Monday, 27 June 2016

Hamerkop Lunchtime

I photographed this hamerkop (Scopus umbretta) eating what I think is a guttural toad (Amietophrynus gutturalis) at the Durban Botanical Gardens' lake. Hamerkop is Afrikaans for hammer (hamer) head (kop) which is quite appropriate.

It had already stabbed the toad with its beak to kill it a couple minutes before and was throwing it in the air to align it with its beak so as to swallow it. It had tried quite a few times already so this wasn't as lucky a photo as you might think, although this was the occasion it got it right. It lowered the toad into the water each time again before trying again which accounts for the water spray off the toad.

When I was a teenager and at school my mother found a hammerkop eating my goldfish as she was walking through the garden on her way to work in the school's tuck-shop. She chased it away but it just landed on the roof and waited. So my mother got an umbrella hoping to use it as a scarecrow, but the hammerkop didn't think much of it and landed right next to the umbrella and she had to leave. I think I lost 72 goldfish. 

I learned much later to stop keeping goldfish and rather to stock fast breeding small fish I didn't care much about. Then you can rather enjoy the wildlife that come to eat the fish than trying to work against them.

My neighbour who gave me the advice also gave me the fish by scooping a bucket-load out of his pond. The fish were black and slim so they stood a decent chance of hiding in my pond which was very deep with lots of plants. The most interesting outcome was that fishing spiders started living in the foliage in the pond.

It is quite a big bird at around 50cm tall and obviously isn't shy about stabbing things, but this didn't stop my daft 9 month old cat from trying to stalk one on an open lawn while the bird was next to my fishpond. The bird wasn't even bothered with me standing fairly close by. The hamerkop turned its head to focus on the leopard crawling cat and stood there for a while as if it couldn't believe it, then walked away while looking at the cat, flying off after a bit when the cat didn't give up.

We often had hadeda ibis (Bostrychia hagedash) in our garden which are a bit bigger than a hamerkop and have equally stabby beaks. They use them to punch into the ground and grab earthworms and insects. Our cat totally ignored them so I wonder if he had become older and wiser, that they were too big or that they were rarely alone put him off.

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