September brings the spectacle of nature known to Zimbabweans as “Msasa time”.
For a couple of weeks those of us still lucky enough to be surrounded with Brachystegia Woodland revel in the astounding colours of emerging leaves.
And as the leaves pass through their magic hues to green we wait for a familiar cheery call, heralding that summer has once again arrived.
In October 2014 I wrote about a plain little bird nesting close to my morning coffee chair. An unobtrusive pair of Dusky Flycatchers had carefully built their nest, decorating it with lichens to match the Msasa branch. Our lady produced their precious eggs and for 12 days, patiently sat upon them day and night. I was hoping to see the chicks hatching on day 14 as per “the book”. But early morning on Day 13 I was woken by alarm calls. Throwing off the duvet I reached the balcony in time to see a crow leaving the nest empty, torn and broken. The two clearly distraught Flycatchers fluttered over this devastation for several minutes and quietly disappeared.
I like to believe that they found a safer place to raise two new chicks. Certainly they stayed around, hawking insects, visiting the bird bath together and generally making the best of every sunny day. Their lively spirit seemed to me if anything more apparent. These little creatures reminded me that staying optimistic, getting on with life, not looking back too frequently – these things are handy wherever you are. When you live in Zimbabwe they can become life saving habits.
On New Years’ morning of 2015 I sipped my coffee and contemplated the remnants of nesting material caught in the tree fork where that little bird had quietly incubated her eggs. Around the tiny scene of devastation came the sounds of birds busying themselves with nesting, courting, feeding. And in the days that followed, on through wet, grey days, mere glimmers of sunshine, they sang, darting here and there, ever present. Three pairs of Paradise Flycatchers competed for food and safe nesting places – delighting our visitors with their cheerful whistles and confiding behavior. Teaming up with the Bulbuls these dedicated parents frequently launched joint attacks repelling the resident and dangerous Grey-headed Bush-Shrike whose own chick fledged early this year. Though the Paradise Flycatchers had quarreled among themselves when one pair tried to build their nest too close to their neighbor, they did eventually come to an arrangement and then, by flocking together at crucial moments succeeded in protecting their chicks from a dangerous marauder. Five paradise flycatchers survived their first dangerous months of life and departed for Mozambique in early April. Our dusky flycatchers still flit around the garden, energetic and charming. They can only inspire us with their tenacity and practical defiance of life’s set backs. Birds are truly getting under my skin….