Raptors of the Eastern Cape-South Africa-May 2014 as winter comes.
Raptors of the Eastern Cape: Some birding experiences in May 2014.
A recent visit to some of the beautiful cattle farms in the Komga area of the Eastern Cape gave us an opportunity to watch some of the raptors in action as we did some field work for an environmental impact study in relation to the proposed Wind Farms in the area.
As we recorded the birds it was interesting to see how different raptors went about looking for prey in this cool month of the year as winter began to make its presence felt. It became obvious that different birds of prey looked for and found their food in different ways.
The Jackal Buzzard. This large raptor, is possibly the most common one in the area and can be found anywhere in South Africa. They are often seen perched on a tree or telephone pole keeping an eye out for any small moving animal. Their main food source is small mammals, snakes, birds and even insects. It will also eat carrion. What was amazing was to watch a Jackal Buzzard do a ‘Parachute Fall’ into a deep valley to catch a small animal on the ground. The bird gets its name from its call that obviously sounds much like the call of a Jackal. We were fortunate enough to see a Jackal during our visit. The Jackal is a threat to the sheep on the farms and is hunted by farmers with so called “Jackal Packs”, a group of hunting dogs under the supervision of a handler.
The Long-crested Eagle. This smaller Eagle found in the North/Eastern parts of South Africa is less common in the area but during our visit this winter we watched several birds busy looking for their prey. They hunt from a perch, catching mainly rodents and birds but are also known to eat fruit such as figs and mulberries. The ones we watched either followed tree lines causing small birds to flee in fear or in grasslands where they perched on small trees watching carefully for any unsuspecting rodents. They swallow their prey whole.
The Martial Eagle. This magnificent Raptor is widespread throughout the country but now days is found mainly in game reserves. We were excited to see one flying up a deep valley looking down with a typical eagle eye for something to pounce on. This large raptor can take buck up to the size of Blue Duiker but also feeds on water birds and reptiles, even as large as a Water Monitors. The Martial Eagle is listed as vulnerable and so while it is widely spread in its distribution it is always good to see one. This is the first one we have seen in the Eastern Cape.
The African Harrier Hawk (Also known as a Gymnogene). These medium sized raptors are easy to recognize when they fly by the white band across their tail. They forage in trees for their food. They sometimes hunt on the ground and we saw one walking/flying through the long grass looking for reptiles, bird nests and even insects. We also saw one flying slowly over the riparian forest looking for bird movement that would indicate possible nests. This predator is a nest robber of note and when approaching a nesting area gets mobbed by the small birds who are trying to protect their eggs and nestlings.
The Crowned Eagle. Another magnificent bird that vies with the Martial and Verreaux’s Eagle for the position as the largest eagle in our area. He also feeds mostly in the forest where he pounces from the trees to capture his prey. Again usually found further north along the eastern part of South Africa he often occurs in our area and is even seen in the urban areas of East London. His food includes Monkeys, Mongoose, Antelope and a variety of birds.
The Rock Kestrel. One of the smaller raptors in our area and also wide spread throughout South Africa. In Afrikaans it is called a “Rooivalk” translated as “Red Kestrel” and that tells one about his colour. It is however his grey hood and small size that makes him easy to identify. At the same time he can be confused by the Greater Kestrel, but that is not found in our area. We were delighted to watch one of these birds hawking the grass in front of us for food that consists mainly of lizards, snakes and insects. We only saw him taking grasshoppers that seemed reasonable plentiful at this time of the year.
The African Fish Eagle. While this area that we visited does not have large rivers (The Kei is about 20km further N/E) the farm dams provide suitable habitat for this beautiful bird. The haunting call of a Fish Eagle as he soars high above the veldt is one that reaches the soul of any nature lover. We saw these birds almost every day, either flying high in the sky or perched on a tree overlooking a dam. It is interesting to note that while his diet is mainly made up of fish he also eats carrion, nestlings, eggs and even on occasions Dassies (Rock Rabbits) and monkeys.
The Secretary Bird. While relaxing at lunch time on a farm near the Kei Cuttings we were surprised and delighted to see one of these birds walking past in the long grass in front of our car. He searches methodically in the grass for any food available and can walk several kilometers a day on his quest. 87% of his diet consists of large grasshoppers but rodents, lizards and birds make up most of the rest of his food source. In contrast to common belief snakes only make up about 1% of his diet.
The Rest of the birds: We recorded several other raptors including Cape Vulture, African Goshawk and Lanner Falcon as well as the unusual Ground Hornbill and flocks of Crowned Hornbill. The Eastern Cape is a good place to do some serious birding and the Game Reserves like Addo Elephant Park provide the visitor with great places to do so.
Reference: Roberts’ Birds of Southern Africa. 6th Edition.