy for farmers to watch. They are a serious pest, causing as much damage as a plague of locusts. And so we have gone to war with them. Not some sort of half assed, chemically based attempts at control; proper war. With dynamite and flame throwers. Government agencies find where the huge flocks are roosting and carpet bomb them. With absolutely no visible effect on the overall population. They don’t have any flamethrowers, or even tiny sticks of dynamite, but they are winning, through sheer weight of numbers.

An Elephant. And a few little birds.

An Elephant. And a few little birds.

There is a way to fight them though. By standing in your field. These are birds, not locusts, and a single man can protect a fairly substantial field by just chasing them away. This does, however, entail standing in a filed all day every day for the whole growing season. Which is fine for small scale farmers, but a bit of a hassle for large scale industrial farms. I can just imagine all those farmers lying in their beds at night, after a long day chasing tiny birds around in the sun, dreaming peacefully and happily about Passenger Pigeons.

So that’s it. A start. There are many more bird posts to come. There are water birds, birds of prey, night birds, scavenger birds, game birds, parrots, shrikes, kingfishers, and on and on and on. It’s all a bit daunting. I may have to give up and become a birder, chartering boats and taking my family on crappy holidays, ticking off briefly glimpsed petrels on my life list instead. It seems like an easier option.

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65 thoughts on “For the Birds

  1. Shawn Flaherty says:

    Thanks for the like on my blog!

    I work in a wildlife refuge in NW Washington here in the States. We get a lot of birders, and a lot of birds. Your opening paragraphs were both very clever and funny. The picture of the birder was hilarious, but it was also very interesting to read. Your pictures were cool as well.

    I like your writing style – you keep it interesting and entertaining! I had to pass it along to some of our regulars for their enjoyment.

  2. peaceful says:

    Oh how fun to read! Living in South India in the countryside wake up to a symphony of bird calls. Not much luck getting them on film though, you must have lots of patience and a good telephoto lens! Here the wild green parrots are purposely avoiding me. They fly overhead at lightening speeds just to taunt! Will now sign on to your blog…..thanks for the good sense of humor! in peace……

  3. manuelinor says:

    great post, I’m still laughing! I’m a fan of birds too, but not so much of fanatical bird-voyeurs. As you say, watching ordinary birds do extraordinary things is just as thrilling! Aussie magpies are my favourite – they have so much personality if you take the time to watch them 🙂

    • 23thorns says:

      They add a whole new dimension to your garden. I’m thinking of laying out a dead sheep on our top lawn to see if I can bring in some vultures.

      • Marcia says:

        Around here, you don’t need sheep carcasses. A dead frog will do. I once had about ten vultures in my driveway and two on my doorstep, all fighting over about 3 inches of Tail of Dead Squirrel. And there was an eagle perched in a tree nearby trying to decide if he wanted to take a shot at stealing it from them. Apparently times were hard in the local avian community.

      • 23thorns says:

        I want your home. The best we get is crows.

  4. melmannphoto says:

    Not a birder either but love to watch them and learn enough to appreciate the differences. Thanks for the lesson from a different continent (I’m in the US) and the wonderful photos. I guess with all the competition color is a very important part of being a bird there.

    • 23thorns says:

      Most of them are actually pretty drab, but there are so many ( close to five hundred in an area the size of Israel) that a bit of colour had to creep in somewhere.

  5. fallcorn1936 says:

    Great read. You had me going there for a while… Thanks for stopping by my blog

  6. Beautiful photos and commentary. You are pretty dedicated for a non-birder. Enjoyed the post immensely.

  7. Rhino House says:

    Remember, nothing succeeds like a toothless budgie.
    (Sorry, I’ll get my coat……..)

  8. Amanda White says:

    I’m not a birder but found your writing hilarious! I’ve just hung sound winter garlands for the birds in my garden to eat and I’ve made a tiny willow basket filled with natural wool ,ribbons,etc for the birds to build their nest with . It looked pretty when I first hung it in a tree and now it looks a total mess!

  9. Phil Andre says:

    Hey: I really enjoyed this! Some lovely shots. Glad you liked “In search of unusual destinations”, by the way. All good wishes for 2013. Phil.

  10. not a birder eh? some pretty nifty photos mind you I’m not a birder either but they have me building water bars, when they start tweeting I come running lol

  11. I live in the Midwest United States. Oklahoma, to be precise.

    The climate here affords a great variety of winged wildlife; my neighbor called yesterday at 6am — screaming violently — to inform me that she awoke to a bat hanging upside down from her bedroom ceiling fan. Strange.

    The hummingbirds are quite a beautiful creature. During the summer months, they become a borderline nuisance; they seem infatuated with our choice of landscaping, and perpetually veer away from the hibiscus to take intermittent breaks curiously exploring our clothes, our hair, our faces, our beverages — you name it. Peculiar, seeing as how they seldom land on anything; they merely ‘hover’. Cute, and welcomed, but a bit too comfortably nosy for our taste.

    The other beautiful regulars around here are the red cardinals. Prior to having children, I could count the number of these fluorescent beings I had seen in my entire life on one hand. These days, it would be a rare occasion not to see at least ten to fifteen of them a day, during the late summer. Breathtaking.

    My last day of college, I witnessed an event that still haunts me. I was one of few people left still on campus (most students had returned home for summer break the day before); as I exited the main library, the sun was setting. Making my way down the steps, I suddenly heard a violent shrieking that broke through the through all silence around me. It was growing louder, getting closer. As I looked up, I saw a sparrow fluttering quickly and aimlessly — kamikaze style. Out of nowhere, this MASSIVE hawk swooped down in a nosedive, snatched the sparrow by the neck in its giant claws, and stabbed the sparrow repeatedly in the top of the head as it continues its direct descent to the ground — where it landed only three feet in front of me and incessantly bludgeoned the limp sparrow into an unrecognizable clump of bloody feathers.

    The hawk — not the sparrow — had been the source of that piercing battle cry.

    After an unnecessary three or four minutes it stopped, as suddenly as it had started; and slowly glanced up at me, its claws still firmly clenched around the lifeless clump of prey. It locked eyes with mine for the longest time… And then quietly, it returned to flight.

    I just stood there, hand over mouth, unable to move, unable to blink, staring at that poor, helpless sparrow.

    It kind of wrecked me. Why would the hawk do something so horrific, and seemingly pointless?

    Can birds really be pure evil?

    Since then, I don’t give much attention to birds. It kind of left me numb.

  12. Kylie says:

    The Green Study was right. You are no tiny talent!

    Humming birds visit our backyard daily. It always fills me with joy. My list for Santa includes a hummingbird feeder to hang outside the kitchen window so I can get a better look.

    I’m so glad you didn’t make a joke about pendulous tits. That must have been hard to resist.

  13. winnymarch says:

    great job!! its really wonderfull bird ever! i wonder u would like to visit my blog hehe 🙂
    greeting from indonesia

  14. javaj240 says:

    Birds kind of freak me out. Subject matter notwithstanding, your post was, as always, very entertaining!

  15. I’m with you on being a bird watcher and not a birder. Just so you know, despite the apparent coolness of hummingbirds they are in reality evil little beasts that will dive bomb you if you get too close to nest or feeder. I have a friend who still has a scar on her hand from 15 years ago when a hummingbird put its beak through her palm while attacking her. So, pretty, cool, and evil.
    Thanks for the laugh inducing article!

  16. Eileen says:

    Reblogged this on Laughter: Carbonated Grace and commented:
    This is both fascinating and funny. Enjoy.

  17. Eileen says:

    What a delight on every level. Reading your blogs has opened up a whole new world, both funny and fascinating, for a 75 year old great-great grandmother. Thanks from Tennessee.

  18. Anne Camille says:

    Loved reading this. Years ago, I decided I wanted to take up birdwatching. I rented a videotape from the library and convinced my hudband to watch it with me. It was like the Wayne’s World of Birding, taped in a 70’s decor paneled basement. The only thing I learned — it has become a mantra in my house applicable to all sorts of things beyond birding — Dead Birds Don’t Count. Because, of course they do.

  19. kelloggs77 says:

    I have really enjoyed reading your blog. So I nominated you for the Liebster Blog Award. Yeah, I had to look it up, too. Happy blogging! http://areyoufinishedyet.wordpress.com/2012/12/07/and-the-award-for-favorite-blog-goes-to/

  20. twoscamps says:

    A beautiful collection of bird photos! Recently I posted a photo of the only member of the penduline tits found in the USA – the Verdin (http://twoscamps.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/a-tiny-songbird-the-verdin-auriparus-flaviceps/
    Someday we hope to visit South Africa. Great post – LOL!

  21. […] 23thorns has a way with words about wildlife. […]

  22. Libby says:

    Great captions to the photos. Thank you for enticing me over here and making my day.

  23. So enjoyed your post! Up here we have LBBs (little brown birds). One of them moves (according to my well-thumbed bird book) every 2 seconds. Tried for two years to ID it . . .my cat finally brought me one out of pity.

    • 23thorns says:

      We call them LBJ’s (little brown jobs). I’m a fan of the passive approach myself- we tried to identify a night bird for years, until one landed in our car while we were out driving.

  24. Beautiful South African bird photography. You just reminded me of the pesky Queleas!! I lived in South Africa and Rhodesia growing up and had almost forgotten about those pests.

    Thanks for checking out our site. We really enjoyed the bird photography.

  25. themoonstone says:

    Wow ! And you say you are NOT a birder.. I don’t believe you ! You are very much one of them.. albeit a passive one.. I wrote a post recently about being a wife to one and you will know that I am not one by a long shot :)..http://themoonstone.wordpress.com/2012/11/23/wife-to-a-birder/

  26. lylekrahn says:

    Your description of hard core birders was particularly funny since, like you, I don’t really get it. Your interesting birds would keep my interest (the ant story was too much) – I like to think of them as birds with moxie. When I post about birds, I carefully avoid technical names and avoid all errors. You are more fearless. Thanks for the smiles.

  27. Peripatetic Eric says:

    Hilarious! We definitely don’t fit in with the hard core birders who might pick a fight. I’m a little afraid of them. I agree that actually watching the antics of birds is more fun than just learning their names. They do some fascinating stuff.

  28. I also like to watch birds but I am not fond of birders. It seems to me they have lost the simple pleasure of watching. I loved your blog.

  29. Marcia says:

    What a great way to start my day…snorting hot tea out of my nose and all over my keyboard. Your opening paragraph alone did me in. Is this the right time to tell you I’ve been a birder for 50 years? Okay, not quite a birder, per se, at least not by your definition. There are many things I will not do just to add a bird to my Life List. In fact, I don’t even know where my life list is, these days. If wildlife is a faith as you suggest, and birders are the extreme lunatic fringe, I’m more like a lapsed Catholic, I guess. I still believe, but don’t go to church nearly as often as I should. These days, I mostly let the birds come to me.

    Aside from all the unplanned for early morning laughter this post delivered, I really enjoyed learning about birds from your corner of the world. And the picture captions were worth the tea splattered keyboard in themselves. I wish we had something like the Penduline Tit Snort Giggle around here. Instead we have Titmice. (Don’t ask.)

    See, this is a prime example of why I keep giving your blog awards. It is impossible for you not to win them. You are like the Daniel Day-Lewis of bloggers. I, and all the other bloggers surrounding you, are mere pretenders to the throne.

    I want to be YOU when I grow up. Write on, 23!

    • 23thorns says:

      I just don’t want to grow up. Don’t despair; I Googled the birds of Florida, and found that, at certain times of year, you can pop down to the coast to see a Brown Booby Snort Giggle.
      Sorry about the keyboard.

      • Marcia says:

        Maybe I’ll just head over to Playa Linda nude beach, where I’ve heard there’s a large flock of Brown Booby Gasp Ogles. (Mark would enjoy the ride, anyway.) Keyboards are a dime a dozen. A good laugh first thing in the morning is much more valuable! Thanks!

        BTW, *putting on my terrorist birder outfit, here*, what are those gorgeous little birds with the turquoise breast feathers? So pretty!

      • 23thorns says:

        Calm yourself, Marcia! The non-birders out there might think you’re making some sort of innuendo!
        The little blue guys are called Blue Waxbills. They’re about the size of your thumb.

      • Marcia says:

        Thanks for the waxbill info, 23. I really like them. And they are obviously very good at being tiny.

        Oh, I’m calm, all right. Sorry for seeming otherwise. Takes more than various sorted and sundry Gasp Ogles to get me worked up.

        BTW, we have anting woodpeckers in our yard all the time. It’s fun to watch. I have to admit, I want to know the name of every single bird I see, but that’s largely because I am addicted to facts. Mostly useless ones. I just like learning new things, and a lot of birders I know are the same way. I only know a few who are really fanatic about their Life Lists. And their Yard Lists. And their “First Time Spotted This Season” lists. Honest. A mere handful. If you have large hands, of course.

      • 23thorns says:

        My yardstick has always been that if you spent more on your camera lens and binoculars than you did on your car, you don’t have a hobby. You have an emotional disorder.

      • Marcia says:

        Whew. I’m safe then. I use $35 binoculars that I can replace easily if I drop them, leave them somewhere, or lose them overboard when canoeing. I spent at least twice that on my car.

        Do NOT, however, ask me how much I’ve spent on BOOKS in the last few years.

  30. I’ve never heard of Queleas before but that flock picture & your description is just like what we’d call a murmuration* of starlings. Are they a fancy kind of starling?
    (*I’m not a birder. Honest. I know what you mean about them. Apparently they’ve recently been rushing from all over the UK to an island near me to see an American Golden Plover that has lost its way. ‘Crappy holidays’ probably covers a wet Hebridean winter weekend spent looking for a plover).

    I enjoyed your post, and being momentarily transported to the lowveld so that I forgot I am sitting at my desk wearing two outfits plus fingerless gloves, a scarf and sheepskin boots, trying to leach body heat out of the cat on my lap (but it’s mutual and he’s winning).

    • 23thorns says:

      look on the bright side- it’s raining in the lowveld right now, and the temperature is 30° Celsius. When the rain stops, it will crank up to over 40. They don’t make cats for that.
      Queleas are a kind of weaver. The collective noun is “ravenous, all encompassing swarm”. We get lots of them here, but up north there are flocks that take five hours to pass by.

  31. Thanks for the images…great job!

  32. pussonalamp says:

    Some birds will even go so far as to pick up some ants and wipe themselves down with them.

    Just the sort of behaviour you’d expect from the descendants of dinosaurs.

    • 23thorns says:

      Indeed. Although the dinosaurs were probably picking up our ancestors and wiping themselves down with them. I’m going to avoid ostriches in future, just in case.

  33. Even though you are sometimes a bit of a Penduline Tit, lovely husband, I do adore your blogs. Thanks for the giggle.

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