Saturday, 3 November 2012

African Fish Eagle, Lake Malawi

This was one of those occasions in birding when everything came together at the right time. 

We had been working hard for a few days on a nursery school renovation, putting in a functioning water supply and drainage system, so could justify an afternoon of R&R to let the blisters on our hands subside. After some lunch and a dip in Lake Malawi to have a peek at some of the cichlid fish I decided to pick up the lens and climb a nearby hillock to enjoy the view. 

A couple of friendly locals gave me some route finding advice and warned against stepping on a puff adder so I set off slowly sweating in the sweltering heat. As I hopped from rock to rock scrambling up the steep hillside I spent more time scanning the rocks for slumbering serpents than looking up for birdlife but as I crested the rise I took the time to peer back through the leafless trees down to the lake. As I did so a branch moved and revealed itself to be a fantastic adult African Fish Eagle

The steepness of the slope meant I had a eye-level view of the high branch in the tall tree that it had chosen as a suitable perch to devour its perch-like cichlid. For once a truly frame-filling view of a large raptor that then spent the next 15 minutes feeding on its fish apparently unconcerned about my presence. In this time the thing that struck me about it's feeding behaviour was the dainty way in which it fed. It seemed to remove tiny morsels of flesh each time it fed. Instead I was expecting much more of a tearing, ripping motion with a guzzling type rapid consumption of the fish. Even with the dainty feeding motion the eagle still managed to drop the fish after a while. It did not retrieve it from the forest floor. 

Later I saw the same adult interacting with a fledged youngster so I wonder whether the dainty feeding behaviour was linked to it still having a dependent youngster. All-in-all a fantastic close encounter.

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