“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.

White-spotted Flufftail at Rondo Retreat Centre, Kakamega forest.

On the first week of December, 2018 we had planned a 8 days photographic trip to kakamega forest. My client opted to stay at Rondo Retreat Centre because of its location right inside the forest. Our target birds were many, but high on the list was the stunning White-spotted Flufftail.

After 3 days of continuous search of this elusive and secretive species, nature rewarded us with great views of both male and female. I guess they were on romantic walk enjoying each other company and failed to notice our presence.

Birding is first class at Kakamega forest, although the forest suffers from increasing fragmentation .

Photo by Juhani Vilpo
Photo by Juhani Vilpo

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 .

 

Grey-breasted Spurfowl (Pternistis rufopictus)

Grey-breasted Spurfowl

Grey-breasted Spurpfowl is an endemic of Northern Tanzania where it is common within its tiny range. The photo appearing above was taken in central Serengeti in the month of September 2017.This species is declining owing to habitat loss and human encroachment. It also hybridises with F.leucoscepus.

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.