Flying Raptors over the Cape Province of South Africa

KaffernadlerOne of the top birds for a European traveler to the RSA is the Verreaux’s Eagle (Aquila verreauxii). A pair of these beautiful eagles is said to be present on the forested slopes and rocky cliffs of the Cape Peninsula. A number of more pairs of Verreaux’s Eagle pairs still nest in near surrounding of the mountains. Their distinctive silhouettes can be seen circling the skies anywhere along the Peninsula’s mountain range forming a rugged spine. The Cape Peninsula has a lot of vegetation to offer. These are greenbelts, golf courses, and large leafy gardens, cemeteries and public recreation areas.

Raptors on offer during a patient visit to the slopes of the southern part of Cape Town are Jackal Buzzard (Buteo rufofuscus), Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus) (in summer), African harrier-hawk or Gymnogene (Polyboroides typus), Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) and the Rock Kestrel (Falco rupicolus). In 2014 there are 4 pairs of African fish-eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer) on the Peninsula, but they nest in trees generally as far away from human habitation and activity as is possible on the cape peninsula. The patches of indigenous forests and plantations are the favorite hunting ground of the agile Rufous-breasted (or rufous-chested) Sparrowhawk (Accipiter rufiventris), and African goshawk (Accipiter tachiro). Both species of Accipiter-hawks have adapted well to gardens and woods of suburbia like Constantia, Bishopscourt or Newlands.

Once a Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk was photographed bathing in a small river inside the garden of the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens of Cape Town. Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden anyway is good for owls as well. Spotted Eagle-owl (Bubo africanus) can sometimes be seen at rest in the middle of the day, only a few meters above the ground in a small tree.

Although they are both common, the latter is more often seen due to its conspicuously noisy early morning display flight. Ideally, familiarize yourself with the calls of both these species, and scan the skies often, especially in the early morning and evening. Black Sparrowhawk (Accipiter melanoleucus) is a relatively recent arrival on the Peninsula, and has become common. Maybe this is due to fact, that they are particularly fond of nesting in tall pine and eucalyptus trees. Pine and Eucalyptus trees, are classed for good reason as “alien species” in South Africa. The planned removal of all alien vegetation from the Table Mountain Nature Reserve area on the Peninsula, would, therefore, have a major impact on the Black Sparrowhawk. A Black Sparrowhawk-Project was started in 2000 to monitor the habits and occurrence of Black Sparrowhawks on the Cape Peninsula.

The Peregrine Falcon is unusually common here, sharing the skies with other cliff-nesting species including Lanner Falcon (Falco biarmicus), Rock Kestrel and Jackal Buzzard. Both falcon species commonly hunt in suburbia. Excited doves taking flight often betray their presence.

Ornithologists may enjoy the identification challenge posed by resident and migrant buzzards (Buteo sp.). The Forest buzzard (Buteo trizonatus) is confined to the temperate coastal and escarpment forests and a South African endemic. Recent studies of the phylogeny of Old World Buteo, based on mitochondrial DNA sequences suggests that the Forest buzzard is closer to Steppe Buzzards (B. b. vulpinus) and not so close related to the Mountain Buzzard (Buteo oreophilus) of the forested highlands of East Africa. The Forest buzzard is an uncommon resident of the Peninsula’s forests. The best time to search for this species is in winter as the migrant Steppe Buzzard far outnumbers it during summer. Considerable skill is required to distinguish between these two closely-related species.

A speciality are small numbers of wintering European Honey-buzzard (Pernis apivorus). These migrants are rare and s highly sought-after bird in South Africa. But on the forested slopes and rocky cliffs of the Cape Peninsula they had been discovered. European Honey-buzzard are present in the summer in the Cape Peninsula (between November and April). As in their breeding ground, Honey-buzzard remain secretive species. As with many of the raptors, they are most likely to be seen during early and mid-morning soaring high in the air.

The currently best-known and best places to search for raptors around Cape Town are the Tokai, Cecilia and Newlands plantations and the Lubbert´s Gift section of Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. Otherwise all mountainous regions of South Africa provide good habitat for this beautiful eagle. A good bet might be a National Park which supports a minimum of infrastrucural access and steep gorges for a breeding pair.

To cope with the growing demand for top shots of the rarer species of the Palearctic Bird-Lens.com is keen to enrich the range of pictures of birds you can find in the western Palearctic. Trips to productive locations in Germany but also to remote places in the world to capture images of rare birds of western Palearctic were very successful. The nice image of the blog was shot in the Karoo National Park and is only a first impression, what you will find in the gallery in the “Picture Shop” very soon. Just give a message, if bird-lens.com could serve you with an image needed before the new pictures are online.

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