Thursday, September 8, 2011

Limpopo Weekend Raptor Trip 19th to 21st August 2011

Michael Parker and Malcolm Wilson

The main reason for this trip was to increase Michael’s experience of handling raptors so he could apply for his raptor endorsement licence, so we went for numbers. However we got a bit more than we bargained for!

Leaving Johannesburg at 0500hrs we got past Pretoria and into the Springbok Vlakte, a huge area once covered with millions of Springbok, now mostly farms and re-colonising thorn-scrub. However, a good area for some species of raptor and we had our first bird in the bag at 0700hrs in the form of an adult Greater Kestrel.

Over the next couple of hours, we caught 5 Black-shouldered Kites, 2 sub adults, 2 juvs and an adult. We were very surprised to find and early Black Kite which but was hell bent on feeding on something in The centre of the main road, something very flat and very dead.

At lunchtime we had just passed the city of Polokwane when we spotted a large Brown Snake Eagle on a pole by the side of the N1 Highway. Normally it is madness to attempt catching such a bird so near traffic, but I saw a plan. There was a large verge and a farm track away from the road and so we tried for it and succeeded!! It was a 2nd year bird with a moult score of 8 and weighed in at a healthy 2.1kg. We let it go some 2 km from the highway as road collisions are one of the highest causes of mortality for large eagle.

We now set off into a more remote area and before reaching camp caught a 2nd year Pale-chanting Goshawk which we showed to a passing tractor full of farm labourers, all most appreciative and went on their way with renewed resolve to conserve Limpopo’s birds of prey! At camp we spotted a pair of African Hawk Eagles in the distance, too obscured to drop for. We set 3 nets in the dry scrub and caught a few Green-winged Pytila, Blue Waxbill and Brown-crowned Tchagra. 2 of the Pytilia were retraps from January 2009!

I baited up a likely area for Spurfowl and set 3 potter traps for them.


Opened nets at dawn and caught a few more Pytilia and a Long-billed Crombec but not much else so we got on the road at 0800hrs. The first highlight of the day was spotting a juvenile Martial Eagle on the wing high up and too far off to drop a trap for (mind you, one should never underestimate the power of vision of this species).

The rest of the morning we spent following a very nice track through some remote bush and caught 2 Pale-chanting Goshawks, a Black-shouldered Kite and a new one for Michael in the form of an adult Dark-chanting Goshawk.

At noon we spotted a Brown Snake Eagle on a tree, low down but worth having a go for and dropped a trap. The bird was hungry, and was on the trap in no time, and caught after a 5 minute adrenalin charged wait! The bird weighed 2.1kg and an adult.

20 minutes later we came across another 3 Browns sitting on pylons in an area of burnt grassland. 2 were too far off but we found one on a pole next to the track and dropped for it to which it responded immediately and we had a second Brown in the space of 30 minutes, this was amazing! It was another adult weighing in at 2.2kg. Flushed with this success we continued back to camp and opened the nets as well as setting a few spring traps which very quickly produced a Magpie Shrike! Leaving the nets open, at dusk we put on calls of Southern White-faced owl, African Scops Owl and Pearl-spotted Owlet. Half an hour later we went to check the nets and found 2 pearl-spotted Owlets and a single S. White-faced Owl!

A bit later we went on a night drive and saw 2 Aardvark and tried to dazzle a Spotted Thick-knee, but the moon had come out.


First thing the potter traps produced a single Crested Francolin but the nets very quiet. Packed up and set off back to Johannesburg. In the fields on the way out we came across a Secretary Bird and at the dam found several Cape Vultures on a dead Kudu, one bird with a patagial tag which we were able to read with the scope.

First raptor of the day was another Greater Kestrel followed by 2 Pale-chanting Goshawk before arriving back at the site we had caught the 2 Brown Snake Eagles to find 2 birds.

We dropped for one on the high pylon which came in but was very slow on the trap and eventually flew back up to the pylon, just was not hungry enough. The second bird we drove off the road along a service track and got a trap down. It was fun watching the eagle as it took the bird 5 mins to spot the mice and immediately come in and onto trap.

The bird worked the trap much faster than the last and we had a 4th Brown! This was a second year bird at 1.9kg, ringed and released we set off only to find another Brown Snake Eagle 1km up the road which we dropped for and caught, 2 browns 20 mins apart!

This was another 2nd year at 2kgs which we were able to show a farmer and his wife the process of ringing the bird, always a good thing to be able to do.

Heading south we got another 2 PCG before we hit the motorway and headed back to town. All in all a great trip with a record 5 Brown Snake Eagles, 7 Pale-chanting Goshawk, 1 Dark Chanting Goshawk, 6 Black-shouldered Kites, 2 Greater Kestrels, 2 Pearl-spotted Owlet and a White-faced Owl, 24 raptors in total.

We counted a total of 14 Brown Snake Eagles and strangely only saw 3 Black-chested Snake Eagles, and usually by far the more commonly caught over the more wary Brown.