As I enjoy a morning coffee my nearest neighbour sits quietly observing me. She tilts her head and stares at me, unblinking. We share a moment looking at each other – She seems unmoved. Rather like me she appears solidly unglamorous…
This little Flycatcher has patiently waited out the winter before choosing the forking branch upon which she will place the future of her brood. September sees Msasa trees drop masses of dead, brown leaves on the ground. If you look very carefully under and on these leaves you will see frass from hundreds of emerging caterpillars. Along with decaying leaves these tiny droppings fertilize the ground underneath each tree. Msasa caterpillars munch on the emerging leaf buds, effectively pruning as they go. The timing of this event is noted by cuckoos who fly in from as far afield as Europe to feast and find a host nest in which to deposit that all important egg. Most Cuckoos, unlike our understated friend are stunningly dressed.
Every year we await the arrival of birds from all over the world – September 13th brought our regular two pairs of Paradise Flycatchers, three days later came the Red Chested Cuckoo, then the Emerald cuckoo. Our Diderick and Black Cuckoos have yet to appear. Their insistent calls are unmistakable. Not everybody welcomes them…nesting birds such as our tiny Dusky friend hunker down, daring not leave their nest a moment unguarded. For these cuckoos are watching them closely.
Along with even daintier Sunbirds the African Dusky Flycatcher incubates her eggs while her partner guards the territory, trying very hard not to give away the location of his mate. He has reason to keep her secret. Danger lurks everywhere.
In 2013 our Black Sunbird pair worked themselves half to death feeding a Diderick Cuckoo chick – their frantic cries brought us out with the camera to find the huge chick, having grown too big for their nest being attacked (and then eaten) by a Grey Headed Bush Shrike.
Last summer was a tough one for our parent birds…. first a Green Mamba moved through the tree tops for several days picking off chicks at will. A few survivors of that beautiful predator then lost their lives to a marauding White Necked Raven. The Paradise Flycatchers fought bravely to save them but inevitably lost both their chicks to this Raven. However our inconspicuous Dusky Flycatchers defied the odds, successfully raising three healthy chicks. I wonder if this little girl sitting next to me in her neat new nest is one of those fortunate birds?