Birding at Honeywood Farm, Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve

This last weekend was spent relaxing at John and Miranda Moodie’s Honeywood Farm, which is adjacent to Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve. The area has finally had a sprinkling of rain so it was back to its lush, green self. Not too much time was spent behind the camera or bins, but birds are difficult to avoid at Honeywood. Just to give you an idea of how idyllic this place is, this was our accommodation. It was a tough weekend…

Hunters Lodge Panoramic reduced

Grootvadersbosch is known for its status as the western limit of several forest bird species ranges, but I spent most of my time walking and riding the fynbos mountain slopes that surround the reserve. This area is particularly good for the shy Victorin’s Warbler. I managed to grab this shot very close to our cabin.

Victorins Warbler

Something of interest that I noted was a Cape Bulbul completing a display of sorts. I can’t recall ever seeing them do this, but perhaps I don’t pay them enough attention? Has anyone else ever seen any bulbul species displaying like this?

Cape Bulbul display

A quick peruse of Roberts indicates I clearly don’t watch Cape Bulbuls closely enough because there appears to be a fair amount of literature about this display. This from Roberts VII:

Wing-flicking display given as greeting to mate by female leaving nest during incubation, and by male in conflict situations or as greeting. This display accompanied by loud chattering given in upright stance, with tail fanned, and wings rapidly flicked from vertical position over head down to side of body. In low intensity threat display, crest flattened, head lowered and wings slightly raised. At high intensity, tail spread wide and depressed. When threatening another sp, wings spread, and back and back and rump feathers fluffed out.

Apart from the above note and photos I also managed a shot of this Forest Canary (male) and two dodgy shots of an Olive Woodpecker (female) and Forest Buzzard.

Forest CanaryOlive WoodpeckerForest Buzzard

David Winter

Bird list for Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve, 21 March 2010: Black-headed Heron, Greater-striped Swallow, Greater Double-Collared Sunbird, Sombre Greenbul, Plain-backed Pipit, Alpine Swift, Black Sawwing Swallow, Olive Bush-shrike, Cape Crow, Hadeda Ibis, Victorin’s Warbler, Southern Boubou, Cape Robin-chat, Olive Woodpecker, Knysna Woodpecker, Blue Crane, Orange-throated Longclaw, Cape Batis, African Dusky Flycatcher, Brimstone Canary, Cape Canary, Cape Bulbul, Jackal Buzzard, Steppe Buzzard, Streaky-headed Seedeater, Specked Mousebird, African Stonechat, Olive Thrush, White-rumped Swift, Neddicky, Cape Turtle Dove, Cape Wagtail, Bar-throated Apalis, Fiscal Flycatcher, Lesser Honeyguide, Blue-mantled Crested-flycatcher, Forest Canary, Cape White-eye, Malachite Sunbird, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Terrestrial Brownbul, Karoo Prinia.

Leucistic Speckled Mousebird at Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve

While birding at Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve on Saturday I was surprised to bump into an albino Speckled Mousebird. The bird was seen close to the reserve office – see map below – and was very obvious amongst its grey team mates.

Grootvadersbosch map reduced

It wasn’t particularly obliging, but you get the idea from the photo below.

Speckled Mousebird albino

I gleaned the following from Wikipedia:

Albinism in birds is rare, occurring to any extent in perhaps one in 1800 individuals (Terres 1980). A bird that is albino (from the Latin albus, “white”) has white feathers in place of coloured ones on some portion of its body.

Four degrees of albinism have been described. The most common form is termed partial albinism, in which local areas of the bird’s body, such as certain feathers are lacking the pigment melanin. The white areas may be symmetrical, with both sides of the bird showing a similar pattern. In imperfect albinism, the pigment is partially inhibited in the skin, eyes, or feathers, but is not absent from any of them. Incomplete albinism is the complete absence of pigment from the skin, eyes, or feathers, but not all three. A completely albino bird is the most rare, lacking any pigment in its skin, eyes, and feathers. The eyes in this case are pink or red, because blood shows through in the absence of pigment in the irises. The beak, legs, and feet are very pale or white.

Completely albino adults are very rarely spotted in the wild. They are likely easier targets for predators because their colour distinguishes them from their environment. Falconers have observed that their trained birds are likely to attack a white pigeon in a flock because it is conspicuous. A complete albino often has weak eyesight and brittle wing and tail feathers, which may reduce its ability to fly. In flocks, albinos are often harassed by their own species. Such observations have been made among red-winged blackbirds, barn swallows, and African penguins. In a nesting colony of the latter, three unusual juveniles—one black-headed, one white-headed, and one full albino—were shunned and abused by companions. [more here]

What was very striking about this individual was how obvious it was in flight – at first glance it looked like a cockatiel! The photo below is a rather embarrassing attempt at a flight shot, but you get the idea.

Speckled Mousebird albino flight

Based on what Wiki says regarding albinism in birds, I would say this is a completely albino individual. Any thoughts?

Correction: it has since been brought to my attention that this bird is probably leucistic rather than an albino.  You can read about the reasons here, but essentially the dark eye gives it away. A complete albino would have no pigment in the eye.