There it was – unmistakable with its pink eyelids and fluffy ear tufts. That was all that could be seen of the Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl on the nest, but it was a dead giveaway of this huge species, considered Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. An old Wahlberg’s Eagle nest positioned securely in the fork of a marula tree had been utilised by this pair of owls. As we approached the nest from across the river, the two adults stopped their booming calls in a bid to not reveal the nest, the sitting bird and, potentially, the eggs.
For owls that have such a large home range (approximately 7000 hectares per pair in Limpopo; more research is required for KwaZulu-Natal), I was surprised that the birds would position their nest in such close proximity to human activity.
For the next few months I observed the nest as often as I could. I wanted to see when the chicks hatched, to hopefully witness their first flight and maybe even see when their adult plumage began to appear. Many times on my approach to the area, I would first encounter one of the adults and a subadult (the pair’s previous offspring). The two were always sitting in one of three trees, watching, guarding the nest from unwanted visitors. If I went early enough in the morning or later in the evening, I would again hear their contact calls, which were audible from more than two kilometres away. On one occasion I saw a giraffe and the incubating bird were suddenly eye to eye, neither apparently bothered by the encounter, although the giraffe definitely seemed to stare for a few minutes, perhaps somewhat bemused and assessing what it was looking at.
As time passed, the pair and their sub-adult offspring gradually appeared to become more habituated to my presence. I was able to get some great views of them and a number of times even saw them with prey. The eggs appeared to be taking a long while to hatch; as one of the adults covered the nest at all times I had no idea how many eggs there were in the clutch.
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THE BIRDS AND THE BEAST
Addo’s bird/mammal associations
IT'S A CALLING
Warwick Tarboton is a true naturalist and respected as one of the country’s foremost natural history authors and bird photographers. There is little doubt that he has influenced many people to take their interest in birds in particular to the next level.
SIGHTINGS IN THE SUBREGION: Mid-January to mid-March 2021
After a midsummer that was so busy with rarities, one might have thought that things would calm down somewhat, but the later part of the season continued to deliver a dazzling list of mouthwatering records. Twitchers were kept fully entertained and on their toes!
Observing Striped Crakes
Juvenile African Cuckoo diet
Deciphering South Africa’s first Crested Honey Buzzard
Natural fish traps in the Okavango
Redefining Plett Rage
The call I received from my friend Alastair at 06h00 on a Friday at the start of our year-end holiday was inevitable during the advancing second wave of Covid-19 cases, but it was one I had hoped to avoid. His entire family had just tested positive for the virus and we had just given his son, Alec, a lift from Cape Town to Plettenberg Bay to join us for a few days of holiday. Alec qualified uncomfortably as a close contact, having spent eight hours in the car with us and then slept in the same dorm room as all my kids for two nights.
A Wahlberg's Summer
Wahlberg’s Eagles have always been close to my heart and when the opportunity arose to photograph a breeding pair at the nest, I grabbed it with both hands. It all started when Marius, my future son-in-law, told me early in 2019 about an eagle’s nest in a thorn tree near the Sand River on the farm where he lives in Limpopo. He sent me a photograph of the two eagles at the nest and I immediately recognised them as a pair of Wahlberg’s. To add to my excitement, one of them was a pale morph.