In our dry winters, visiting birds make the most of the birdbaths in our garden. In this winter solstice week I decided to spend time photographing some of our mid-winter avian visitors.

I set up a temporary hide where I could perch on a low stool behind a blind to see who would be visiting. Most of the action at the birdbaths takes place from late morning through to early afternoon – the period when the light is harshest, but there is not much one can do about that.

The birdbath is most active when small flocks of mannikins – both bronze and red-backed mannikins – descend to drink and bathe with much fluffing, ducking and splashing

These two mannikins are benefitting from a shower of droplets created by birds splashing on the opposite side of the birdbath

Despite all the splashing about, having a proper bath prior to careful preening can seem to be a serious business

Other birds join the mannikins at the birdbath, such as this dark-capped bulbul (Pycnonotus tricolor) standing on a small rock with feathers fluffed after dunking under water

Meanwhile another dark-capped bulbul looks on from one of the surrounding shrubs, waiting to take a turn in the birdbath

In amidst all the flurry, two birds took time to greet each other

After bathing the mannikins line up in the winter sunshine to preen their feathers

An adult (left) and an immature bronze mannikin (Lonchura cucullata) take a brief break while preening

After the mannikins suddenly flew off as a close-knit flock, a yellow-fronted canary (Crithagra mozambica) took advantage of the lull at the birdbath for a quiet drink

Prior to my settling down near the birdbath I had seen a brimstone canary (Crithagra sulphurata) eating unripe berries from a pigeon wood tree (Trema orientalis) in the garden

Among the most beguiling visitors are the African firefinches (Lagonosticta rubricata. In this pair, the female is on the left and the male on the right.

The firefinches form monogamous pairs and they don’t stray far from their resident area. I often see this pair foraging around the birdbath, revealing their presence with a delicate trilling call even when they can’t be seen

Familiar from last week’s post are the sombre greenbuls (Andropadus importunus). This individual was briefly joined by its mate (not photographed) while it drank at the birdbath.

Then the mannikins were back. This bronze mannikin waited on a stem of a wild dagga plant before visiting the birdbath

A red-backed manikin (Lonchura nigriceps) hesitated on the edge of the birdbath before taking the plunge

The adult red-backed manikin seemed to shoot me a rather indignant glance while taking a dip

A whole lot of splashing going on

I saw only one weaver visiting the birdbath. I think this is a male in transitional plumage and is likely to be a village weaver (Ploceus cucullatus)

Another dark-capped bulbul visited, this one in the company of a Cape white-eye (Zosterops capensis)

Cape white-eyes have been a lot less evident in the garden this season. I can’t help wondering about the toll the severe hailstorm last November took on local birds and other small creatures

Despite the sunshine and the busy presence of birds in the garden, I was tempted to title this solstice post ‘In the bleak midwinter’. South Africa is in the grip of a rising third wave of Covid-19 infections. The most populous province, Gauteng, which includes the city of Johannesburg, is already in crisis with hospitals and ICUs completely overwhelmed, with numbers of cases in the province in this wave exceeding those of the first and of the second waves.

Rising numbers of infections are accelerating across the country and tragically the number of Covid-related deaths is increasing too. Most health workers have been vaccinated and the vaccine rollout to people over 60 has commenced but is slow, largely due to a shortage of vaccines. A programme to vaccinate school teachers commenced yesterday.

Posted by Carol