“The Leopard of the Sky”Crowned Hawk-eagle (Stephanoaetus coronatus)

African Crowned-Eagle gliding the African Skies. Photo by Juhani Vilpo

Although not the biggest eagle in Africa, the Crowned Eagle is considered the most powerful and ferocious eagle based on the size of its prey. Weighing in at 2.5 – 4.5 kg, it regularly kills prey heavier than itself. Forest mammals like Vervet monkeys and duiker (25kg) are never safe when this eagle is near. Africa’s biggest eagle is the Martial Eagle which can weigh over 6kg but prefers to prey on animals like Guineafowl and reptiles.

Also known as the Leopard of the Sky for its hunting abilities, the Crowned Eagle is well camouflaged with bars and blotches on the chest and a slate grey upper side. This colouring makes it disappear in a forest environment, especially because it tends to sit inside the tree canopy instead of on top like most other eagles.

A breeding pair of African Crowned Eagle at Kakamega forest. Photo by Juhani Vilpo

To adapt to the forest environment, the Crowned Eagle has a long tail and broad, rounded wings. The combination of these two makes it extremely agile and fast which is one of the main reasons why it is the only eagle that preys on monkeys actively. Monkeys are very alert and quick, making them difficult to hunt, especially in a group. The male and female Crowned Eagle often hunt as a pair, while one eagle distracts the monkeys, the other makes the kill. With powerful feet and massive talons it can kill a monkey in one blow. This is essential because monkeys have strong hands and can easily damage an eye or a wing of the eagle.

During breeding time crowned eagles become much more visible and vocal as they make undulating areal displays at heights of up to 1km. They can be noisy during these times with a loud ‘kewee kewee kewee’ call from the male. This ritual is normally associated with breeding, but could also be an act of territorial domination.

The nest of a Crowned Eagle is a huge structure of sticks which is repaired and enlarged every breeding season, making the nests grow bigger and bigger. Some nests grow to be about 2.3 metres across making them the biggest nests of all the eagle species.

You have a chance of seeing this species in Kenya if you are touring Mt.Kenya Forest Reser, Nairobi National Park, Aberdare National Park, Kakamega tropical rain forest and Mau Forest.

Bar-tailed Trogon at the Lower Slopes of Mt.Kenya.

Bar-tailed Trogon
Photo by Raymond Galea

On any bird watching excursion disappointment and  surprises happen all the time, so when my clients and I arrived at one of the forest block a long the lower slopes of Mt.Kenya, seeing a Bar-tailed Trogon was not really in our mind, I guess we had learned to manage our expectation.

On the main trail in the forest other things come by easily without much effort, Mountain Yellow and Brown Woodland Warbler, African Hill Babbler, Black-fronted Bush-Shrike, Yellow-crowned Canary, Abyssinian Crimsonwing, Hartlaub’s Turaco, African Crowned Eagle, Mountain Buzzard, Eastern Mountain and Slender-bill Greenbul, White-starred Robin, Ruppelle’s Robin-chat, Golden-winged and Tacazze Sunbird  among others were some of our priced collection.

Then the big moment come and voila we had some fantastic views of Bar-tailed Trogon. It begun by it calling from a nearby forest thicket  and its continuous calling betrayed its exact location and we had excellent photographic opportunities.

On such kind of trips, sometimes you lose and sometimes you win, but this time round we won in a big way.

Grey Woodpecker (Dendropicos goertae rhodeogaster)

Grey-headed Woodpecker 1Our bird of the week  is the Grey Woodpecker, race rhodeogaster, which is sometimes considered conspecific with the Ethiopian spodocephalus and known as Grey-headed Woodpecker. This species species was photographed around central Kenya.

In Kenya we have 13 species of Woodpecker and they are amazingly beautiful to watch in the field. Most of the woodpeckers we have here are diamorphic, meaning male look different from the female.Grey-headed Woodpecker

Woodpeckers are known for tapping on tree trunks in order to find insects living in crevices in the bark and to excavate nest cavities. Woodpeckers also have, well, a head for pecking. For one, woodpeckers have tiny brains—just 0.07 ounce. The bigger the brain, the higher the mass and thus the higher the risk of brain injury according to biologist research work, hence the reason why woodpeckers don’t get a headache while pecking.

The woodpecker’s strong, pointed beak acts as both a chisel and a crowbar to remove bark and find hiding insects. It has a very long tongue, up to four inches in some species – with a glue-like substance on the tip for catching insects.

While most birds have one toe pointing back and three pointing forward on each foot, woodpeckers have two sharply clawed toes pointing in each direction to help them grasp the sides of trees and balance while they hammer – this formation is called zygodactal feet. Many woodpecker species also have stiffened tail feathers, which they press against a tree surface to help support their weight.

Woodpeckers live in wooded areas and forest where they tap on tree trunks in order to find insects living in crevices in the bark and to excavate nest cavities. Some species drum on trees to communicate to other woodpeckers and as a part of their courtship behavior. Woodpeckers tap an estimated 8,000-12,000 times per day.

 

White-Starred Robin (Pogonocichla stellata)

White-starred Robin

During our brief two days stay at a pristine montane forest located in the southern part of Mt. Kenya, we came across this eye-catching forest robin. Observing it from the back might appear a little bit dull, but wait until it turns its back to you, and you will be amazed by its bright-yellow breast, its views will surely take your breath away .

On our way up there, we had early on passed through Wajee Nature Park located Mukurweini valley, which is arguably the best site in Kenya to see the endemic Hinde’s Babbler, we managed to steal few excellent views of this iconic species, but missed the African Wood Owl which our guide James as earlier on said it roots at the reserve.

Other than the White-starred Robin, we also managed to record species like; Rameron and Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Red-fronted Parrot, Olive Ibis, Hartlaub’s Turaco, Ruppell’s Robin-chat, Hunter’s Cisticola, Black-throated, Chestnut-throated and Grey Apalis, Abbott’s and Waller’s Starling, Black-fronted Bush-shrike, Abyssinian Crimsonwing, Oriole Finch and several species of Sunbird.

Once again, birding Mt.Kenya forest reserve is always exciting and rewarding, I will never get enough of this forest .

 

Bristle-crowned Starling (Onychognathus salvadorii)

Bristle-crowned Starling (Onyghognathus salvadorii)_20180109_064941_75270
Photo by Juhani Vilpo

Bristle-crowned Starling (Onyghognathus salvadorii)_20180109_132451_75660
Photo by Juhani Vilpo

Bristle-crowned Starling is an elegant looking bird appearing mostly in dry bush land  habitat of Samburu, Marsabit and Lake Baringo. It is mostly found in cliffs, gouges and near water.

It is a very large starling with a very long graduating tail and a black forehead with a small cushion bristle forehead feathers. Its overall appprearences is black with reddish-brown primaries. Females have a short-tail and some grayish feathers around the eye and on ear-coverts.Juveniles are duller with only a faint gloss.

Broad-billed roller (Eurystomus glaucurus)

Broad-billed Roller , Eurystomus glaucurus .

The Broad-billed roller is a beautiful bird to watch during your nature travel in Kenya, and its strikingly yellow billed catches your attention instantly .It  is found in areas around Lake Nakuru national park, Mt.Kenya, Kakamega extending south to Masai Mara game reserve.

Here it is fairly common in savanna, as well as clearings in woodlands. It is a specialist predator, mainly eating swarming termite and ants, as well as beetles and bugs. It mainly nests in unlined cavities in trees 5-15 m above ground. It also nests in holes of barns . It lays 2-4 eggs, timing laying to coincide with the emergence of insects after rain.

Intra-African breeding migrant, mainly breeding in southern Africa before moving north in the non-breeding season. Flocks start to arrive in southern Africa in September, leaving in the period from December to April.

It mainly nests in unlined cavities about 5-15 m above ground, usually in a tree but occasionally in a barn.

Hartlaub’s Turaco (Tauraco hartlaubi)

DSCN0894Hartlaub's TuracoHartlaub's Turaco photo

Hartlaub’s Turaco is a beautiful bird to watch!!! it will surely take your breath away if at all you are seeing it for first time. Hartlaub’s  Turaco dominates the montane forest of Kenya with its range slightly extending to Northern Tanzania and Western Uganda in East Africa.

Hartlaub’s turaco is a spectacularly patterned, medium-sized bird with a strong, curved bill, short, rounded wings and a rather long tail. The vivid plumage of Hartlaub’s turaco, is a product of two unique copper pigments, unknown in any other bird family, or indeed in any other animal group. The adult has a bushy, blue-black crest and a conspicuous red eye-ring, with a distinctive white patch immediately in front of the eye and a white line beneath the eye. Much of the upper body, including the neck, mantle, throat and breast is silky green, while the lower back, folded wings, and tail are an iridescent violet-blue, Visible only in flight, the flight feathers are a striking crimson. Like all Turacos, the feet of Hartlaub’s turaco have a special joint that allows the outer toe to move either forward or backward, an attribute that enables these birds to move acutely through vegetation.

Best location to look for this species in Kenya includes, Mt. Kenya forest reserve, Aberdare National Park, Nairobi National Park, Taita and Tugen Hills. In Kenya , other than the Hartlaub’s  Turaco, we have have Great Blue and Black-billed Turaco restricted to Kakamega tropical rain forest. Others are Ross’s, Purple-crested, Schalow’s, and Fisher’s Turaco.