It has been a mad summer, with COVID lock-downs, masks, hand sanitisers and late starts to the day. Bird life numbers are down this year but several interesting sightings have been made. While sitting quietly watching for the Brown-hooded Kingfisher, a Diederik’s Cuckoo came and sat close by, oblivious (or tolerant?) of the camera and posed for several minutes in perfect soft light from behind me. Ever had a good look at the range of colours in this bird? Incredibly beautiful, not that a camera can do justice to the iridescence.
Not to be out done, a Black Cuckoo flew down, spied a large caterpillar and proceeded try and catch it. The caterpillar, a large one, a Fulvous Hawk Moth, was not going to let go of the twig it clinged to, so the cuckoo literally hung from the caterpillar at times, some serious flapping of wings too. The bird eventually managed to free the caterpillar and flew off to a convenient branch to beat the unfortunate caterpillar to death and squeeze the gut contents out. It seems that they like the caterpillar only, not what it had been eating. Imagine swallowing whole, a caterpillar this size! This Black Cuckoo hung around the dam and wetland for several days, keeping mainly to shady trees, Black birds in the shade are not the best photographic subjects, but in sunlight the “Black Cuckoo” displays a range of very beautiful deep purple/blue iridescence.
Not to be out done, a juvenile Red-chested Cuckoo was seen feeding in the trees and from the lawn around the Gazebo. Juvenile birds can be very confusing and seldom illustrated in bird books, but this one has been confirmed. Adults were active and very vocal in the Mushroom Meander area earlier in the summer. As with most cuckoo, not hard to hear but hard to see.
Not seen this summer but on record as being seen in the Garden are the Klaas’s Cuckoo and the African Emerald Cuckoo. The male of this species is a spectacular iridescent green with a yellow front, the Springbok of the Cuckoos maybe?
To add to the cuckoos, both the Black and the Grey Cuckooshrikes have been seen this summer a fairly rare sighting of the Cuckoo Hawk. Seven birds with cuckoo in their name justifies a Cuckoo Summer, where wearing masks and rubber gloves in a bank did not lead to immediate arrest as it would have done a year ago.
Article and photos by Colin Ralston