A Mud Home in the Eastern Cape

This article has been written by my husband and, yes he has given me permission to share it with you here.

I have moved my domicile many times, and have lived in places as far afield as the north of Scotland at the one extreme and South Africa’s Eastern Cape at the other. That’s where I live now, with my American wife, two white shepherds and two domestic cats. One of the greatest joys of living nearly ten miles from the nearest tarmac road is the plethora of wild birds, and here on the farm we have a good cross section of them. Our more common visitors are the Blackeyed Bulbul, the Fiscal Shrike and the Hoopoe, although I have listed some thirty-odd species seen on our 18 acres farm at the end of this article. Today I want to write about just one pair of birds, because they are our favourite.When Liz and I moved into Martindale Farm in 2005, there were the dried mud foundations of a swallow’s nest up under an overhanging porch. It was not until November of 2010 that a pair of  Lesser Striped Swallows started rebuilding this mud home, laboriously flying back and forth with small mud balls in their tiny beaks until after some four weeks they had rebuilt a perfect nest, the main “living quarters” being some 15cms across where it joined the wall, tapering down into a 20cm long tunnel that served as the entrance, the whole nest being some 35cms from wall to entrance. While building the nest the pair had used our Christmas lights, which were strung along the front of the porch, as a perch. By mid December the pair had finished their home and were busy lining it with bits of dog hair (our shepherds were molting) and feathers shed by our free-range hens.I was loathe to pull down the lights after the ten-day Christmas period of grace ended, but when I did, I replaced the perch with a thick piece of heavy-duty electric wire, which they soon became used to, as did their three babies, soon to be hatched. As the end of summer approached in early 2011, our pair and their offspring took of for climes unknown, presumably somewhere in Europe.This year the pair returned, and one morning in early October we found the main living quarters of the nest lying broken on the concrete stoep, leaving only 20cms of the tunnel intact. It is now mid November, and a few days ago the pair began rebuilding their home, advancing the walls a few millemetres a day. There is still a wide gap between the “work in progress” and the inner end of the tunnel, but after dark we have seen their tail feathers protruding from the tunnel, which must be where they are roosting. We have come to know their small talk to each other as they perch on their wire, and we are now once more looking forward to the pitter patter of tiny feet.

© Michael Mason, Martindale Farm November 2011.

The following is a list of birds seen (or in the case of the Nightjar, heard) on our farm.

Pintailed Whydah

Longtailed Widow


Yellow Weavers

Blackeyed Bulbul

Sombre Bulbul

Blackheaded Oriole

Forktailed Drongo

Redwinged Starling

Cape Glossy Starling

Redheaded Quelea

Greater Doublecollared Sunbird

Greyheaded Bush Shrike

Fiscal Shrike

Cape Rock Thrush

Cape Wagtail

Blackcollared Barbet

Trumpeter Hornbill

Crowned Hornbill

Redbilled Woodhoopoe

Brownhooded Kingfisher

Speckled Mousebird

Lesser Striped Swallow

Cape Eagle Owl

Knysna Lowrie

Purplecrested Lowrie

Martial Eagle

African Fish Eagle

Secretary Bird

Stanley’s Bustard

Spotted Dikkop

Yellowbilled Duck

Egyptian Goose

Sacred Ibis

Hadeda Ibis


Blackheaded Heron

Countless and nameless raptors soaring above the farm

One response to “A Mud Home in the Eastern Cape

  1. Pingback: Birdlife of Martindale Farm – South Africa | murphypagan

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