Thursday, January 21, 2010

Eagle, Eagles, and more Eagles!

This is the eighth in a series of posts summarizing my experiences on our recent trip to Kenya to study East African Raptor Ecology. The previous posts:
Post 1: East African Raptor Ecology
Post 2: The Big Cats!
Post 3: The Vultures of Maasai Mara
Post 4: Giraffes!
Post 5: More Raptors of Kenya: Chanting-goshawks and Buzzards
Post 6: The Vulures of Maasai Mara Revisited
Post 7: The large mammals of Kenya

African Fish Eagle. Lake Naivasha, Kenya.

If there is one thing about Kenya that is most striking for a birder, its the sheer number of unique species. I totaled over 220 unique species in a week. The more focused/unstable/insane (pick your favorite adjective) birders among us totaled over 275 species in one week! The second most striking observation for me was the number and diversity of Eagles. Coming from an area with only two eagle species, it was impressive to see 9 different species in a week!

The most abundant eagle species we would see, outside of the African Fish Eagle at Lake Naivasha, was the Tawny Eagle. Another species which closely resembles the Tawny, but is not that closely related, is the Steppe Eagle. When perched, they are usually distinguished by how far back the yellow gape of the mouth extends. The gape extends to the middle of the eye on a Tawny and the back of the eye on a Steppe. Just to make it interesting, there is a subspecies of Tawny which is in between. The bird in the following photo received much discussion in the field as to whether it was a Tawny or a Steppe. I was clearly in the Steppe Eagle camp. Now looking at the picture, I am not so sure... leaning Tawny.

Tawny or Steppe?

My favorite of all the Eagles is the Long-crested Eagle. This bird has class.

Long-crested Eagle. Maasai Mara, Kenya.

For some reason this bird always looked dignified as its crest was blowing in the wind. My next favorite was the Black-chested Snake Eagle. This bird got a lot of attention in our vehicle as it was Heidi's study bird. It was also very cooperative at providing photo opportunities. I like it's big square head.

Black-chested Snake Eagle. Maasai Mara, Kenya.

Black-chested Snake Eagle. Maasai Mara, Kenya.

Black-chested Snake Eagle. Maasai Mara, Kenya.

And that it provided me one of the best flight photos I have ever captured! Look how impressive the emargination (pronounced narrowing) is on the primary feathers (end of the wings). Heidi wowed the crowd during her presentation on the Snake Eagle with a video of it regurgitating a snake for a chick. Actually, its mate pulled the snake out of its mouth to feed the chick. The chick then ate the snake whole! It was a very impressive video to watch. We didn't see any birds with a snake in the field, but we did see quite a few snake eagles.

Tawny Eagles in the "Leopard Tree". Maasai Mara, Kenya.

The "Leopard Tree" pictured above was our breakfast location in the Maasai Mara. On this day, there were no leopards in the tree, only Tawny Eagles.

The final eagle we searched for was the Martial Eagle. He eluded us until we arrived at Nairobi National Park.

Juvenile Martial Eagle. Nairobi National Park, Kenya.

The juvenile and the nest are low in the tree. This juvenile has just fledged in the past month. Notice the city of Nairobi in the background. What a tremendous asset to have this national park so close to the largest city in the country.

Juvenile Martial Eagle. Nairobi National Park, Kenya.

The eagle that I most wanted a photograph of was the Bateleur. We would see a number of these in flight, but it never worked out for a good photograph. They have a striking appearance of being solid black, with bright orange feet and cere. They are highlighted with high contrast brown and grey. Their signature feature is a very short tail, which looks like a mini skirt. Due to the short tail, they are somewhat unstable in flight. This easily distinguishes them from other eagle, even at great distances.

If that list of eagles isn't impressive enough, we also saw African Hawk-Eagles and Booted Eagles. Had we stayed another few days I am sure the list of eagle species would have grown.


Birding is Fun! said...

I would have loved to have heard/seen the class presentations.

Unknown said...

I can only express a small element of disappointment in the missing photo of the Bateleur. I was obsessed by this bird when I was a child (along with the Malachite Kingfisher--you didn't let me down there) and was totally suprised to find one at the Birds of Prey Center.

Mike said...

Terrific post and photos, Rob. I get the same impression visiting countries with scores of hummingbird species when those of us east of the Mississippi River have to be satisfied with only one.