A spearfisher of note

Let’s Chirp with Tim Cockcroft

CORMORANT’S BIG BROTHER: The African darter can be found most often on rivers, ponds, larger streams and dams Picture: TIM COCKCROFT

GREETINGS all! This week we head for the water again for some fishing, and while we are there, we can take a look at a rather well-known bird in our area.

The African darter is often seen on our rivers, ponds, larger streams and dams. It appears almost cormorant-like, but is a larger, longer, more slender and streamlined bird. The bill is also different from that of the cormorants. Instead of being hooked at the end, it is straight and dagger-like – very suited to spearing fish and frogs.

It is instantly recognised by its glossy black plumage and longish tail. The wings are beautifully patterned with silvery-grey markings. The bill is a light golden-brown colour and the huge, webbed black feet are diagnostic. The neck is long, brown and kinked and has earned it and other members of its family the nickname of “snake-bird”.

It spends much of its time perched beside the water, sitting upright on top of a tree or lower down over the water with its wings spread out, drying out after a hunt and a swim. I have noticed, however, that the African darter will spread its wings and hold them open a few seconds before it takes flight. Having said that, it is not a particularly skittish bird, and will not fly for no reason at all. When in the water, it often swims so low down that just the neck sticks out. It dives for its prey and swallows it whole.

In flight, the darter is much longer-winged than the cormorants, and it glides quite a bit too. The call is a loud, nasal croak, as can be heard on my recording at http://www.xeno-canto.org/322169.

That’s it for this week. Please remember I am available for guided birding tours in and around our area. My number is 072-314-0069 if you want to contact me for more information. Until next time, happy birding!


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