Monday, March 28

The Magnificent Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus)

As with all our big predators, Africa's largest raptor, the Martial Eagle, is an uncommon and exciting find when going on safari in Kruger National Park.

It prefers savannah and bushveld but can be found in areas ranging from semi-desert to woodland, across Africa, south of the Sahara. However it does not easily co-exist with man, so is hardly ever seen outside the larger conservation areas.

Both it's common and scientific names attest to it's aggressiveness and versatility as a hunter. I've personally witnessed an immature bird chasing down, unsuccessfully, a Steenbok antelope and there is at least one apocryphal story about human (baby) remains being found in a Martial Eagle nest.
One of the many reasons we don't see it very often is that it mostly hunts on the wing, soaring high above the savannah, searching for prey up to 6 kilometres away. However, occasionally we are lucky enough to find one perching, and even less seldom, perching close enough to the road so I can get a reasonable photograph!
 This collection of photos are the only ones, from eight years guiding in Kruger, that I feel happy enough with publishing. Not a big choice – but enough I think, to portray this magnificent predator of the sky.

You'll notice quite a marked difference in pattern and colouration of the plumage. The adult bird of both sexes is the very dark brown above, white with dark brown spots underneath and the bright yellow eyes. The mature females are larger, more heavy than the males and apparently have more spots (now I know that I must start looking for this when I next spot one of these awesome birds!)

Juvenile/immature Martials are much paler overall, but I find the give-away to identifying one, apart from it's size, is the little plume on the back of their heads.



The next lot of pictures show just how diverse their diet can be.


The absolute best sighting EVER I have had of a Martial Eagle was this immature bird sitting on a Steenbok kill only a couple of metres from the road. This was in August 2008 in Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve. Whether it actually hunted the steenbok itself or managed to steal it from another predator I don't know. But it was so determined not to lose it's meal that despite being very uneasy it allowed me to take photos for several minutes before it tried to drag the carcase further from the road.

The prey preference of Martials does vary across different regions, but in Kruger the most common prey we see them with are reptiles. 
This is not a particularly good picture of the eagle but you can see the long tail of the monitor lizard quite clearly.......... (February 2010, KNP)

During the Football World Cup (May 2010), our safari company was based up at Letaba Camp in the northern half of Kruger. We had this really great view of an immature Martial with what looked like a mongoose kill, along the banks of the Letaba River.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look as if we will have any increase in sightings in the foreseeable future. It's conservation status has moved from being classified as “near-threatened” in 2009, to “vulnerable” in 2013, and apparently it may soon be up-listed to “endangered”.

Habitat loss (nesting and prey), collisions with power lines and persecution by farmers are it's main threats. These, unfortunately are not going to reverse themselves easily.

If you would like to see more pictures and news of Martial Eagle conservation efforts, there is a interesting Facebook page - Martial Eagle Conservation - Kruger National Park.


The Raptor Guide of Southern Africa – Oberprieler and Cillie
Roberts Birds of Southern Africa
Beat About the Bush, Birds - Carnaby

Thursday, March 10

Past & present - photos from the archives (2)

Giraffe in Kruger National Park, July 2014

I have several blog ideas / drafts in progress, but keep on getting sidetracked by other "stuff".

What I am keeping up with regularly, more or less, is posting photos to my Facebook Sue Wilson Snapshots page - so, once again, I'm going to re post some of those pics and blurb here to entertain you until I can get some "new" stuff out !

A major downside of being at home for a few weeks longer than has been normal for the last 8 years - is the lack of elephants!
So I browse my photo archives regularly for my favourite elephant sightings.
Here's one of them, taken in Sabi Sand Game Reserve in 2008.

Potato Cod and Dive Master at Cod Hole, Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef

 Back in 1989 I spent a month diving the northern Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It was an unforgettable experience.

I was really pleased when this scanned negative turned out so well in digital format. It recalls the mood and memories of that specific part of my Australian trip so well.....

And Australia 25 years later didn't look any different from the air......

The sky / sun / clouds seen through the thick and usually scratched window of an airplane can be quite stunning.
This amazing sunset gave me a boost on the last leg of the long flight from Johannesburg to Brisbane......
Sunset over Australia (somewhere in the air between Sydney and Brisbane) - April 2014.


On what must be one of the hottest days I've ever experienced we had the most incredible sightings in Addo Elephant Park at the beginning of February.

As the temperatures soared into the mid 40's every elephant in northern Addo congregated at the drying muddy waterholes of Harpoor and in the brief, few minutes we could tolerate standing out in the mid afternoon sun we saw these zebra come down to drink at Domkrag Dam.

Zebra are the archetype of wild animals challenging to capture in a single moment of time. Their fluidity, expressiveness and cryptic patterning ensures that 99.99% of my photos are blurry and/or boring.

This one, at least, is in focus :)

Addo Elephant National Park - February 2016

Kwando River, Caprivi Region, Namibia - November 2011
 In 2011, on an overland trip with friends through Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, we paused for a couple of nights at the Nambwa 4x4  camp in the Caprivi.

We had a river side camp site on a smaller tributary/channel of the Kwando River, and the place was idyllic.

Late one still and hot afternoon we went for a river cruise......... The reflections of sky, cloud, reeds and trees were stunning.
Koror, Palau - June 2013
My BIG diving trip in 2013 was to Chuuk (Truk) Lagoon to dive the Japanese fleet sunk in 1944.

It was a looooong way away - 4 flights over 36 hours to get to Micronesia - somewhere in the central Pacific.

To break the journey back (and to get some extra dives in) we stopped for 3 nights in Palau. Another awesome diving experience and with the most magnificent sky and seascapes....

This sunset was our farewell gift from the Pacific islands......

Tsitsikamma Forest, Garden Route National Park - November 2015

After walking the Goesa trail on a rare dry day in Tsitsikamma Forest, this little bird (a prinia I think) greeted me with joyful calling from the top of some bracken as I emerged from the cool, green shadows.........

I've mentioned before that I visited the USA in 2007, and my extended family there took me on several memorable explorations.

One of the first was a short (2 nights) visit to Yosemite National Park in California.

I had a brand new camera and the landscape, spring green foliage, flowering dogwood and thundering waterfalls are worthy of a full blog posting (some day....)

To give you a taste here are two of my many waterfall photos.

1) Bridalveil falls, as seen on the all day, valley floor hike we undertook

2) From Glacier Point, looking up the valley at Vernal falls and Nevada falls.

Yosemite National Park - May 2007

Yosemite Falls, April 2007

and for good measure, I've just posted on Facebook this pic of Yosemite Falls - probably one of the most photographed falls in the park, Though with the extended drought in California who knows if it's still flowing now?

This battle-scarred old lion was resting with his very full belly on the dirt road, early one morning in Sabi Sand.

As with most private game reserves many of the larger mammals, predator and prey alike become very used (habituated) to the game viewing vehicles, and that's really great for photography because you can get so close to them.... in the vehicle - NOT on foot....

It could be a fatal mistake to assume these animals are "tame" or "friendly".
They don't associate the game viewing vehicles with either food or danger, and see them every day, so generally they just ignore them and do their own thing.

As you can see from the scars on this males face, he's a survivor and no easy push-over.

Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve - June 2009

And I've probably gone way past your interest point in my photos by now - but I hope you've enjoyed this varied collection, both new & old!