Lesser Spotted Eagles gorging on Queleas – Part 1

Lesser Spotted Eagles gorging on Queleas – Part 1

Pongola Game Reserve on the western margins of Jozini Dam (bordering the southern end of the Swaziland) has to be one of the premier birding destinations in eastern southern Africa. This fantastic game farm boasts an incredible bird checklist and is at the southern distribution limit for a number of bird species.

Huge quelea breeding colonies are always events that flabbergast birders in Africa, and when the associated avian predators are present in numbers, this makes such events extraordinarily special. The tens of thousands of Red-billed Queleas currently breeding there (January 2018) is just such an event that birders don’t want to miss. And what makes this event even more interesting is that the queleas have chosen to breed in tall reedbeds on the banks of the Pongolo River at the upper reaches of the dam.

In South Africa, this species invariably breeds in acacia woodland, particularly after good drenching rains when there are possibilities of a bumper grass seed crop, so the choice of reedbeds is to some extent unusual.

The dependence of migratory Lesser Spotted Eagles on quelea and Wattled Starlings breeding colonies for the bulk of their diet while in the southern hemisphere, is a well known phenomenon. These large raptors congregate at these large breeding colonies in large numbers and gorge themselves on nestlings till their crops bulge and they are reluctant to fly!

Above image, young bird on the left and adult on the right (pale eyes), both in moult. Beginner birders find Lesser Spotted Eagles notoriously difficult to identify with their bewildering range of plumages that varies not only with the age of birds but as individual adult differences.

Because of that, I have included a sizable range of different plumages to show just how variable they can be. Because of the number on photos included, I’ll spread them over two different emails. The above two birds are both juveniles (dark eyes) and show two very different forms of streaking.

Again, two very different juvs. All Lesser Spotted Eagles will be in some stage of moult at this time of the year (prior to March/Apr migration, heading for the norther hemisphere where they breed.)

Both the above adults (pale eyes) show how variable the plumage may be.

Above: younger bird on the left, and adult (in fairly tatty and worn plumage) on the right.

Hugh Chittenden
……………to be continued in next mail.

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