Magical Birds & Their Stories in the African Bush

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The African Bush is a magical storyteller. A track, one broken blade of grass, the slightest disturbance of morning dew on a game path or the alarm of a monkey can all indicate animal movement.

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However, one of the ranger’s most valued informers shares its secrets from the sky. The avian agents of which I speak are so good at finding the freshest of carcasses that even the vultures look to them for an easy indication to their next meal. Two of the savannas most beautiful raptors – the Tawny Eagle (Aquila rapax) and none other than the Bateleur (Terathopius ecaudatus).

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A juvenile Bateleur scans the savanna for a potential easy meal

The Bateleur is unmistakable in flight with its short tail and conspicuous black and white underwings. Flying in at 50-150m above the ground it very adeptly finds carcasses before other scavengers and importantly for us rangers is often seen perched nearby a predator’s kill. To be able to track the movements of leopard, lion and even wild dog through bird activity is incredible and we owe these feathered friends a fair amount for the amazing sightings they lead us to. The aftermath scene of a bushfire is often dotted with opportunistic Bateluers as they scour the landscape for charred victims.

Described by Roberts as a “predator, pirate and scavenger” the Tawny Eagle not only hunts exceptionally but is also well know for its ability to monopolise on a carcass. Similarly to the Bateleur, us rangers often look to the whereabouts of a perched Tawny Eagle in order to narrow down the site of a potential predator. The relationship between these two birds is sometimes a little hostile as the Tawny Eagle often steals kills or carcasses away from the Bateleur making for some very interesting interaction and raptor viewing.

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A perched Tawny Eagle in all its regal glory

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A poised Tawny Eagle just before flight

The photograph here with both species proved to be an amazing sighting where two Tawny Eagles were being persistently followed by a Bateleur the one Tawny tightened it’s talons on a scrub hare kill. My guess is that the Tawny Eagle tactfully stole the scrub hare kill much to the Bateleurs dismay who continued to follow the Tawnys in hopes of reclaiming the quarry.

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A Bateleur tries in vain to reclaim a scrub hare kill

Following two hunting cheetah this morning a dark shape suddenly swooped overhead and landed in a nearby tree. It was a sub-adult Bateleur following the cheetah in an attempt to scavenge off any potential meal. I was so excited about the presence of the Bateleur as I had already written up most of this blog post. Unfortunately it did not land close enough to get both cheetah and Bateleur in the same shot but it does go to show how one can get so easily caught staring intently at the ground for sights and signs of animal movement when sometimes there is immense value in looking to the sky or scanning the treetops!

Can anyone think of other birds or smaller animals that help us rangers find the lions and leopard that our guests so enjoy viewing?

 

Photographed by: Andrea Campbell

Rich Laburn
Rich Laburn is filmmaker, photographer and writer who is based at Londolozi Game Reserve in South Africa. Spending his time capturing scenes of the wild and communicating the beauty of the African bushveld, he runs the Londolozi Blog as a way to entertain and engage people wishing to visit these wild lands.
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