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Monday, 14 November 2011

A Mud Home in the Eastern Cape

I have moved my domicile many times, and have lived in places as far afield as the north of Scotland at the one extreme and South Africa’s Eastern Cape at the other. That’s where I live now, with my American wife, two white shepherds and two domestic cats. One of the greatest joys of living nearly ten miles from the nearest tarmac road is the plethora of wild birds, and here on the farm we have a good cross section of them. Our more common visitors are the Blackeyed Bulbul, the Fiscal Shrike and the Hoopoe, although I have listed some thirty-odd species seen on our 18 acres farm at the end of this article. Today I want to write about just one pair of birds, because they are our favourite.

When Liz and I moved into Martindale Farm in 2005 there were the dried mud foundations of a swallow’s nest up under an overhanging porch. It was not until November of 2010 that a pair of Lesser Striped Swallows started rebuilding this mud home, laboriously flying back and forth with small mud balls in their tiny beaks until after some four weeks they had rebuilt a perfect nest, the main “living quarters” being some 15cms across where it joined the wall, tapering down into a 20cm long tunnel that served as the entrance, the whole nest being some 35cms from wall to entrance. While building the nest the pair had used our Christmas lights, which were strung along the front of the porch, as a perch. By mid December the pair had finished their home and were busy lining it with bits of dog hair (our shepherds were molting) and feathers shed by our free-range hens.  

I was loathe to pull down the lights after the twelve-day Christmas period of grace ended, but when I did, I replaced the perch with a thick piece of heavy-duty electric wire, which they soon became used to, as did their three babies, soon to be hatched. As the end of summer approached in early 2011, our pair and their offspring took of for climes unknown, presumably somewhere in Europe.

This year the pair returned, and one morning in early October we found the main living quarters of the nest lying broken on the concrete stoep, leaving only 20cms of the tunnel intact. It is now mid November, and a few days ago the pair began rebuilding their home, advancing the walls a few millemetres a day. There is still a wide gap between the “work in progress” and the inner end of the tunnel, but after dark we have seen their tail feathers protruding from the tunnel, which must be where they are roosting. We have come to know their small talk to each other as they perch on their wire, and we are now once more looking forward to the pitter patter of tiny feet.

© Michael Mason, Martindale Farm November 2011.

The following is a list of birds seen (or in the case of the Nightjar, heard) on our farm.

Pintailed Whydah
Longtailed Widow
Yellow Weavers
Blackeyed Bulbul
Sombre Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Forktailed Drongo
Redwinged Starling
Cape Glossy Starling
Redheaded Quelea
Black Sunbird
Greater Doublecollared Sunbird
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Fiscal Shrike
Cape Rock Thrush
Cape Wagtail
Blackcollared Barbet
Trumpeter Hornbill
Crowned Hornbill
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Brownhooded Kingfisher
Speckled Mousebird
Lesser Striped Swallow
Cape Eagle Owl
Knysna Lowrie
Purplecrested Lowrie
Martial Eagle
African Fish Eagle
Secretary Bird
Stanley’s Bustard 
Spotted Dikkop
Yellowbilled Duck
Egyptian Goose
Sacred Ibis
Hadeda Ibis
Blackheaded Heron
Jackal Buzzard
Countless and nameless raptors soaring above the farm

Martindale Farm is currently for sale. For details see here

© Michael J Mason 2011