A fish and fowl affair

Maybe it is happening at last: two days ago, I watched a thick smudge of frenzied activity slide past in the sea. The gannets – must be thousands of them – were crazy, and the sea was foaming.

It had to be the sardine run, this “greatest shoal on Earth” that passes our south-eastern shores in winter as the fish make their way north. This usually happens between May and July, but it has skipped years when the sea has failed to cool to below 21C. Some of us started thinking this was one of those years (See Strange days indeed). 

Cape gannets on the sea, as seen from my office

This year’s showing – well, what we’ve seen – has been far less of a spectacle than in previous years, when the sea has positively boiled. And it was also a lot further out – close to the horizon. The shoal is never close to shore in these parts – that happens when it reaches Durban – but I’ve never seen it this far out at sea.

But it’s still hugely exciting to watch. It has turned out to be the first of several shoals that you can identify by the great flocks of gannets settling on the water. And I’ve noticed an increase in whale and dolphin activity. In fact, I can see one spewing water out there right now.

Are the dikkops back?

Just as exciting, for me at least, is that the dikkops are scouting the aloe garden. I am hoping that they will nest here again. These are the strangest and most delightful birds. They form monogamous pairings, and they “play dead” to protect their nests.

One of the dikkops in the aloe garden

Dikkop is an Afrikaans word that translates directly into “thick head”. When South Africans say “thick”, they mean “stupid”; I must admit that I wondered if they earned their name from their habit of laying eggs in nests in the middle of lawns and walkways where they are so well camouflaged that they are really hard to see. They’re also known as the spotted thick-knee.

Last year’s eggs … so well camouflaged in the nest in the grass

Last year, a female laid two eggs in the grass next to aloe garden. The male was always around, and sometimes they swopped the job of sitting on the eggs. I steered Alex and the lawnmower away from the area, and we were generally very careful not to disturb them. Of course, I had to chase the monkeys away again and again; the male would spread out his wings and hiss, and looked pretty formidable. I’ve seen them do the same when Jack Russell dogs approach them.

We awaited the hatching of the eggs, and even started thinking of them as “our dikkops”. But, one morning, I found that one egg had disappeared and the other had been broken. The adults were nowhere to be seen. We thought that perhaps a snake had feasted here. And I felt really heart sore. Nature can be so cruel, I pined to myself.

Later, I did see a dikkop pair flapping around their baby. I like to think that these are “our” dikkops. You just never know. 

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