Sunday, February 5, 2012

Encounters with Fish Eagles

African Fish Eagles, close relatives and almost look-alikes of the American Bald Eagle are in many ways a symbol of African wildlife, and certainly of African bird life. They exist in many areas south of the Sahara and can be found almost anywhere where there is water. The sound of a fish eagle calling is so evocative that one can more-or-less see them when one hears them. I tried to find web links to that evocative sound to add here, but the one I tried did not work. Sorry 'bout that.

Here are a couple of series of pics from encounters with these beautiful birds.

The first ones came from the Okavango Delta in Botswana where our boatman showed us how it is that so many wonderful pictures of eagles “at the moment of grasp” are seen grabbing a fish from the surface of the water. He purchased a few fish from a local market, none more than about 18 cm in length, and then proceeded to make two small cuts, one near each end, in the side of the fish. We had wondered what the lengths of papyrus in the bottom of the boat were for. Now we found out. The boatman threaded about 15 cm of the reed into one of the cuts, and made sure it just emerged from the other. As we approached yet another bank-side tree with its resident eagle he began to make a call sounding just like the bird. He had had lots of practice and the bird at once paid attention.
“Where do you want it thrown?” he asked me. The first time I didn’t cotton on, but after that I pointed to a spot on the water surface that would best suit the light and background and he proceeded to wave the fish around his head a couple of times and, as the eagle launched he threw the “bait”, which landed and, because of the papyrus, floated.
Of course the eagle, like one of Pavlov’s dogs, knew exactly what was coming and at once obliged, swooping down to pluck its dinner from the surface. Off it flew with its reward.

We had other amusing and not so amusing (at least for the birds) encounters. The flagship spot for tourists to bird watch and enjoy a two-hour boat ride in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park is a trip down the Kasinga Channel.
I saw this hammerkop try and indulge in some parasitic kleptomania as he edged near an eagle that was tucking into a fish. We were in sight for about ten minutes, and he did not succeed in that time slot. Wise bird. Those talons would have inflicted some serious damage, had they been deployed, and I’m sure he knew it.
Perhaps the most amazing encounter occurred when our boat in Lake Mburo National Park rounded a clump of papyrus as a pair of fish eagles decided that they did not appreciate the goliath heron that was hunting in the lilies nearby. They attacked, not just once, but several times. The heron knew who was boss. His frantic efforts to escape and head for the reeds would have been better captured on video, but all I had was my still camera. These two pictures give some sense of how the heron felt.


Diane said...

Great photos with a little help from a friend haha. The Fish Eagle is my favourite bird of prey, their call is amazing. Diane

Jerry Haigh said...

As you say, the call is amazing. I tried a couple of websites thatc claimed to have recorded Fish Eagle sounds, and heard them fine. When I tried to link them to the blog they did not work. I guess if you are feeling noistlaigic yoh can Google fomr teh sounds & hear them again. Not may African Fish Eagles in the Charente!