Raptors found in Visits to Africa

with brief notes on big cats, habitat and itinerary

Trip Summaries

South Africa, coast/safari 8 November – 13 November 2007

We stayed at Ulusaba, Sabi Sands Game Reserve, from 8/11-10/11 and Villa Surprise at Camps Bay, Cape Town, from 10/11-13/11.

Big Cats: at Ulusaba seven Lion, including these cubs and family group were seen on 9/11 and five more on 10/11 including this young lioness; one young male Leopard perched in tree was seen on 9/11 and four more on 10/11 including this mother and older cub playing, the older cub up a tree and one from a second family group. No big cats at the Cape but Southern Right Whale, African Penguin and Orange-breasted Sunbird.

Raptors: see Raptors in South Africa in 2007

Typical habitat: at Ulusaba 1 2 3 4 5 6 ; at the Cape 1 2 3

Kenya, coast/safari 21 August – 3 September 2005

We were based at the Club Hotel, Watamu Beach for the two weeks with a four day safari in the middle of the stay, flying between the lodges and Bamburi airstrip (near Mombasa).

Big cats: in the Masai Mara, 12 Lion and two Cheetah were seen on 27/8 and 12 further Lion on 26/8.

Raptors: see Raptors in Kenya in 2005

Egypt, Sharm el Sheik 5-11 April 2004

We stayed in Naama Bay at Moevenpick Golf Hotel and Resort for one week.

Raptors: from 5th-11th April, four Steppe Buzzards Buteo buteo vulpinus moved N on 5th and 37 on 6th. Other migrant raptors (moving N) noted at Sharm el Sheik (Naama Bay area) from 5th-11th April were: 9 Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus (all on 5th), one Levant Sparrowhawk Accipiter brevipes on 6th, one Black Kite Milvus migrans on 8th and one Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni on 10th. Raptors apparently in territory included 4 Kestrel Falco tinnunculus, 2 Osprey Pandion haliaetus and single Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus, Lanner Falco biarmicus, Bonelli's Eagle Hieraaetus fasciatus and Sooty Falcon Falco concolor (last named seen on 10th). Winds were from W on 5th/6th and from E on 7th/11th. Winds from W presumably encourage birds to cross the Red Sea lower down and pass over Sharm el Sheik.


Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus

South Africa 2007

Ulusaba 10 November 2007, adult female 1 2 3 4 5

This bird was migrating at fairly low altitude over the bush in the company of another which was flying slightly higher and was not photographed. Picture 1 shows the long wingspan, long tail with bulging outer tail and long P9 and P10 almost up to the tip of P5. The underwing coverts and carpal are a dark ruddy brown and two tail bars are visible (subterminal and just outside the undertail coverts). Picture 2 shows the bird turning to change course slightly. Picture 3 shows the brown head and extensive black on outer primary tips indicating a female. Picture 4 shows the small head and again two tail bars. Picture 5 shows the bird beginning to move away. This bird has probably been migrating since early September so two months of travel. Russia is the most likely origin as most visiting raptors here appear to be eastern European/Asian. Setting out at almost 1,000g, it will have used up all its fat reserves and now looks very lightweight at perhaps only 500g. In Northumberland birds only look this thin on first arrival in May and June and quickly put on weight again.

Ulusaba 9 November 2007, an adult prospecting for food.

video 2007-280a  2007-280b  2007-280c 

Stills from video: Long wings, long tail 1 2; Long tail, primaries very swept back, prior to dive 3; Long neck, pointed head as plunges into trees 4; Wings well swept back, long tail 5, 6; wings well swept back, long tail bulging at tip 7, 11, 12; Angular carpal joint, small head, long tail with narrow base and rounded tip when spread, overall colour rather grey 8, 9, 10; Hanging, long wings, long neck and small head 13; In glide, long tail with square tip,wings well swept back 14 .

Video 2007-280a is 2 minutes 20 seconds long, 7.74 Mb, .wmv format, playable by Windows Media Player and others such as Real Player, formatted for broadband. Transfer time will be very long with narrow band. Video 2007-280b is 29 seconds long, 7.23 Mb, large format; Video 2007-280c is 25 seconds long, 5.72 Mb, large format.

Video 2007-280a shows a presumed adult male hanging over a rocky wooded area (0-1:05), followed by another bird arriving from a distance and diving into a tree (1:18-1:26) and more hanging by presumed first bird (1:27-2:20). Videos 2007-280b and 2007-280c are higher quality copies of part of the second period of hanging: 1:26-1:55 and 2:00-2:20 respectively.

The structure of the bird is more adult-like than juvenile, which would resemble Steppe Buzzard to some extent. The head is small, the tail long and narrow at the base and the tail is rounded at the tip, not square cut or forked. The overall colour appears rather grey suggesting a male. Like the bird in the stills above, this bird is also very lightweight after completing its long migration.

Complete records of this species were: 9/11 09:50-10:40 adult male in video above in two separate sequences plus bird diving into trees; 9/11 16:50 one bird flying over land-rover while starting out on drive, could not be recorded while the vehicle was in motion, showed deep slow wingbeats, in same area as two birds seen in morning; 10/11 09:00 two birds moving S at low altitude, with one - an adult female- in stills above and another (not aged or sexed) above. So could be as many as six birds seen but judge a total of four as being more likely.

Many other birds noted on this trip which breed in Eurasia or North Africa – Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica (very common), European Bee-eater Merops apiaster (in large flocks of 30-50), House Martin Delichon urbica (fairly common), European Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus (some Nightjar sp seen, not specifically identified but the European form does winter here), European Cuckoo Cuculus canorus, Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina, Black Kite Milvus migrans and Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis -- are feeding on the alate termites as they hatch at the start of the wet season. It would seem likely that the insectivorous Honey Buzzard are also feeding on this resource.

Black Kite Milvus migrans

South Africa 2007

Ulusaba 9 November 2007

video 2007-281

Stills from video: long slightly forked tail 1 3 4 ; lightweight angular appearance 2 5 6 7

This bird was drifting around the area in typical effortless kite manner. The fork is very slight and the head appears pale (particularly in still 5) so Yellow-billed Kite Milvus aegyptius is not so likely an attribution. Two kites were assigned to Yellow-billed Kite: these were in active high-level flight together suggesting local residents holding territory.

African White-backed Vulture Gyps africanus

South Africa 2007

Ulusaba 8 November 2007, adult 1 2 3

This bird was sitting in a tree near dusk in a wooded area. The photographs have been lightened to some extent. The body is rufous coloured and the back is a pale grey. The eye appeared to be dark when viewed through binoculars. The bill is fairly lightweight.

video 2007-282

Taken at the same time as the stills above. Interesting for the chit-chat from the wardens.

Brown Snake Eagle Circaetus cinereus

South Africa 2007

Ulusaba 9 November 2007, adult female 1 2 3

This bird was flying low over the rock, a rugged small mountainous area in the reserve. Picture 1 shows the brown body, tail and underwing coverts and very pale rest of underwing except for dark tips to the very end of the primaries. There are two clear pale bars across the tail, the eyes are yellow and the bill is dark. Pictures 2,3 are similar.

Wahlberg's Eagle Hieraaetus wahlbergi

South Africa 2007

Ulusaba 10 November 2007, adult 1 2 3

This bird was flushed from the side of the track on an early morning drive. The upperside is a uniform ruddy-brown except for the wing tips of the outer primaries which are darker. The wings are square with six primary fingers showing in flight. Picture 1 shows that the tail is quite long at 85-90% of the wing width and is held squarely in flight. Picture 2 shows a dark eye patch and a yellow cere. This appeared to be the commonest eagle in the area.

Ulusaba 9 November 2007, pair adults   1

video 2007-284a   2007-284b  2007-284c   2007-284d

Four videos: 284a and 284b of a pair displaying, 284c of one mobbing an African Crowned Eagle, 284d of one mobbing a Black Eagle. The common description for Wahlberg's of two planks in the form of a cross is borne out here by the long parallel-sided wings and long tail and neck. The small size of Wahlberg's is shown in its mobbing of the very large eagles: African Crowned and Black. Picture 1 (still) comes from video 284c and shows the typical shape of Wahlberg's and the large size and slightly raised wings at the tip of African Crowned Eagle.

Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina

South Africa 2007

Ulusaba 8 November 2007, adult 1 2 3 4

This bird was flushed from a small clearing where it was thought to be feeding on termites. The structure is heavy with a thick neck. The wings are relatively short, not quite reaching the tail tip at rest. The plumage is a uniform brown with a slight ruddy tinge. The prominent yellow gape mark extends to the start of the eye. The leg feathering is extensive on the thighs but is diminished very much on the lower part of the legs.

African Crowned Eagle Stephanoaetus coronatus

South Africa 2007

Ulusaba 9 November 2007   1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

video 2007-284c

Video 284c shows an African Crowned Eagle being mobbed by a Wahlberg's Eagle. Pictures (stills) from the video 284c shows the typical shape of Wahlberg's and the large size, moderately long tail, broad wings slightly raised at the tip and pale leading edge and thick dark trailing edge of African Crowned Eagle. The pale plumage indicates an immature.

African Fish Eagle Haliaeetus vocifer

South Africa 2007

Ulusaba 10 November 2007, adult 1

This bird was flying around the local watering hole near the rocky area, before settling into the trees as shown. It called once with a call rather like a Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) long call, perhaps living up to its Latin name.

Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus

South Africa 2007

Ulusaba 10 November 2007, adult 1 2 3

This bird was hanging for some time over the bush. It is clearly an adult with its almost white body and dark head, throat and underwings. The tail is very short and the wings appear to be pinned back on the primaries.

Kenya 2004

Voi, Tsavo, 5 August 2004, third calendar year 1

This bird was photographed over the African plains as it flew overhead. The good light over the plain, with its lack of heavy green tones, has highlighted the underside of this bird, showing barred secondaries and tail and the start of spotting on the underwing coverts and gorget, indicating its age as third (or possibly fourth) calendar year (Ferguson-Lees and Christie, 2001, plate 85). The slight reddish tone on the underside reflects the colour of the soil. The long wings, short tail and massive appearance are typical for this species (Brown, Urban & Newman 1981, plate 29, p.433-4). The bird appears to be moulting a primary (probably P6) on each wing.

Black (Verreaux's) Eagle Aquila verreauxii

South Africa 2007

Ulusaba 9 November 2007   1   2

video 2007-284d

Video 284d shows a Black Eagle being mobbed by a Wahlberg's Eagle. The stills show that the wings of the Black Eagle are narrow (pinched in) at the base with a noticeable bulge in the middle and are often swept back at the tip. The tail is of moderate length. The wings are held level in flight.

Steppe Buzzard Buteo buteo vulpinus

South Africa 2007

Ulusaba 9 November 2007, adult 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

This bird was flushed from the side of the track on an early morning drive. The upperside is a uniform dark ruddy-brown. The wing shows five fingers in flight including a short P10. The eye appears to be dark, the cere yellow and the bill black. The barring across the flight feather sis fine, the dark trailing edge is broad and the tail band on the rufous tail is also broad. The tail is about 80% of the wing width.

Ulusaba 9 November 2007, adult 1 2

This bird was soaring over the rock shortly after the Brown Snake Eagle was seen. Colour is a darkish rufous. The wing tips and trailing edge show broad dark rufous areas. The tail, showing narrow barring, is about 70% of the wing width. P10 is very short.

Ulusaba 8 November 2007, first-winter 1 2 3

This bird was flushed from a tree. The appearance is stocky like a typical buteo but with a more uniform ruddy appearance than nominate buteo. This bird appears to be a first-winter with its lack of obvious dark trailing edge and subterminal tail band.

video 2007-283

Taken at the same time as the stills above for 8 November. Interesting for the chit-chat from the wardens.

Camps Bay, Cape, 13 November 2007, adult 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

This bird was circling overhead. Short tail, short P10 and stocky appearance indicate this species; broad dark trailing edge indicates an adult. The Steppe Buzzard's winter range extends right to Cape Point so this bird is well within its normal range.

Egypt 2004

Sharm el Sheik, 5 April 2004, adult 1

This bird was photographed over the desert as it came ashore from the SW and moved N. The good light over the desert has highlighted the underside of this dark morph, showing pale secondaries and no subterminal tail band, probably eliminating Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus (Forsman, 1999, plates 345-346). The bird is an adult as it has a broad dark trailing edge to the wing. The fingers are completely black as in Common Buzzard. Steppe Buzzards are interesting as they are migratory and have a lower wing loading than Common Buzzard. In the first raptor passage counts at the Bosporus in Turkey, there was considerable confusion between Steppe Buzzards and Honey Buzzards. Note the lightweight appearance of this bird and the slightly longer tail at about 90% of wing width. The neck though is thick and the trailing edge fairly straight.

Rock Kestrel Falco rupicolis

South Africa 2007

Table Mountain, Cape, 13 November 2007, adult 1 2 3 4 5

Quite distant views. Just enough to show similarity in jizz to Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus of Europe.

Literature Consulted

Birds of Africa volume I (Brown, Urban & Newman, 1982).

Raptors of the World (Ferguson-Lees & Christie, 2001).

Raptors of Europe and the Middle East (Forsman, 1999).

Birds of Southern Africa (Newman, 2002).

Honey Buzzard Home Page

© Copyright Nick Rossiter 2007-8