Winter is my favourite time of year. The mornings, although rather chilly, are what I cherish the most. I often like to start off a drive by taking a moment to sit in silence and watch the sunrise. Not only does this give us a chance to listen out for any alarm calls or territorial calls, but it gives us a special chance to welcome a beautiful new day and to appreciate the natural world around us.
It was during one of these moments that I happened to take my eyes off the rising sun and noticed two inconspicuous little birds sitting on the edge of the road, a pair of Double-banded Sandgrouse. I carefully lifted my binoculars, making sure not to frighten them off, and sat admiring them for a few minutes before we continued our drive. Often overlooked because of their mottled brownish back feathers that help to blend them into their environment, I decided to use this blog as an opportunity to share a little more on these subtly beautiful birds.
Often seen in pairs, you can easily distinguish between male and female by looking at their chest. The male has a distinct double band of black and white across the chest, (hence their name) and the female has a heavily barred chest. Both have yellow around the eye with the male being slightly bolder with a black and white forehead band.
They are monogamous and breed in the dryer months of winter (April- October). Their nests are seldom seen but are placed on the ground under a bush or between tufts of grass. Because of their small size, very little is known about the development and care of their young.
They appear to be crepuscular, mostly foraging early morning and later afternoon, and sometimes even at night when the moonlight allows. Shortly after sunset they will gather around a water source and socialize for a little while. During this time, you will hear their soft conversational call that can be set to the words “oh NO, he’s gone and done it aGAIN”, with the emphasis on the final notes. A call that will almost always put a smile on my face as their sunset meetings have been linked to a “Secret Ceremony”. After all the chatter and a drink of water, they will fly off to a roosting spot for the night in a shallow scrape in the ground, perhaps on the edge of a road.
Unfortunately, this bird often goes unnoticed. This is because the colouration of the feathers makes them blend in so well with their environment. The Sandgrouse will also remain as still as possible until the very last moment and will burst off into flight only to disappear again into the vegetation. It is only once you take the time to look at it through the binoculars that you will see that it is a rather beautiful bird.
I think as humans we need to take advantage of moments like watching the sunrise, where maybe you stop to look at something specific that may seem quite spectacular, but then something more unexpected ends up catching your attention that may be in a normal situation might seem quite insignificant but can still make your day.