Spotted Morning Warbler chicks develop very quickly. Cast your mind back to Sunday (see my previous post) and the two scrawny little chaps in their mud-cup nest under our eaves. Fast forward to Thursday and they were almost fully feathered, starting to get adventurous and just about popping right out of their now rather cramped nest.
Mum and Dad were still working all hours that daylight allowed, ferrying food endlessly to their insatiable, increasingly boisterous brood.
In between feed time is snooze time (after all, it's exhausting work being "spoon-fed" all day long.)
Mum (or is it Dad?) brings a juicy dragon fly for one of the lucky chicks. Bullying wins in this business - the most assertive chick gets the first grab.
Talking of being assertive, one of the chicks decides the nest is not big enough for both, and scrabbles out onto a rafter. The other chick, responding to instinct that any bird by the nest is there with food, starts begging from its sibling.
Stretching brand new wings in hopeful preparation for a maiden flight in a day or so...
Not to forget the importance of preening in preparation for meeting the outside world...
Oblivious to the events about to unfold (as indeed we all were), a male Agama Lizard watches me as I balance precariously on my windowsill to get the best view of the nest and its inhabitants.
My grandmother, who was born on Friday 13th and lived well into her nineties, always maintained it was a lucky day...but not so for the Morning Warblers. Friday morning, on checking the nest, I found it empty and one little chick sitting below, somewhat dazed.
My first thought was that the chicks had flown the nest and this one, in an attempt to flutter to a nearby tree, had crash-landed. Then, when looking around for the other chick, which by now should have been reunited with its parents in the nearby bushes and being fed there, I noticed that the parent birds - beaks full of food - were frantically looking for their offspring.
This did not bode well. Where was the second chick? And why was the first chick on the floor when it was not quite yet ready to fly? Knowing the chick stood no chance of survival if left there, I popped it back up onto a rafter right next to its nest, where the parents found it a few minutes later and started to feed it again. (The photos were taken through the [supposedly] insect-proof netting across the entrance to our open-air bathroom.)
Delighted that at least one chick was reunited with its parents, which seemed some compensation for the mysterious disappearance of the other, I left the birds to it, not wanting to add any further upset to their already stressful morning. However, I did keep wondering about that second chick. What had become of it? I knew that both chicks had been in the nest first thing in the morning but by 8.30am, something strange had happened to cause one chick to fall out the nest and the other to disappear. Genets (likely culprits by night) sleep by day. Even if one had uncharacteristically raided the nest in daylight hours, it would have taken both chicks. If the missing chick had fluttered off into a bush of its own accord, the parents would have found it by now, guided by its calls. All very strange...but at least one little chick was safe.
Or so I thought until I was making lunch and outside on the windowsill appeared a Grey Hornbill. In its bill was a fluffy feathered ball - a Morning Warbler chick - the second one. The nest was empty again, this time permanently, and the mystery was solved - the "grim reaper" had come first for one chick and then for the second.
Friday 13th was a good day for a hungry hornbill but a twin tragedy for the Morning Warblers. Nature truly is a cruel master - creator of incredible beauty but savage and uncompromising too.
The hard-working parent birds continued bringing food and searching for their missing chicks for several hours. They had beaten the odds for so long, defied the genets and then succumbed at the final hurdle, just a day or so before their chicks were ready to fly. Perhaps somewhere a hornbill chick will live to see another day, thanks to the hard-working Morning Warblers. That's generally how it works, unfair as it may seem and hard as it may be to accept sometimes.