Tag Archives: Hawk

Success in Tsavo

Despite having got a few photographs of raptors in Tsavo West over the first three days we were there, it was rather disappointing. We saw very little in the way of vultures or any other raptor for that matter. We didn’t even see any of the lions or elephants that Tsavo is famous for. The only thing that did not disappoint was our place of stay with friends at Finch Hatton’s which is as beautiful and friendly as ever. In the wood by Finch Hatton is where we saw four species of hawk and heard a fifth.

We left Tsavo feeling a little glum and spent three days at the coast on a Southern Banded Snake Eagle mission. We saw two fleeting glimpses of the bird as it disappeared into thick forest so perhaps we will need to return next year for photos.

We drove back through Tsavo East National Park and were amazed at the contrast between what we got in three days before going to the coast and what we got in three hours in Tsavo East. Before sunset on that first day back, we saw three Wahlberg’s Eagle nests, a Martial Eagle nest, Fish Eagles, African Hawk Eagles displaying and lots of Bateleur Eagles. The red elephants of Tsavo also made several appearances.

Young Wahlberg’s Eagle on nest

African Hawk Eagle

We spent one night in Tsavo East before moving back to Tsavo West where we hoped to finally get the migrants we had been waiting for. Back in Tsavo West, we had a completely different experience from the previous time. We went briefly to Ngulia Lodge to talk to Colin Jackson, Graeme Backhurst and David Pearson, who were mist-netting thousands of migrants. It was certainly the premier destination for migrants and their human followers.

We also saw many more raptors and mammals this time around. It rained for our whole second night and continued to do so as we set off in the morning. Not too far down the road, we saw a couple of cars stopped and all the passengers standing on the road. We slowed down and asked if everything was alright and they responded that they were just looking at a Sooty Falcon. We jumped to attention – the Sooty Falcon is one of our much needed species to photograph. The observers of the falcon were none other than migrant-seeking birders Fleur Ngweno, Brian Finch, Gordon Boy and others! The rain had brought in the migrants and the premier birders.

We exchanged phone numbers with the birders and promised to be in touch if we saw anything exciting. We didn’t drive too long before we saw another falcon, accompanied by seven others: Amur Falcons! We watched as they sped through the air with full crops, catching termites in the rain. It was good to see but frustratingly rainy and dark so photographing them was tough. A little further on, we saw a few more and stopped. We watched as a swarm of over 200 Amur Falcons flew over us. We let the birders know what was going on and they turned up and were excited to see so many migratory falcons in one go.

Female Amur Falcon

We camped near Finch Hatton’s that night and on our way to our campsite, we found a vulture roost. Simon had been worried that a large roost he used to know from a different location might have been wiped out by poisoning but we counted over 80 individuals at this new site so concluded that the roost must have moved.

We went back to the forest by Finch Hatton’s first thing in the morning. We saw rare Ovampo Sparrowhawks swapping food in the air, Cuckoo hawks building a nest, an African Goshawk, a Fish Eagle and a Harrier Hawk and heard the Little Sparrow-Hawk calling, all in a little patch of Yellow Fever forest by the lodge. It was a great photo opportunity.

Ovampo Sparrowhawk with prey

Cuckoo Hawk

This first 11-day trip ended up being immensely successful, but it also highlighted some of the difficulties we will have throughout this expedition. If we had made conclusions after we spent our first three days there, we might have said that raptors in Tsavo are not doing very well. But spending those extra four days there on return from the coast proved otherwise. It is going to take a lot of time, patience and collaboration with other people to get an idea of what is happening over the whole of Africa.

My trip to Costa Rica (Part 1)

The night I arrived in Costa Rica, it poured with rain. I stood on a balcony outside my hotel room in San Jose, overlooking a small street and could only see vague details through the torrent. It pounded down on the roof till 3am, yet the electricity stayed on. As soon as it stopped, I could hear motorbikes speed through the city as if nothing had happened. Obviously these guys are used to it, for back home this would have brought things to a standstill.

The next morning, still confused with jet lag, I sat in a small plane on my way to the Osa Peninsula. I stared out at the mountains and forests beneath. The orderly arrangement of towns, farms and homesteads seemed in contrast to the staggering amount of forest surrounding them. I had learned back home to associate indigenous forests with ragged human ‘informal’ settlement and was equally surprised to see undisturbed lagoons and wandering rivers fringing the beaches and scattered pristine forested islands stood off-shore.

As always, I could not but make comparisons with Kenya, now sadly very different to what I saw beneath. I could see huge swathes of cleared forests, old farmlands and open glades now turned into oil palm plantations. This well sold “environmentally-friendly solution” to fueling the ever growing demand for fuel is obviously not-so-eco-friendly on the ground. Even so, this medium sized country with some 25-30% of the forest under protection did not from this altitude look to be facing the same critical problems as much of Africa. It is the size of Switzerland and has no armed forces. Like Kenya, it has freezing highland moorlands, sloping down cool forests to hot humid coastal rainforests. From this height, it was better than I had expected and I knew that I was going to enjoy Costa Rica. I had few expectations and had earlier written that I would be happy just seeing some frogs. Forests are tough places to find wildlife on the same scale as the savannahs. Predictably, species would be numerous even if their density was small or that they were difficult to see.

Spider Monkey (Photo by Laila Bahaa-el-din)

Laila picked me up in Puerto Jimenez, a small town of four streets on the southern shore of the Osa Peninsula. Laila, a good friend and fellow raptor enthusiast with a contagious enthusiasm for all wildlife, had asked if I wanted to ‘check out’ the Neo-tropics. She had been working on monitoring monkeys there and I had not much to do at home and was drifting between jobs. I jumped at the opportunity. I had long dreamed of the peculiar wildlife and raptors of the region and I secretly hoped to see the Jaguars, Harpy Eagles and Tapirs of the South/Central American jungle.

In Puerto Jimenez, I met Jim Tamarack who is a zoologist, but also teaches baseball to school kids just down the road from me back home in Kenya. Guido Sabario, manager of the Osa Biodiversity Centre, also formed part of the welcome party. Just before getting into the car, Laila pointed out both the Turkey and Black Vulture above the airfield. As we sat and had lunch in town, I got more familiar with the differences between these two species as they cruised by. Scarlet Macaws made a sudden and noisy appearance! On the way to Carate where I would be spending the next three weeks, Laila and Jim stabbed fingers in the air or at the top of trees and pointed out Road-side Hawks, Yellow Headed Caracara, Crested Caracara, Black Hawk, Jesus Christ Lizards (the dinosaur type lizard that dashes across the water on its hind legs), and yet more vultures.

Jesus Christ Lizard (Photo by Laila Bahaa-el-din)

We past immediately out of the town into a mixture of fincas (ranches) rich in trees of indigenous and exotic variety, palms and bananas. We saw huge, well-fed cattle with long droopy ears, and men on horseback followed by small runty dogs. We drove through old planted avenues of figs and cashew nuts through which one could just see the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean. I was shown Panama, distant hills across the ocean, before my orientation was so confused by the circumnavigation of the peninsular which led us through large dark tunnels of primary forests. These massive stands of gigantic trees at first cut across the road in long fingers flowing down the mountain sides inland toward the sea. The route would suddenly change from open ranch land to dense forest. It would have been easy to have overlooked secondary forest had it not been pointed out. But it is separated due to its scraggily nature and thin trunks topped with big broad leaves (as opposed to tiny leaves of primary growth).

The trip covered 47 kilometers and I had already seen more birds of prey per kilometer than in most of East Africa, and certainly more forest. True to expectation, raptors were easily observed in the human modified ranches, not in the indigenous forests. A less acute observer would conclude that human interference is good for wildlife, had they not appreciated the difficulty in seeing things in primary forest.

Roadside Hawk

The Great Expedition

Being slow-breeders and top-end predators, birds of prey are highly vulnerable to any persecution or change in their habitat and environment. These traits also make them good indicators of overall ecosystem health. Not enough is known about birds of prey at the expert level, or by the world at large. This has led us to devise a plan that would take us on an Africa-wide adventure which we are hoping you will join us on. It will involve travelling, mostly by car, through Africa, researching birds of prey and photographing them for what will ultimately lead to some books that will serve to raise awareness and increase knowledge of these sensitive animals.

We are in the process of making preparations for the trip, which include buying the necessary equipment, kitting out the car, and sorting out all the administration that such a big project entails. Sadly, it also means that Simon must find temporary homes for his birds. Once on the road, probably around mid-to-late-September, we hope to give you daily updates on the places we go, the people we meet and, most importantly, our wildlife experiences.

Our trip will include:
1. Doing a road count of the raptors as we travel through the continent.
2. Regularly updating a blog, Facebook group and MySpace page in order to keep you in-the-know.
3. Helping local raptor specialists with research as we move along.
4. Observing and photographing the birds with the overall goal of producing a comprehensive publication on all the raptor species of Africa.

We are looking for funding in the form of grants or any such scheme to support the expedition. Do not hesitate at any time to contact us with ideas and suggestions at [email protected]