RAPTORS AT KLEINMONDPosted on the 9th January 2013
(This compelling article originally appeared in the December 2012 edition of 'Fynbos', the newsletter of the Kleinmond Nature Conservation Society and is used with the permission of the author. - Ed.)
“I LIFT UP MY EYES UNTO THE HILLS FROM WHENCE COMETH MY HELP” says the Bible, but in the hills above Kleinmond, one can also see the magnificence of God’s bounty in the birds of prey that soar above us.
Unlike the doves and pigeons who flap their wings in flight, you don’t often hear these mighty masters of the skies, but, just occasionally you look up and suddenly see the soaring beauty of these amazing creatures.
Kleinmond has quite a large population of these beautiful creatures, who come and go silently and efficiently catching their prey and often we don’t know they are there. The secret to spotting them is to continually keep your eyes scanning the skies.
Probably our most well-known raptor is the gymnogene, or as he is now called the African harrier hawk. Often we are tricked into believing that we have a starving abandoned baby in our midst when we hear its pitiful cry, “Feed me! Feed me!” The juveniles are brown in colour and to the uninitiated can be confused with the Yellow Billed kite. However, the adult African harrier hawk is a lovely bird with grey plumage, long legs, a small head and a bare yellow patch on the beak which turns red when he is agitated. They love forested areas so if you want to see him, look into areas where there are tall trees. The diet consists mainly of reptiles and amphibians, small birds and nestlings, small mammals, eggs, and as a treat, oil-palm husks.
|African Harrier-Hawk (Image: Carin Malan)|
|Yellow-billed Kites (Image: Jessie Walton)|
Another frequent visitor is the jackal buzzard, little smaller than our African harrier hawk, but just as beautiful. The jackal buzzard is darker in colour with a pretty chestnut breast. It soars over valleys and along mountainsides, our location is ideal. Perched on telephone poles, for years we had one who took up residence on a pole on the way to Betty’s Bay. Although smaller than our African harrier hawk, the prey consists of smaller mammals, (as large as dassies), birds (like francolin) and will tackle puff-adders as well. Not too fussy about eating insects, road-kill and carrion.
|Young Jackal Buzzard (Image: Carin Malan)|
|Forest Buzzard (AO)|
Another buzzard that we have is the forest buzzard, described in Roberts as being a possibly threatened species, so we can be proud that they has chosen to live in our town. They eat small rodents, lizards, small birds and frogs. Living in forested areas, the forest buzzard is seen around the heavily treed areas of the upper parts of the town. He too is a good looking species, with plumage of brown, heavily streaked, with drop shaped dark brown markings on belly and breast, a broad chest band and can be confused with an immature steppe buzzard.
The African Goshawk too is a regular sighting in the upper reaches of Kleinmond. This raptor is quite large with dark blue plumage above, below white, barred brown and rufous. Small white eye spots. The juvenile is boldly spotted with brown drop-shaped blotches. It loves small birds, small mammals, lizards, frogs, snakes, crabs, and earthworms. A juvenile seen in my garden made a meal of a large pigeon, which it eat in three sessions, coming back twice to continue its' meal.
|Adult African Goshawk (AO)|
|Immature African Goshawk (AO)|
Sometimes we are lucky to see an Osprey down towards the shoreline, or close to the Bot River lagoon. Not a common visitor, most of the bird books describe it as an uncommon migrant defined by narrow long wings of dark grey or brown, pale underwing. The female has a partial band at the neck. Normally doesn’t say much, but when he does ‘talk’, call is a melodious whistle. Diet consists mainly of fish and will dive and completely submerge when hunting. However, life isn’t easy as the African fish eagle occasionally homes in to steal the hard won catch.
Speaking of which, the haunting cry of the fish eagle is unmistakeable. One sometimes catches glimpses of the fish eagle over the mountains, especially during the mating season. This seems to be their favourite courting spot as they swoop and weave through the thermals, in particular against Jean’s Hill. They fly over water to catch prey a few centimetres above the surface, and then fly up with the catch to perch on a dead tree, a favourite perch overlooking water. Also known to eat carrion, nestlings and eggs of water-birds, the occasional dassie, frog, lizard or insect. They have distinctive white heads and dark brown plumage and often roost or nest in the tops of trees from where they survey the scenery on the lookout for prey.
|Osprey over Botriver lagoon (Image: Carin Malan)|
|African Fish-Eagle over Botriver lagoon (AO)|
The African Marsh Harrier is yet another raptor we see in our area. It differs from the others with lots more streaking from brown to a dark golden and distinctive barring on both tail and under the wings. This is another bird which is more often silent, but has a soft ’wooot’ or ’chip’ or ‘churruk’ during courtship and a very loud alarm call sounding like ‘kekekekek’. As it too eats mainly rodents and birds, frogs, reptiles, insects, nestlings, birds’ eggs and carrion, there must be some fierce competition for these resources in our area. We do have sightings of the yellow billed kite during the summer months, frequently towards Hermanus or Bot River, each occupying 'their' territory. The same applies to Verreaux’s eagle, also known as the Black Eagle, which is seen more easily near Pringle Bay/Rooi Els area or over Bot River.
Next time you are out in the open, don’t forget to look up. You never know what you might see gliding effortlessly through the sky.
Margie Wilson. Kleinmond Bird Club
|African Harrier-Hawk over Botriver lagoon (AO)|
|Verreaux's Eagle pair (AO)|