wing tagged Black Eagle spotted in Bains kloof!

This was the exciting news I received on Saturday 22nd April in an email from Margaret Caetano. It was seen by her son Judah about a kilometre from the camp site at tweede tol. These pictures were taken by Judah.

Over the years I have wing tagged 28 young eagles at their nest about a week or so before they fledge. The eagle Judah saw is the 8th tagged chick re-sighted since fledging.

We tag chicks in the hope of finding them again and learning more about where they go to after they leave their natal territory. It’s a hit and miss affair. Wing tagging is perfectly safe, but one cannot track the eagles’ movement. One has to rely on people like Judah to spot tags. Satellite tracking is far more effective, but also far more expensive and its inherently far more risky to literally strap a tracker onto an eagle. much like we would put on our backpacks. albeit that the trackers are very lightweight. Nevertheless eagles and in particular Verreaux’s (Black) Eagles regularly engage in breathtaking swoops, pendulums and somersaults as part of their display when they are either marking their territory, intimidating a rival, trying to impress their mate or just celebrating a great day. So there is the over riding concern about fitting a backpack that can remain in place during these energetic manoeuvres. When the air is right, they fly, that’s what’s so magical about the Black Eagle.

The eagle Judah spotted is a female. We could tell by her weight, over 4 kgs as a near to fledge chick on the nest. She was tagged on a farm in the Akkedisberg which lies between Caledon and Stanford. I started monitoring this pair in 2007 , a year or two  after an extensive fire ravaged the mountain.

this is what the mountain looked like in 2007, two years after the fire

The eagles had not been breeding for several years. They attempted in 2009 and 2010, but failed. No eggs seen on the nest and no chick. Since 2011 however they have been producing a chick every single year and the tagged eagle Judah saw is a chick, we tagged in August 2014, which makes this eagle three years old, going into her 4th year.

tagging the chick August 2014

this is the chick back on the nest after we had tagged it.

 

  • Its generally accepted that Black Eagles take four years to reach breeding age, so it’s likely she has not found a mate yet. Should she have had a mate Judah would have seen another eagle close by. Black Eagles come in pairs. Where there is one, the other should be close by, unless its what we call a floater. This means its an eagle still looking for a mate and a territory.
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Silvermine

 

The Silvermine nest site has been a heart ache for me since July 2013 when one of the adults went missing, presumed killed, hopefully by accident and not by human hand. The tragedy was compounded by the fact that the pair had a week old chick on the nest.          The remaining adult did not pay any attention to it and as a result it died of neglect.  However the good news is, at long last we have a newcomer, which has been seen in the company of our resident eagle since January. First reports of a pair of Black Eagles seen on consecutive days above Kalk Bay and a day or two later above Cecelia Forest and then Noordhoek Peak, had me literally commuting on a daily basis up to the Silvermine lookout. I have seen them on two occasions. The newcomer is a subadult and time will tell whether it is old enough to breed. Black Eagles take four years to mature into adulthood; nevertheless I’m told that younger eagles have been known to breed. The pictures below were taken by Andrew Jenkins at Silvermine on the 25th February.

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These are the pictures of the newcomer and below of the resident eagle.

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and here they are both on the nest

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2014 breeding season; first news

Our Botrivier pair seems to be first to have hatched their 2014 chick. I received a call from Eric Pietersen, Kogelberg Ranger on the 26th May to say he was at the cliff and looking at a tiny white chick in the nest. (no picture yet unfortunately)

By now most of our pairs should be on eggs.

The West Coast pair certainly is and below is a picture Mariana Delport took of the female on the nest on Sunday 1st June.

tn_Verreaux's Eagle on nest - Langebaan 01.06.2014

more news from the west coast region is that last year’s chick has been spotted several times around Postberg in the Langebaan Nature Reserve.

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More nest cam action

Our second Black Eagle nest camera was set up at the Porcupine Hills nest on the 9th September 2013 at the same time the nestling was tagged. We only returned in April, to retrieve the camera and I have selected a good sample from over 7,000 pictures to provide some insight into the activity that occurs between long quiet spells where nothing happens except for the chick to shift position, stretch a leg or wing or fiddle with some nesting material.

Below are the first two pictures taken by the camera just after the chick was placed back onto the nest after tagging. A partially consumed Egyptian Goose was found on the nest.

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About two hours afterwards, the female paid a visit and fed both the chick and herself on the remains.

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our biggest surprise was the next prey item brought onto the nest

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I am told it is a grey rhebok calf that weighs in the vicinity of 5-6Kgs. In all likelihood the animal  was caught above the nest so that the eagle could glide down onto the nest with its prey.

Rhebok are usually associated with hilly/rocky areas, but they have been seen amongst the wheat fields of Caledon and then often on plateaus and valleys in the mountains. Porcupine hills is situated in a relatively shallow area and therefore one could conclude that they were grazing on some steep slopes.

Another explanation put forward that I am not entirely sure I agree with but cannot rule out is “the possibility of the calf being plucked from lower ground as the eagles have massive power and it has been recorded that they do molest(interpretation can be debated upon) antelope in general.”

I was very surprised when 24 hours later all that was left on the nest of the young calf were the hind quarters.

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the adults must have managed to somehow separate two thirds of the carcass and remove it from the nest. Activity that the camera did not pick up.

A few days later it rained and I thought it would be interesting to note that prey can be caught in the rain as the following sequence of picture show.

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I regularly come across pictures like these where I am sure the eagles are aware of the camera. Its operation is entirely silent and the infra red flash at night emits no light, however there must be the faintest of buzzing or clicking that the eagles pick up.

And below judging by the size of its crop, an entirely replete chick.

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Other prey items brought to the nest:

Red Rock Rabbit?

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and another rabbit, less red this time

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I am not sure if the following sequence of pictures are of the remains of an Egyptian Goose or perhaps another aquatic bird…..

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It was interesting to note that during the three weeks the camera was taking pictures no dassies featured as a prey item. We hope to set up another camera this next season and compare prey items brought to the nest.

 

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some pictures from our first nest cam

Late into the breeding season we set up two nest cameras at the stage the chicks were ready for tagging. This exercise was undertaken as a test run and we are hoping to learn how best to programme and set up the camera for the 2014 season when I hope to set two up at the beginning of the breeding season.

Below is a small selection of the first camera we retrieved from the Boskloof nest.

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the female arriving on the nest after we had returned the chick to the nest after tagging

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the chick inspecting the remains of a hare delivered onto the nest by one of the adults

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remains of a dassie on the nest

Below are two images taken at night with an infra red flash

few days later exposure fine

we found that both adults join the chick on the nest at night.

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2013 breeding season: pictures to share

Every season I receive many pictures from people who voluntarily give of their time to watch over our Black Eagle pairs and I would like to post some of them here.

The West Coast nest is a source of many pictures.

The chick fledged early October and has in the past stayed in the immediate vicinity until late March early April.

Below is a sequence of pictures taken by Tony Templer on the 15th January 2014.

The female was feeding on the second nest that the eagles do not use for breeding.

She was soon spotted by the juvenile and it was not long before the chick claimed the food as its own.

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further pictures of the 2013 West Coast chick:

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and the most recent one taken by Marianna Delport.

tn_Langebaan Verreaux's Eagle - Y020 Marianna Delport

95 kilometres further south, our only tree nesting pair in the Paarl area produced a chick for their 3rd successive year.

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Another of our nests, belongs to a pair that has been resident at an unusual formation of sandstone cliffs near De Hoop Nature reserve. Breeding records for this pair date back as far as 1959. In recent years though, this pair has struggled. They raised a chick in 2007 and thereafter failed year after year until 2013 when they again succeeded. Kevin Shaw took this picture below. It illustrates the strange beauty of the cliff. Can you spot the nest with a large feathered chick on it?

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below is the cliff section with the nest on it enlarged, to show the chick.

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Wessel Uys watches over a pair in the Baviaansberg in the district of Ceres.

Pictured below is one of the two nests they use. The nests are situated on two small cliffs, one on either side of a narrow ravine.

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the picture below shows a small white chick on the nest with an adult.

The following pictures shows the second adult flying onto the nest as well.

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2013’s tagged chicks

A further four chicks were tagged at their nests during the 2013 breeding season bringing the overall total to 25 chicks tagged since the inception of the project.

The Boskloof  chick was first in line this year and we timed it well. The picture below was taken as Mark abseiled down onto the nest and shows the ideal stage of development for tagging an eagle chick. Note the Guinea Fowl feather on the nest.

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Mark Cowen, our specialist climber and raptor handler “par excellance” with Thys de Villiers, owner of Boskloof . Boskloof lies along the slopes of the Akkedisberg between Caledon and Stanford.We took the opportunity of setting up a nest camera and I will share some of the pictures in a later post.

The Rooiels chick was next.

I sent Mark down the cliff mid August to take a picture of the chick so that we could get a good idea of how old it was. It is impossible to see into the nest any other way and the risks are too high to guess the age of a chick. This chick is about 5 weeks old.

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So we returned at the beginning of September to tag the chick, our first at Rooiels.

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Johan Koeslag and Eric Pietersen (Kogelberg Nature Reserve) assisted me.

The Porcupine Hills pair are prolific breeders, successfully fledging a chick year after year. This small cliff is situated between Botrivier and Villiersdorp. To date we have tagged 5 of their chicks.

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(above) this is a picture taken on the 30th July by Eric Pietersen by leaning over the edge of the cliff with a camera held up against the lens of a pair of binoculars. Once again it is difficult to see onto this nest in order to age the chick accurately. I estimated this chick to be about 10days old.

We returned at the beginning of September to tag the chick (below)

P1060559The picture above shows the ideal stage of development for tagging; wings developed enough for tagging while the chick is still too young to be tempted to jump off the nest. There is still a good amount of white down on its back and notice how short the tail is.

Mark took this picture when he abseiled down onto the nest. Note the partially consumed Egyptian Goose on the nest.

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and this is Eric Pietersen posing with the chick after tagging and just before it was taken back down to the nest. We also set up a nest camera at this nest which I have not yet retrieved. Once I have done so, I will also post those pics on my blog.

The fourth and last chick we tagged was at the West Coast nest. This pair is every bit as productive as Porcupine Hills and this is also the 5th chick we have tagged at this site.

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This year Tony Templer, local resident and one of the “guardians” of this pair assisted us this year.

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safely back on the nest after the tagging.

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later on the same day Dirk Havenga checked up on the young eagle and “he” looked none the worse for the experience.

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