September 2020 - Page 10


Crowned Eagles

Picture 1
After the failed breeding season of 2019 , we are delighted that San Lameer ' s resident eagles are rearing a healthy chick again .
In the 9 years that I have been recording the life-styles of this magnificent pair of a highly threatened specie , the 2020 breeding season started earlier than it has ever done before . Two months earlier , in fact !
Whether this is the result of global warming or the reduced activity on the estate as a consequence of lockdown , is not readily evident . However , world-wide avian breeding patterns do seem to have changed somewhat in 2020 and the tendency has apparently leaned toward the earlier incubation of eggs .
Unfortunately , the lockdown protocols prevented me from entering the estate until 4 August so I had a considerable gap in the monitoring process . However , on that date the eagles ' behaviour suggested that the female was incubating . She would leave the nest for 10 to 20 minutes each day , which was consistent with the daily time off the nest to let the eggs cool . Picture 1 shows her lifting off from a nearby branch to return to the nest .
On 15 August I noticed that she was sitting far higher in the nest than she would if she were merely covering eggs . Fellow photographer and eagle monitor Mark McNulty , who is resident on the estate and consequently had access throughout the lockdown period , shared my opinion that the female was sitting on a newly-hatched chick and not on eggs . Look at her posture in picture 2 .
On 17 August the male delivered food to the nest . The prey appeared to be a portion of hyrax ( dassie ) and after dropping if off on the edge of the nest , he retired to a branch some 30 meters from the nest to ruffle his feathers . See picture 3 .
Although there was no proof at this stage that a chick had hatched , the female ' s behaviour suggested that there was one in the nest . She would sit on the edge of the nest and look with great curiosity , probably maternal pride , at something in it . When she did get back into the nest herself , the entire action would be taking much longer and would be exercised with much greater care and delicacy than she displays when returning merely to incubate eggs . See picture 4 .
Picture 2
Picture 3
Picture 4
On 23 August the male was spending far more time in the vicinity of the nest than he was accustomed to do while the female was incubating . After delivering prey to the nest , he would break off either small branches or sprigs of green pine needles , which he would then deliver to the female for her to arrange to her liking . Picture 5 shows the male selecting a twig to break off and his eye is briefly covered by a membrane that can be activated to protect it .
Picture 5
Although green sprigs of foliage are taken to the nest during incubation , the gathering of these accelerates considerably once a chick hatch . Observers believe the pungent odour of the pine needles keeps invasive mites and flies