Though Christine Read may not consider herself a twitcher, she is a keen recorder of the birds that visit the garden at her contemporary home, tucked away in the treetops of Rosebank’s art district.
‘I don’t think I’m actually a twitcher. Twitchers are people who tick off every new bird they see; they compile copious lists and they travel all over the country to see a particular species. I keep abreast of that,’ she says. ‘Right now, there’s a new Egyptian vulture in Kruger Park and there’s a skimmer also in Kruger that’s really only found on the Zambezi River – so I do stay in touch with what’s happening.
‘Birds move and one shouldn’t really be surprised – the crake is an intra-African migratory bird that breeds in North Africa in winter and comes back here in summer, but at the moment we have an eruption of spotted crakes in South Africa, and the question is what are they doing here in winter?’ She tells how Mark Anderson, the CEO of BirdLife South Africa, recently found a dead crake in his garden in the middle of winter – an inexplicable occurrence.
The Reads’ garden is a passionate project of Christine’s and is completely in line with her conservation background and the couple’s shared interest in the African landscape and zoology. It is purely indigenous and comprises succulents and aloe species, acacias and olive trees, chosen specifically for their hardiness because of the direct sunlight and the reflection of the large glass components that make up their home.
‘When I built this house there were six glossy starlings that used to come into one of the acacia trees, so I put suet balls in the feeding bowl (all birds love suet). Three years later, we have 18 glossy starlings.
‘Ten years ago, you hardly saw them in the city, so they are definitely on the increase in Joburg. Even more exciting is that we now have red-winged starlings, which are much larger, darker birds with red wing tips that breed and nest in crevices and rock cliffs. I don’t know where they’re breeding here, but it must be somewhere in the city, because they compete regularly for the food tray in the morning.’
Christine says many of their avian visitors rely on the food put out for them. ‘We have amethyst sunbirds, woodpeckers and wrynecks. One of my favourite species is the Cape glossy starling, as they’ve had remarkable breeding success in urban areas and their numbers have increased dramatically throughout Joburg in the past 10 years. They are intelligent, playful and gregarious, besides being absolutely beautiful.
‘The sweet tinkling of the sunbirds is always a joy, as they skit rapidly from one aloe to another nectar-rich plant,’ says Christine. Other favourites include the seed-eating bronze mannikins, which alight daintily in small flocks on the grass heads in her garden.
‘Apart from being water-friendly, indigenous planting in Joburg is having a positive and significant impact on our garden birds,’ she says.