Hooky Beaks, Part #2.
Of the larger Eagles, Bateleur were by far the commonest seen over our two visits. Both Tawny and Martial Eagle were seen most days and with two brief sightings of Crowned Eagle and one of Verreaux’s, African Fish-eagles were always present near water and even if you did not see one, you would invariably hear one calling somewhere in the background. I was as happy as the proverbial Pig whenever we encountered one of these birds. Add to these the smaller Eagles and all the other raptors; you can see why I thought I was in Paradise.
It’s not just the birds though. The location and atmosphere also adds an additional element to the sightings to make encounters with these large, spectacular predators even more enthralling.Tshanga lookout
My first Martial Eagle was an immature bird perched high up in a large tree on the banks of the Mphongolo just North of Shingwedzi. We watched as it scanned the surrounding area, locking in on some movement out in the bush that we could not see, assessing it’s chances of a successful hunt. Martial Eagle
South of Balule, we chanced on an adult in a long dead tree. This one was very approachable and paid no heed to the bakkie as we sat below and watched. The light was against us, making the bird look even bigger than it was. On the same drive the following trip, we were tipped off about their nest just a little further down the track. As these birds are territorial and long lived, I’m betting that this bird was the same one we saw on both visits.
The same happened with a Tawny Eagle. On the approach to Olifants camp, a Tawny Eagle was perched on a dead snag just off to one side of the road. The following year, I remarked casually as we left the camp one morning that the Tawny would be in the same spot. It was! The bird had undergone a moult since we had seen it last, but by comparing photos; it looks to be one and the same.
Tawny’s seemed to be quite common along the road between the Highwater Bridge and main entrance to Shingwedzi camp. We often saw them patrolling the skies along this road or from the bridge itself. You often saw them in the trees along this stretch and they were always present in the mornings and early evenings, using the trees to roost for the night.Tawny Eagle talon cleaning
Another species that lives on this stretch is Verreaux’s Eagle-owl. A pair nests in the large trees here and can be found roosting during the day in the lower branches. A couple who were staying in the camp and also birding, very kindly told us where to find them, but even knowing where to look did not make the task any easier. Verreaux’s Eagle-owl
Almost everywhere you looked; there would be a Bateleur in the air somewhere. Most of them seemed to be young birds and I wondered about their breeding cycle here. I assumed that these youngsters were mostly from the previous nesting season as we only saw either these or adults. As we did not see any sub-adult birds, I guess that the adults were territorial and all competition would be driven out to less favourable areas on the fringes of the park?Soaring Bateleur
These birds are very distinctive in flight, appearing tailless as they see-saw over the grasslands. Occasionally one would swoop down onto the road in front of us to pick something up from the verge. We were usually too far away to get any pics, but this one came in close and I managed a few blurred photos through the dusty windscreen.
Watching the Fish-eagles as they circled over waterways, we hoped to see one catch something, but were not lucky enough. We did, however, see one bring in nesting material to line its nest and at the same spot, watched the other half of the pair eating a recently caught fish.African Fish-eagle
Of the smaller Eagles, Brown Snake-eagles were by far the commonest. We would often see one sat atop a low bush or soaring on thermals. African Hawk-eagles were seen occasionally and we saw Ayre’s Hawk-eagle twice, both times in the far North. I saw Black-chested Snake-eagle only once inside the park. They, along with Long-crested Eagle seemed to be more prevalent outside of Kruger’s boundaries. Is this because of habitat differences or the presence of the larger Eagles?Brown Snake-eagle
As I mentioned earlier, the sightings we had were made even better because of the surroundings they were in. To see a Martial Eagle on the look out in a large, gnarled old tree cannot be improved on.Martial Eagle
I’ll end today with a sunrise and the reflection of the trees in the water.