Daily Dispatch

Fishing gives heron a kick


TO OBSERVE the natural world, one needs to be patient. Stop, wait and look around and it’s often surprising the things that turn up.

I went to the end of my jetty on the Nahoon River one day last week, equipped with a pair of binoculars. There was hardly a ripple on the water, the tide was going out, and all was quiet around me.

As not much was happening, I was pleased to spot a goliath heron sitting atop a vine-covered tree.

This 1.5-metre-tall bird, grey and russet coloured, is the world’s largest heron, and is an imposing sight standing in water 3040cm deep waiting for an unsuspecti­ng fish to swim past.

The goliath on the Nahoon River has been a familiar sight for two or three years and has grown used to boats and canoes cruising past.

Up in the tree, I watched as it began to show interest in something in the foliage below, peering through the undergrowt­h and adjusting its position. Maybe a boomslang or perhaps a chameleon, I guessed, as it drew its neck back into a striking posture.

With binoculars trained I waited for its lunge. Then out of the tree, a metre or two below, popped a mousebird, and another and another – an entire family of them – seemingly unconcerne­d about what was standing overhead. They flew off and the heron relaxed, apparently not too concerned it had missed a potential meal.

My attention was then caught by a smaller black-headed heron across the river, wading slowly through the shallows. This chap was more successful, catching small fish which it easily swallowed then seeking more.

Then it lunged at and grabbed something a lot bigger, flipping it onto the shore and proceeding to grab and drop, shake and peck again and again. To my surprise, it was a small electric ray, about the size of a saucer.

Electric rays of course give off an electric shock to stun their prey, but the heron didn’t seem to worry much about that. It did seem reticent about holding on too long each time it picked the ray up, but that would discharge more current until the fish’s battery ran flat.

Once dead, it swished the muddy ray about in water to clean and tried to swallow it. That proved quite difficult until it sort of folded the ray up like a rolled flapjack and knocked it back.

Blow me down, it caught a second ray 20 metres further on and repeated the process. It must have got a kick out of that!

A few years ago a big Cape fur seal bull took up residence in the river, and became something of a local celebrity. He was an old chap with worn teeth, but he too made many a meal of adult electric rays that he caught, tossing them into the air again and again to discharge their current, then tearing them apart and swallowing.

You’ve got to be brave to do that. I can tell you, after standing on many over the years, the shock is not funny – except to others who see it happen. Chiel today is Robin Ross-thompson. E-mail: robinrosst@

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