It landed in a tree ahead of us, obscured by the branches of course. Later, seeing photographs of what must be the same bird taken with a far superior lens to mine, made me look at my pictures more closely and to revise my original hasty identification of it as a Booted Eagle. The more I look at them, the more I am inclined to believe that this is indeed an immature Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus).
Most visitors to a game park tend to be more interested in the animals than birds. Drivers of passing vehicles, seeing mine stopped and spotting my camera poking out of the window, would halt next to me and eagerly ask what I was looking at … their disappointment was palpable. The phrase ‘only a bird’ scribbled itself across the faces behind the benign smiles and head nodding. It seemed an age before I could inch my vehicle forward for a better view – the occupants of the others were totally charmed by zebra and red hartebeest drinking at the waterhole on the opposite side of the road. Just a hint of the crest is visible in this photograph.
Several birds of prey can be spotted during a visit to the Addo Elephant National Park, the most common being the Pale Chanting Goshawk, Jackal Buzzard, Yellow-billed Kite and the Black-shouldered Kite. Ones with such a powerful demeanour are not frequently observed: Martial Eagles are claimed to be among the most powerful eagles in Africa.
Although there is no mistaking its barred tail and huge talons in this photograph, this immature bird is creamy-white, bearing none of the dark streaky markings so definitive in the adult birds. They reach adult plumage after about seven years.
This is what the adult looks like – the photograph was taken five years ago in the Kruger National Park.
The Martial Eagle is currently classified with the status of vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN.
Wattle: a fleshy carbuncle hanging from various parts of the head or neck of (in these cases) birds.
Have you ever wondered about the role played by the wattles that some birds sport?
The White Crowned Lapwing (Vanellus albiceps) is a good example to start with as it has large, pendulous yellow wattles on its face.
I have been fortunate to see these striking birds in the Kruger National Park and surrounding areas.
It is thought that the wattles serve the dual purpose of helping to regulate the temperature of the bird and to attract potential mates – which it would, if you were ‘into’ such things!
Helmeted Guineafowl (Numida meleagris) are ubiquitous in South Africa.
Their blue and red wattles contain blood vessels which, along with the bare parts on their head, apparently help to regulate their brain temperature.
A visit to the Kruger National Park would be incomplete without a sighting of the spectacular Saddle-billed Storks (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis) These are the tallest storks in Africa and, while the sexes are similar in appearance, if you observe closely you might note that the females have yellow eyes, while the males not only have brown eyes but sport small yellow pendant wattles on the underside of the bill.
Perhaps these wattles are simply to look smart. I cannot find any information on any other function they may serve.
It was while I was listening to the sound track of Born Free this morning that it struck me how fortunate I have been to have seen lions so often in the wild. It is the one animal that tourists – and not only the ones from abroad – have at the top of their wish lists when they enter game areas such as the Kruger National Park and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. We have enjoyed some of the best sightings at the latter place and yet have also spent ten days there without seeing a single one!
We had been waiting patiently at a water hole shortly after sunrise. Our attention was focused on birds and the activity of a couple of jackals nearby when this pair of lions came padding across the dry river bed. Notice the dust being thrown up by their large padded paws.
They drank deeply and for a long time.
Early on another morning our attention was drawn to definite sounds of distress not far from the camp we were staying at. The gates had opened not long before and we were met by this scene of two lionesses doing battle with a wildebeest, kicking up a lot of dust in the process!
Within minutes Black-backed jackals had come to investigate within a safe distance as the two lionesses settled down to rip open the carcass – only to be usurped by an enormous male that appeared from nowhere! While on the subject of males, tourists would give their eye teeth for a sight such as this one strolling across the road in front of us in the Kruger National Park. This photograph gives you a good idea of how large their paws are.
Much closer to home, here is a lion seen in the Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape.
NOTE: Click on a photograph if you wish to see a larger view.
These Vervet Monkeys were photographed in the Kruger National Park some time ago. The pictures provide an interesting view of them simply getting on with life. Here a mother and child work their way through fallen leaves and seeds to find something edible. Note the expression on the youngster’s face as it learns from its mother’s actions:
The youngster is putting the lesson into practice:
One can always try to reach the source of the delicacies!
The Black-backed Jackal (Canus mesomelus) counts among my favourite animals to see in the wild. I have spent hours watching their social behaviour in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and enjoy spotting them in the Addo Elephant and other National Parks. These omnivores have a special character about them: they look bright, alert and trot in the veld with a rather jaunty air, like this one in the Kgalagadi.
One of my favourite things when camping in the wild is to listen to the high wailing calls and yelps of the Black-backed Jackals from early in the evening through to the dawn. Sometimes you can make out the calls of one being answered by another and then another until there is a chorus of them. This, along with the call of the African Fish Eagle, is one of the iconic sounds of the South African bush. The one below was photographed in the Addo Elephant National Park.
Black-backed Jackals are often regarded as cunning, intelligent scavengers which are quick to arrive at the scene of a lion kill, for example. One can see them darting in and out to get whatever they can of the feast – all the while keeping a wary eye on the lions and hyenas! The kill featured below – in the Kruger National Park – was already a day old and the main feeders had already left it. Only an old and sickly lion was there to ineffectually defend it, with vultures, spotted hyenas and Black-backed Jackals ready to pick the carcass clean.