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Pond Creatures

The Hammerhead Story

Today I am going to tell you a little story ... a story that does have a moral and conservationist message in it .....

The lead character in the story is a big brown bird ... in South Africa this bird is known as a Hammerhead and from his picture you will clearly see why.


Author and photos: Colyn Serfontein.

Hi, my name is Julius and I was born in a tree in the Uitkyk valley. Shortly after I was born our tree was hit by a terrible storm ... the branches danced like snakes and every now and then one would snap with a sharp crack that sent my mother into a flutter. Suddenly there was a loud crack and a blinding light and the tree next to ours exploded in bright blaze and my mother shot into the air ... the giant cold drops of rain hit my semi naked body and pounded my bald head. The nest was swinging and swaying like a small boat on an angry sea. I remember my sister shrieking and squealing as another gust of wind ripped through our tree and then she was gone ...

Suddenly I felt the warmth of my mother's body as she settled back on the nest and I was cut off from the angry environment. Soon I was asleep.

Morning broke to a crisp and clean sky and the first rays of the sun filtered through the leaves. My parents were busy repairing the damage to our nest and I heard them talk about the loss of my sister. I craned my neck and peered over the edge of the nest ... 10 meters down I could see her ... she was battered and covered with dirt ... her neck twisted in a weird way to one side. I could not understand why she was not moving ... death was something I did not understand.

Pretty soon my mother brought me some food and it dawned on me that with my sister gone there was more for me. As my mother hopped onto a nearby branch I looked down again. My sister was gone.

Days turned into weeks and my body became covered with feathers. Both my parents were bringing food to me and I gulped it down and screamed for more ... flapping my wings and stretching my neck. One morning this wing flapping nearly got me killed because instead of just making a noise my feet lifted from the nest and I almost fell out of the tree. I could see my dad nodding his head as he watched this.

Something changed that day ... instead of bringing the food to me they just dumped it on the edge of the nest and flew off. Initially I just screamed but soon the hunger made me peck at the dead frog ... with some struggle I managed to get the thing into my throat and when they dropped the next offering it was down my throat in a flash. Little did I know ... this was the sign my parents were waiting for. The rest of that day nothing came by way of delivery and only late the afternoon my dad brought me a small fish.

I don't know what happened that night but the next day was horrible. My dad brought a frog to the nest and before I could snap it up he jumped onto a branch and hopped a few meters away. He just sat there with the kicking frog in his beak and watched me. After a while I stopped squealing and took a jump towards him ... more by luck than by design I landed on the branch and did not fall off. To my horror my dad glided down to the ground. He sat there and watched me.

Hunger was driving me and I closed my eyes and took a jump. To my surprise my wings flapped and I did not fall ... well to make a longs story short ... that is how they got me out of the nest. For the next few days they still fed me but I was with them on the river bank and watched how the gathered food.

Pretty soon I was catching enough food for myself and learned the hard and wet way that water can be of different depths and I also mastered the art of flight. Then the next catastrophe hit me. The day broke bright and clear and I glided out of the tree down to the riverbank where my parents were foraging for food.

My golly ... I did not know what happened ... but as I landed they both turned on me and my father attacked me with his big black bill. My mother was dancing around and slapped me silly with her wings. Another few pecks from my dad and I realised that they were going to kill me ... more by instinct than by anything else I fluttered up and then away from them. I landed around 20 meters from them. still totaly confused and to my horror I saw them both charging towards me. This time I was not going to meet those bills and wings again and took flight.

As I gained height I could hear them behind me and I kept on flapping my wings. Soon I was high in the sky and saw that they were no longer following me. I circled around and set down in a big tree.

What the hell was wrong with them?

An hour or so later I took off and circled ... I could see both parents down on the riverbank and they were feasting on the frogs. Thinking that their tempers may have subsided by now I glided down to sit down across the river from them. This was obviously a mistake because in a flash they were both in flight and coming straight for me ... well obviously they don't want me there any longer.

For next 10 months I travelled around the valley and picked up food wherever I could find it. Every pond, stream or marsh had a Hammerhead that claimed ownership of the water and my body is full of scars of fights and skirmishes.

By now I was fully-grown and beginning to win a skirmish every now and then.


                                    This is me ... quite a handsome fella ... if I may say so.

One spring morning I took a bit of wider loop through the valley and to my amazement I saw three lovely ponds below me. I landed in a big Maroela close by and began to survey the place. There was a house near the ponds and three dogs roamed around on the grass.




This is what I saw ... and to my amazement, there were brightly coloured
big fish in the ponds. They seemed quite lazy and actually stupid. They
were swimming near the surface, plucking algae off the rocks.



I hopped out of the tree and on silent wings landed next to the pond. Suddenly the big bright fish just wiggled their tails and to my dismay I saw them sink down to the bottom. I was sitting on the rocky ledge next to the pond and there was no way for me to get hold of those big bright fish. Not so stupid after all I thought as I looked around.

There was a man watching me through a window and I made a note to keep an eye on him as I walked towards the pole that was floating on the water next to the waterfall.

I saw the man taking some pictures of me and I made sure to show him my best side. I met photographers on a previous trip to the Botanical Gardens so I knew what a camera was.

The waterfall was making a lot of foam on the water and I stood patiently on the log. Suddenly a white and red fish was visible just under the foam and like a flash my bill shot forward.

I heard the man swearing and at the same time realised the fish was too big for me and watch in dismay as he slipped out of my bill. There was big gash on the one side of the fish where my bill sliced some scales off and I hoped that he was mortally wounded. That will make him come up and give me another chance.

What happened next gave me a flashback of the night my sister died ... there was an angry whining sound and then a loud crack. I felt something buzzing through the tuft of feathers on the back of my head and the bang made me jump high into the air. I noticed a long thin black thing protruding from the window and the man was shouting. In this chaos I did what any self respecting bird does ... fly away.

The next day I went back to those ponds ... the big red fish made my mouth water and images of them drew me like a magnet.


Me at the middle pond ... first I saw the man with the camera and carried on watching the water.

Then the fish came close to the edge and I readied myself for a peck ...
damn that same buzzing sound followed by a crack and the thin black
thing sticking out of the window with the man shouting.

Same story ... I fled.



This is me again ... later that day. Well needless to say ... same story ...
First the camera and then as I lined myself up for a shot at a fish ...
Thin black thing through the window ... BANG and I am off.
What the hell is the man's problem?

I stayed away for the next few days and then late afternoon on the third day I came back. This time I sat down at the small pond at the bottom of the garden. In this pond there were small fish and I saw some wild fish amongst the coloured fish. Problem here is the same as at the other ponds. The edge is too high for me to get close to the water and the fish sees me and flees to the middle and bottom of the pond.

While watching the fish and thinking I noticed some movement on the grass about six meters from me. Huh ... it was an ugly long brown snake. Now I have no issues with eating a small snake but this thing was too big and I made a note to keep an eye on him. I could see the man with the camera.

Movement from the window caught my eye and with a shiver I realised it was that thin black thing again. By now I have become wary of it purely because it makes such noise. The buzzing through my feathers was annoying but harmless ... or so I thought.

The loud bang made me jump but I did not hear the buzzing sound this time and looked around. To my horror I saw the big snake's head had exploded and he was cringing and curling in a heap of coils.

I could hear the man shouting and I saw a man come running towards the ponds. I hopped into the air and landed in a tree a few meters away. The man collected the snake in a bucket and walked away.

For the first time I connected that thin black thing with death and I flew away.

The next day I was back at the small pond and I kept myself hidden behind the garden wall and amongst the plants. The fish was too clever for me and the pond too deep to wade. Suddenly a movement against the one pot plant caught my eye ... a frog ... in a flash my bill shot forward.



I was hungry but I kept an eye on the man in the window.
I noticed the big black circle watching me while I mauled the frog.
If that thin black thing comes out of the window I am off in a flash.
I swallowed the frog and the thin black thing did not come.

With a wary eye on the man I hopped onto the edge of the pond and nothing happened. From where I stood I noticed another frog at the inlet of the stream and in flash he was in my beak.

Again nothing from the man ... just photos. I sat on the edge of the pond in clear view of the window and began to clean my bill. It was covered in the slime from the two frogs but I was quite happy. My stomach was full and I could see more frogs in the pond as well as hear some of them in the stream.



Could it be that me and the man has reached an understanding ... I stay away from his fish and he keeps his hands on his camera ... who knows ... who will ever know.

For now I am eating frogs and he takes photos ... every morning I get a frog or two and every afternoon. My life is good ...



Well what can I say ... me and Julius have been watching each other now for a few weeks ... I have never seen him take a fish and he has learned where the frogs hide in the streams and in the filter boxes of my ponds. I see him almost daily eating frogs and as long as he keeps his part of the bargain I will keep mine.

Who knows ... can they learn or understand ... what is more important is that we take a chance and see if they can learn or understand. Had I followed my instincts on day one, Julius would have been dead and my garden would have been the poorer for it.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 06 October 2010 11:43