As the first real cold fronts of winter start pounding the Cape of Storms, mountains of kelp have been dislodged by the tumultuous seas and heaped along the battered coast by surging tides. The wracks of seaweed bring with them all kinds of food for species that forage and scavenge along the shoreline, and become festooned with sandhoppers and kelp flies as they start to rot. In turn, the throngs of insects and crustaceans attract mixed flocks of birds – gulls, ibises, starlings, oystercatchers, geese, wagtails – all of which feast on the crawling and flying hordes as they mass around the piles of putrid weed.

Today I spent a while photographing this phenomenon as it played out on the beach next to the old harbour in Kommetjie. The kelp was stacked up and interlaced like so much purple-and-brown spaghetti, and the birds were jostling skittishly, shoulder-to shoulder, pushing for the richest pickings that seemed to be concentrated in the backwash of the rushing waves. The little bay was packed with good numbers of several species and there was plenty of chaotic action, but my eye was strangely drawn to the least frantic of the participants…

About twenty Western Cattle Egrets were scattered around the edges of the crowd, stand-offish and rather more measured and cautious in their approach. They stalked the strandline quite slowly, occasionally jumping up and away to avoid the spray of the highest-breaking waves, and all-but swimming through a thick soup of (seemingly delicious) kelp flies!

 

 

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