By Pompie Burger
Black Heron, Egretta ardesiaca
Roberts No 69
After 20-odd years of bird watching and photography, I still consider myself a novice in both departments, and every so often I remember my first-ever bird-watching trip to Ndumu Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal. It was with Clifton (a very good friend who converted me into becoming an avid bird watcher).
One of the first birds we saw was, in fact, a Black Heron. When Cliff explained the hunting method of this bird to me, I thought he was a bit crazy.
I mean, how can you possibly believe that a bird will form an umbrella with its wings while standing in shallow waters to make a shadow to attract small fish, which it then catches once the fish have wandered into the shade.
I still don’t know if this is the real reason why Black Herons make this strange-looking umbrella, but I will not ‘allow the truth to stand in the way of a good story’. Apparently birds in captivity form a canopy over a plate of food, so this seems to be very much an instinctive behaviour pattern. Another possible reason given for this behaviour is that the shade created prevents reflecting light.
Black Herons are good examples of nomadic birds that travel to areas where water and food are available. This is evident in their distribution ranges during the wet and dry seasons. These birds are both solitary and found in large gregarious groups. They roost in a communal tree and nesting takes place in colonies during the rainy season when enough food is available.
Their food consists of aquatic animals, which they disturb with their long yellow toes, shuffling in the shallow water when foraging. They feed singly or in groups, and generally tolerate other heron and egret species. They are found in the environs of inland waters, shallow rivers, marshes, flooded grasslands, dams and mudflats, especially in the central and northern parts of Namibia.
About the author:
Based in Windhoek, Pompie Burger is an orthopaedic surgeon whose part-time passion is photography, in particular wildlife, and specifically birds. This regularly takes him to the most remote corners of the country, resulting in riveting images and articles.
Pompie is the author and photographer of the coffee table book Birds of Namibia, which was published in 2008. The book contains articles and photographs which attest to the insight and knowledge of an accomplished observer.
Read more of his articles in our Birding Section.
This article appeared in the Oct/Nov ‘07 edition of Travel News Namibia.