Saturday, September 22, 2012

September 2012 - progress

The Springtastc blog post uploaded on the 16th September was introducing a warming and wetting of the landscape, frogging weather and the expectation of snake weather.  Just three days later, and I see my first South African snake.   This amazing Rock Python, which must have been at least 2.5 meters long, slides across a gravel track out in the Mount Moreland sugarcane fields.  It stretched right across the road and was casually heading into the scrub when it must’ve got a whiff of me.  It turned and bolted across the road from where it had come from.  Those beasts can move quickly when they want to!

This was the day before Mia flew in from Denmark.  And after collecting her from King Shaka Airport late on Wednesday afternoon we rushed around to the Mount Moreland nest.  As dusk quickly drew the curtain of darkness, a surreal silhouette of the incubating Crowned Eagle sat atop the nest.  Twilight offered us plenty of bats as they flittered above the river, Fiery-necked Nightjars called, and while watching a Spotted Eagle Owl on the roadside down the car beams, a Large Spotted Genet saunters across the road.  Ever since I’ve known her Mia is has been some sort of magnet for wildlife spectacles, starting of course with one of our first days together out in Mongolia, where suddenly three wolves appeared, apparently abandoning an ambush on gazelles. 

I now have my partner here…  feeling a little humbled because my ‘field appy’ put me to shame on the first day by telling me which of the pair on this nest was the male and which was the female -followed shortly after by confirmation that the male can indeed do a little incubation, much doubted by me in the past.  Over the next ten days we will get stuck in to surveying the Durban nests, attempting to catch remaining 2011 juveniles, and maybe time to put up another camera or two.

The male stands cautiously over the nest while she watches closely.  She went off to fetch a leafy twig while he incubated for five minutes.  A powerful wind yesterday morning broke that stem, we hope the eggs are ok.

The female eagle at Victoria Country Club is unfazed by our observations.

Just recently Zimbali Estate has confirmed that they will sponsor a camera diet study on their nest.  Awesome – thanks ZEMA!

Finally, I'd like to do send you off to check out a couple of other Crowned Eagle blogs.  
A nest that is currently active and should provide fantastic entertainment this season
And the other, a few amazing photos from one of the 2011 breeding nests. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Eaglet Growth, week 5 to week 8

Human-Wildlife Conflict

The research is towards an MSc, and is an urban ecology project of which Crowned Eagles are used as a model species. One of the dominant topics regarding predators (carnivora and accipitriformes) in areas of high human density is the Human-Wildlife conflicts.  Sources of negative perceptions and conflicts towards wildlife exists in many forms including:

  • biodiversity threats: semi-feral cats and monkeys can become superabundant with the help of supplementary food and absence of natural predators. Their impact on birds and nesting success may be high.
  • nuisance animals: racoons spread garbage while it waits for collection on the kerb
  • disease risks: stray dogs and urban foxes are a potential source and vector of rabies
  • health and safety: coyotes and eagles can threaten the safety of household pets - cats and small dogs that their owners have a emotional attachment to.

This last point is the topic of the day.  Below is some information regarding a particular eagle that I have been following.  It was infact the very first eagle captured and ringed for this project.   The community is becoming polarized, some wanting to give the eagle full protection and let it live and disperse naturally, others (most of those impacted by attacks on pets) want it gone immediately. 

Footnote:  since sending this response I have had three different responses that the juvenile eagle was indeed offered food (viennas even- full of nitrates and additives).  Those particular tenants have since moved on - and in their wake have left a legacy of a 'problem eagle'.


Sunday, September 16, 2012


On the first of July

And now mid-September

White-throated Swallow with Darvill setting

Klaas' Cuckoo


Brubru amongst the camelfoot flowers

lemon blossoms

The seasons are a changing.  After a long, glorious dry, dry winter there is a definite ominous feel to the approach of summer.  Recent weeks have been quite wet, interspersed with the odd humid heat wave.  Earlier in September we had a berg wind come through that pushed the mercury to 34 degrees… and I have been warned that that is just a teaser for summer. Pietermaritzburg can hit 45+ degrees - what have I done!?

The wet weather, warmer temperatures, and longer days are culminating in a greening of the landscape.  Grass is growing rapidly after widespread burning, trees are sprouting, and flowers blooming.  Several inter-african migrants have arrived.  At Darvill this month ‘we’ ringed several White-throated Swallows, and a Klaas’ Cuckoo.  Also, the arrival of the very aerial and abundant Yellow-billed Kites has really put me off my stride – I still have to glance at every one while driving and walking anywhere… eventually will I be able to subconsciously rule out any chance of them being confused with Crowned Eagles in the sky? 

Tonight we went out 'frogging', to collect specimens for a frog identification practical held for the 222 Vertebrate Zoology course.  The field guide to amphibians is a beautiful book, and hopefully it can be added to my growing library of field guides, snuggling up next to my equally stunning guide to reptiles.  Speaking of which.  I have noticed a few skinks here and there and the occasional Blue-headed Agama in the UKZN botanic garden.  Someday soon the snakes will come out.  Yay !

Monday, September 10, 2012

San Lameer special

The Crowned Eagle pair at the San Lameer Estate, on the Natal south coast, became quite famous recently after this stunning article was published in Africa Birds & Birding (Vol 17 No.3).

Jacques Sellschop spent over three months very intensively following the birds, often spending six hours a day peering down the lens. Jacques has continued to follow the birds almost daily right up until presently.   I was surprised to receive a call from Jacques a couple of weeks ago, inviting me down to San Lameer, as he had heard of my research.  I was wanting to discover more about this pair - as they are a fine example of the annual breeding that occurs in the area.

For the last four years the birds has successfully raised an eaglet to fledge, and they have over the last six weeks built a nest from scratch in order to lay for their fifth year running.  Because of Jacques keen observations, knowing that the 2011 juvenile is still present within a mere 400 meters from the nest makes it particularly interesting.  That the pair is tolerating its presence despite their new egg(s).

And so the invite to spend a few days with Jacques and Rhona at their idyllic beachside house, and watch the San Lameer birds, well an opportunity not to pass up!  Sadly it rained much of the time so we were limited to a brief opportunity to try and ring the juvenile, which of course failed.  But over the course of the following days much was gained.  Three more nest sites in the immediate Southbroom area were pointed out.  Jacques donated an addled egg and some beautiful prey skulls for my reference.  Not least was obtaining a mortality specimen.  Three weeks ago a juvenile eagle from a nearby nest was horrifically electrocuted, the bird was found very fresh, and wisely, was put in the freezer.  Please keep this in mind if you live in KZN and have the misfortune of finding a dead Crowned Eagle.  These specimens are extremely valuable from a research persective.

Jacques offered an extensive library of incredible images that were captured during his long hours of observations over this last year - unfortunately some of the saturation went awry as I compressed these photos for upload.  All images in this blog post are copyright to Jacques. They shalt not be reproduced without permission!  Enjoy.

San Lameer Estate - earthy toned residences nestled among coastal forest

the 50mm lens shows the setting of the nest from Jacques observation site

and the magnificent quality with the larger lenses

fresh pine needles are added to the nest daily

captures that personality and playful character at this age

the avian equivalent of contemplating ones navel?

so... what happened next?!

one must learn what is possible within the limitations of an oesophagus

as she pulled on the digital flexor, the disembodied hand grasped young birds bill

hyrax are a popular prey item in the region

drama at the nest - its all action when food arrives

the eaglet mantles her prize until both adults have cleared out

no aspect of the birds activities was neglected

growing up around people allows these eagles to be inquisitive and interact on a personal level

that windswept look

on the roadside clutching the hyrax, she watched as dozens of staff drove home via the main estate exit road

meanwhile the adults are busy preparing a new nest

affection at the next prior to egg laying