Hosting a special family – African Paradise Fly catcher
23 November 2012
It's was a late afternoon. Another hectic day at the office and I headed straight to the patio for a bit of R&R and an Ice-Tea. This is by far the best thing for me to relax and get my mind off work… Feet up and staring into my beautiful garden brings the tranquillity I need to badly... And this is where it all started.
As I stood up to fetch a second Ice-tea I nearly have a head on collision with a bird doing an flick flak in mid-flight partly under the patio roof, before disappearing into the tree overhanging our barbeque area, directly in front of the patio.
I realised instantly that the African Paradise Flycatchers were back in my garden for their annual summer visit and playing in the garden. These beautiful burnt orange birds with their blue heads and bright blue “eyeliner” and the distinct, extremely long orange tail feathers of male during the mating season are a joy to have in the summer and have always caught my interest. They were back and this time right in front of my patio, hard at work.
Building the nest in the fork of a rather thin spindly branch was the second attempt I learnt later, as I discovered a second abandoned nest in my attempts to find a better viewing and photography vantage. The process started off with a few stringy leaves that were knotted to form a crisscross between the two twigs that were now the trusted anchor to a tiny tiny nest! (25 cm circumference and 6 – 8 cm deep) As a photographer we are at times tempted to do “gardening” as there are little twigs, leaves or branches that spoil a good photo. In this case I had all of the above and to top it all plenty of spider webs around the nest which were just plain irritating but I made a decision to leave everything intact, and work with whatever nature gave me. Later I read in an article that these flycatchers use spider web to help hold the nest together! This was my first lesson and relief that I had not meddled with nature!
Within 2 days there was a clear shape to the nest and it was solidly woven.
26 November 2012
On day 3 the male was hard at work bringing softer lining for the nest, laying it in the nest and then after a few scratches, manoeuvring and wiggling his little body in the next to ensure it is acceptable. From time to time he would sit for a few minutes and then fly off, returning with more “cushioning” to add. The female, who regularly could be seen much but was heard hand good constructive conversations with her partner while he was lining the nest. She too would try it out and give her comments of her likes and dislikes, just like any good wife and mother-to-be would!
1 December 2012
Apart from a brief view of the nest and squiz in the early mornings, to see if my special guests were nesting, 1 December was the first time I could spend time outside again. Laptop and headset and office chair, all dragged outside under the patio as this was going to be my office as much as possible during the next month or however long it my guests cared to stay. Needless to say, Tripod, Camera, CF Cards, Charged Batteries all set up focused for action. A beige towel covered the huge contraption as these guests aren’t big fans of the paparazzi!
Around 7h00 I noticed that they female was sitting on the nest, looking at me, rather apprehensively! I carried on with work think that she was just trying out the nest as they had been doing during the building process. To my surprise, the proud father-to-be swooped in under the branches and up, and off she flew for breakfast while he took over the shift! They were incubating! The previous morning and evening there was movement around the nest and they came in for short periods but didn’t stay permanent at the nest so I take it that 1 December was the day the last egg of the clutch has been laid as birds usually don’t start incubating until the final egg of the clutch is laid so that the eggs develop together and hatch at similar times.
And so the anxious wait began! Huge thunder storm and wind had me rather worried thinking of these tiny birds on this teeny tiny nest. How on earth would it stay in tact and the eggs safe. Early mornings after such a storm I would be outside at the crack of dawn, checking up on the next and its precious content. Each time, the mom or dad would be sitting snuggly, like a trooper, on that nest. All well, intact. I could then get on with my day job!
A few uneventful days past. Mom and Dad religiously sat on the nest. If there was a swop over the longest time I could note was roughly 2 minutes before the other would take over. What I found so interesting was the constant communication between this pair. Before they swopped there was chatter and back and forth conversation, then one would leave and the other would take over the incubation shift.
Each early morning and each late afternoon parent would have its hands full, so to speak, chasing off predator birds who prey on nest eggs and chicks. In our garden the Burchell’s Coucal (known in Afrikaans as Gewone vleiloerie) was the biggest culprit and harassed the flycatcher every morning and every evening for the duration of the breeding period. It was surprised to see that a little bird who in its entirety is the size of the head of this Coucal would protect the nest so aggressively that these birds would give up and move on to a next tree of garden and any other bird for that matter kept their distance. One morning a Hadeda was strolling around the pool and getting a drink of water when the male flycatcher swooped down onto it, circled and kept the attacks going on this large bird until the Hadeda took off and fled to other pastures [Symbol]
Up to this point, there are a few lessons that humans can certainly learn from these amazing little creatures who are partners for life:
Communicate, constantly. Talk to each other. Don’t assume your partner knows your plans. Tell him/her and if you don’t agree, have back and forth conversations and then come to mutual agreement
Work together to build a home for the family. It’s not just one person’s job. Fathers provide, Mothers help him to make sure that the home is good enough to ensure a safe, warm, comfortable and inviting home for you and your family. It doesn’t have to be huge! A tiny, warm, comfortable safe home will do just fine. (You will see later how close the children then HAVE to be ;)
While moms have to “lay” or have the babies, Dads need to be part of the process all the way. Helping from day 1, even throughout the “pregnancy”
Parents will do almost anything to protect their young. One should never underestimate the natural maternal and paternal instincts in both avian, animal and human kingdoms to protect their own. Children may not appreciate it when parents seem so overprotective, but when they grow up, they will be repeating this exact instinct.
13 December 2012
With no nest action and plenty of work to get done I would view the nest from time to time and then get on with normal living and work. Someone needs to work for a living! Paradise FC Mom and Dad were still diligently sitting on the tiny nest. If I came close to the side of the patio I would be reprimanded by the other partner. By this time they didn’t seem to mind the tripod and camera/ lens which I put out every day in a position that would focus on the nest, by now the towel was needed any longer. The paradise flycatchers had like most celebrities become accustomed to the paparazzi lenses and constant “in your face” clicking and photographer.
Around 14h30 on 13 December there was huge commotion with these 2 birds. At once stage I thought there may be more just the 2 breeding flycatchers based on the noise, chatter and commotion. Ignoring this and thinking they were doing their daily predator chase, for that matter any bird other than pigeons and bull-bulls where chased out of the garden! [Symbol] Realising there was action I swiftly went out to the nest. The parents were boisterously taking turns flying on an off the nest while making sure the entire neighbourhood heard them. The Black-eyed Bulls, the Pigeon and every other inquisitive bird cautiously approached the tree so investigate. At this point the flycatchers where playing. No chasing, noisy chatter but playfully flying in and out of the nests tree all around the garden. They were announcing and celebrating, like all proud parents usually do. The eggs had hatched. The parents flying back and forth from the nest with TINY insects, so small they were barely visible through the lens and totally invisible with the naked eye, but they were feeding in the nest. I assumed that there would be 1 or 2 chicks as this seems to be the norm based on what I had researched.
That evening a storm was brewing and the ‘mommy-bird’ took on the night shift!
I sat outside while the sun was setting watching this proud parent. Every few minutes she would get up, look into the nest for a few seconds then get herself seated again to keep the special parcel warm. This continued until the sun had set. I think she just couldn’t get enough of looking at her cute chicks!
Shortly after sunrise on the Saturday 15 December I was out inspecting the family. The parents were in an out and from time to time they would sit on the nest for 10-15 minutes until the other arrived with succulent insects to feed the chicks :)
Tiny little yellow tips of 3 little beaks just breached the side of nest! Three! There were 3 chicks! I was beside myself and nearly did a similar run around and announcement as the flycatcher parents! I suspect that would be a similar feeling when you become a grandparent!
Stay tuned to hear what happens from the 14th onwards, through to the fledglings leaving the nest....... I'll be back to finish the story