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Marsh-harrier: African

Identify and index birds in Southern Africa

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Johan van Rensburg
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Marsh-harrier: African

Unread postby Johan van Rensburg » Fri Oct 31, 2008 1:16 pm

The African Marsh-harrier, Circus ranivorus, is endemic to southern, central and eastern Africa. It is usually found in wetland areas, especially those with reeds, but also occurs in grassland and farmland. Where wetlands have been degraded, drained or converted to agricultural land the bird has disappeared. Its population may naturally fluctuate in core areas as rodent populations fluctuate with rainfall.

They forage outside the wetland habitat over drier flood plains, grasslands and agricultural grain fields hunting striped mice, other small mammals and birds. They occasionally hunt over open water or over the canopy of woodland and may scavenge on dead fish.

The African Marsh-harrier is celebrated for their aerial food passes. The male calls softly as they approach incubating or brooding females. The female flies under the prey-carrying male and catches the prey in mid-air. Prey is missed only 4% of the time!

They cover large distances during foraging; up to 200 km for as much as half of the daylight hours when fending for demanding nestlings.

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Large view

The Marsh-harrier is a monogamous breeder. Their favoured breeding habitat includes the large reed beds which fringe lakes or floodplains. Mate fidelity is high - pairs tend to stay together and often retain the same territory and nest in the same general location year after year. In South Africa September seems to be the peak egg-laying month. Ultimately, the breeding season is timed such that peak nestling demands coincide with peak prey availability and prey intake.

Eggs are laid at widely varying intervals, the average of 2 to 3 days apart and 2 to 5 eggs (average 3) are produced.

Young hatch with white down, pink skin and eyes initially closed. Asynchronous hatching is common with the first 2 young often hatching within 1 day of each other or together, last hatchlings are sometimes up to 8 days behind. The last chicks are first to succumb if food becomes scarce.

Time until independence is up to three months after hatching, when parents stop feeding young but do not drive them from their territory. Flying young gradually begin hunting on their own while waiting for ever-decreasing food provisioning.
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Re: African Marsh-harrier

Unread postby Rusty Justy » Mon Nov 03, 2008 3:02 pm

This photo looks familiar! :D Well Captured!
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Re: Identification Help - Raptors

Unread postby arks » Wed Nov 11, 2009 9:58 pm

Puzzling over this one, which I'm thinking might be a juvenile marsh harrier? Seen at WCNP on 28 September 2009.

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Re: Identification Help - Raptors

Unread postby Barcud » Wed Nov 11, 2009 10:05 pm

Nice one arks,

The pale collar ID's it as a Juv.

Great birds, saw them in WCNP a few years ago.

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Re: Identification Help - Raptors

Unread postby arks » Wed Nov 11, 2009 10:08 pm

Thanks, barcud, that was fast! 8) I saw quite a few that day, but all very far away, so pix aren't the best :(
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Re: Identification Help - Raptors

Unread postby Lizet Grobbelaar » Tue Nov 17, 2009 6:21 pm

arks wrote:Puzzling over this one, which I'm thinking might be a juvenile marsh harrier? Seen at WCNP on 28 September 2009.

Image

Image


arks,
I don't think this is a Marsh Harrier, more a imm African Harrier Hawk -maybe 2nd or 3rd year as the bare yellow skin around the eye is visible on the top photo. The head appears small on a long neck and the barred underwing and tail is also right...

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Re: Identification Help - Raptors

Unread postby arks » Tue Nov 17, 2009 9:24 pm

Lizet Grobbelaar wrote:I don't think this is a Marsh Harrier, more a imm African Harrier Hawk -maybe 2nd or 3rd year as the bare yellow skin around the eye is visible on the top photo. The head appears small on a long neck and the barred underwing and tail is also right...

Thanks, Lizet, that's one I'd not even thought of ... I'll have to look through the pix again. It was, however, behaving like a harrier, flying low over open fynbos and diving behind shrubs, then rising up again, so ... And unfortunately very far away .... :hmz:
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Re: Identification Help - Raptors

Unread postby Lizet Grobbelaar » Wed Nov 18, 2009 7:01 am

arks,
The flying behaviour sounds right. The "bare" skin around the eye could only be white feathers. The white breast-band on the second pic is very typical in young MH. The wings appear to be not as wide as I would expect from AHH. But as you say to far away to be certain.. :hmz:

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Re: Identification Help - Raptors

Unread postby JOL » Wed Nov 18, 2009 2:20 pm

Lizet Grobbelaar wrote:arks,
The flying behaviour sounds right. The "bare" skin around the eye could only be white feathers. The white breast-band on the second pic is very typical in young MH. The wings appear to be not as wide as I would expect from AHH. But as you say to far away to be certain.. :hmz:


Hi Lizet ,

I think you are wise for reconsidering your first id on arks raptor.
I do agree , that the pale head of the bird on the first pic makes it look a lot like african harrier hawk! However , I think you're also right about it being pale feathers rather than bare facial skin. Everything else points towards african marsh harrier , and though young AHHs can vary a bit , the pattern on the underside of the primaries and outermost secondaries doesn't look good for that species at all , but perfect for AMH! What clinches it for me though , is the wing formula - which isn't subject to same kind of individual variation as plumage characters. As you say , AHH would show a much wider arm and hand , and it would also have much more pronounced "fingers" (primaries). Furthermore there should be at least 6 clearly separated "fingers" , and this bird doesn't even come close , so - like Barcud - I would call this an african marsh harrier.

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Jon

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Re: Identification Help - Raptors

Unread postby Lizet Grobbelaar » Wed Nov 18, 2009 3:09 pm

JOL wrote:
like Barcud - I would call this an african marsh harrier.

Thanks Jon, I knew you would clinch this one for me! Seems the year is too long, and I'm loosing my touch!

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Re: Identification Help - Raptors

Unread postby arks » Wed Nov 18, 2009 8:00 pm

Lizet Grobbelaar wrote:arks,
The flying behaviour sounds right. The "bare" skin around the eye could only be white feathers. The white breast-band on the second pic is very typical in young MH. The wings appear to be not as wide as I would expect from AHH. But as you say to far away to be certain.. :hmz:

Thanks Lizet. Really appreciate having your expert input on this. I think I'll stick with this distant raptor being a young MH.

@JOH: And many thanks to you, too, for further expert input on this one. Everything about this bird's movements whilst I was watching it indicated harrier and I actually watched it for quite some time, even tho it was so far away, because its activities were interesting to observe. 8)
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Re: Identification Help - Raptors

Unread postby JOL » Thu Nov 19, 2009 10:34 am

You're welcome , Arks! :)

Loosing your touch , Lizet? I don't think so! Don't we all focus to much on a single detail , and forget about the rest of the bird , from time to time? Anyway , I could tell that you had already figured out the AMH yourself - I just wanted to confirm it for you :wink:

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Re: Identification Help - Raptors

Unread postby Falconry4ever » Sun Nov 22, 2009 4:29 pm

Lizet Grobbelaar wrote:
arks wrote:Puzzling over this one, which I'm thinking might be a juvenile marsh harrier? Seen at WCNP on 28 September 2009.


arks,
I don't think this is a Marsh Harrier, more a imm African Harrier Hawk -maybe 2nd or 3rd year as the bare yellow skin around the eye is visible on the top photo. The head appears small on a long neck and the barred underwing and tail is also right...


It is not an African Harrier-hawk as it has too much light colours and too of a short tail with no bold barring. It must be some specie of Marsh Harrier, maybe an African Marsh Harrier. I've seen many juvenile AHh's, this is not one.
Go look at some of my photos (mostly birds) @ http://www.outdoorphoto.co.za/forum/photopost/showgallery.php?cat=500&ppuser=20417

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Re: Identification Help - Raptors

Unread postby Tilandi » Mon May 10, 2010 7:20 pm

Taken @ Barberspan yesterday. Sorry no better pic's :redface:
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Re: Identification Help - Raptors

Unread postby Barcud » Mon May 10, 2010 8:56 pm

Hi Tilandi,

I think your bird is an immature African Marsh Harrier. Flight shape with the wings held in a shallow V, facial markings, white/pale on breast, streaked underparts and barred tail. Pale panel on upper fore-wing and barred flight feathers.


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