Masai Mara – raptures over raptors

I had to get one post in showing some of the birds in the Mara. The Mara offers exceptional sightings of raptors. The main reason being that there is so much food available on the plains. Watching a raptor hunt is as fascinating and spellbinding as any big cat hunt. In fact, raptors do a whole lot more, during the day, than big cats.

The first afternoon we went to the southern part of the Masai Mara Triangle down close to Fig Tree bend in the Mara river. We had stopped to watch the Wildebeest massing on the opposite side of the river, and out of nowhere this male Secretary bird dropped in, landing  close to the vehicle. It promptly started foraging. The amazing thing about birds is that time and time again you can struggle to get a decent shot of a particular bird, then when you least expect it, one arrives and poses perfectly. The long tail on a Secretary bird seems to be a sign of a male where the female has a shorter tail not much longer than its wing feathers. These raptors are voracious eaters, happy gulping down a live baby francolin without a blink.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

On the third morning, we were driving onto the Mara when we came across this pair of Grey Crowned Cranes. This was the only pair we saw but what a treat. They are stunningly beautiful and ornate birds.  These Grey Crowned Cranes were foraging in the water-logged gullies alongside the road. They normally feed on insects, frogs and the like. The male is slightly bigger than the female and it appeared to have a red marking just below its crown which the female did not have. The Grey Crowned Crane has a hind toe which allows it to roost in trees. Other cranes lack the hind toe and so cannot roost in trees.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

After a hectic Wildebeest crossing down at Fig Tree bend, we retreated up the hill to have a coffee break under one of the statuesque Desert Dates. It was not long before these Superb Starlings flew into the tree above us. They really are superb, even more colourful than our Glossy Starlings. In North Kenya ,you can find the even more colourful Golden Breasted Starlings which are dressed in yellows, blues and greens and in West Africa you will find the Emerald Starling.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

In the next image, this male Ostrich was full of testosterone. The red colour of his face, neck and legs advertises his sexual status and readiness to mate. Thankfully, the redness in our faces does not give us away beyond the rouge of embarrassment. We saw quite a few Ostriches on the Mara, with the girls out numbering the boys..

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

I have been trying to get a shot of a Long Crested Eagle for some time. One afternoon early in the trip, as we were driving back towards camp, there one was just waiting to be photographed. The light was not ideal, having washed out skies, but he was an impressive specimen. His colouring and fierce yellow eyes give him the appearance of a Brown Snake Eagle, but for the long crest.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

Eagles don’t flock, you have to find them one at a time.

Ross Perot

One morning between nine and ten just after we had been watching a mating pairs of Lions who were resting after a hectic night, we began to head back to the main road. Just as we were doing so this juvenile Black Shouldered Kite flew to within 30 metres of us and started to hover. It must have hovered for a couple of minutes in front of us.  I had my focusing point dead on its head. It was remarkably still while it was hovering. I never realised they could be that stable in the hover. I suggest this is a juvenile because its eye is not ruby-red and its breast feathers are mottled and not pure white.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

We used to have Tawny Eagles at school at Falcon College. They are impressive raptors which come in a variety of colour morphs from pale blonde to Tawny to dark brown. This particular female flew up to a branch alongside her nest in a Desert Date tree, which was close to the an Inselberg down near the Tanzanian border. We were looking for a coalition of three male Cheetahs when we found this female Tawny. The light direction was tricky but the pose was iconic American!!!

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

We saw many vultures in the Mara. This particular White Backed Vulture was lying flat on the ground sunning itself. Interestingly, we did not see many vultures thermalling. When I asked the reason, I was told it was because there was so much food they just needed to sit in a tree and watch the goings on around them and they would see a potential meal.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

When ever you see  a group of vultures waiting around, either the predator is still around or they are waiting for the butcher, the Lappet-faced Vulture. to open up the carcass. The Lappet-face is a massive bird with a wingspan fo around 2.6 metres similar to that of a Martial Eagle, but both pale against the Wandering Albatross’s wingspan do 3.6 metres.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

Close to the Tanzanian border, waiting for some action from the coalition of three male Cheetahs lying in the shade of a Desert Date, we watched the impressive hunting prowess of this Fiscal Shrike. Time and time again, it flew down from its perch in the adjacent tree and nailed an insect in the grass.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

One afternoon not far from the camp we went down to watch the antics at a Hyaena den. On the way, we came upon this Sooty Chat. He hung around for a short while, but was scared off by the activity of the Jackals and Thompson’s Gazelle running all around us.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

At first glance this looks just like a Brown Snake Eagle but the white bars on its tail feathers indicate it is a Southern Banded Snake Eagle. The Mara revealed many different raptors.  Amazingly, we were not especially looking for raptors but were lucky enough to see quite a variety of them.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

Another afternoon on our way back to camp, we were treated to a good sighting of this Augur Buzzard. I haven’t seen one since a child in Zimbabwe.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

This young Bateleur Eagle must have just bathed in a nearby pool of water and flown up into this dead tree to dry itself. It spread its wings in a pose I have seen a Fish Eagle adopt on the  Chobe River when it was drying its wings.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

These were just a few of the birds, mostly raptors, which we saw on our travels around the Mara. The best time to see birds in the Mara is around the end of the year, or so I am told. Around the Kitchwa Tembo tented camp there were Ross’s Turacos and Double-toothed Barbets. I did not see either but we had little time in the camp. The birds in Kenya are fascinating and many of which are very different to our southern African friends.

There are two lasting bequests we can give our children.
One is roots. The other is wings.
Hodding Carter, Jr.
Have fun

2 thoughts on “Masai Mara – raptures over raptors

  1. Again, I look at your photographs and say “Wow”! What fabulous shots. In Botswana in July I managed to get a few good shot of a fish eagle that posed for us, plus an eagle owl. Have yet to get good shots of a bird in flight. I love the golden breasted starling. Many thanks for sharing them, Mike.

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