Martial law

[Right now it is hunting season in Maine, and I am not in the woods as much, so today I take you back to Kenya.]

The Martial Eagle, Polemaetus bellicosus, is a majestic bird with a wingspan of up to 2.2m (over 7ft), making it one of the two largest eagles in Africa. It is easy enough to see in Laikipia in Kenya, and yet it is classified as Endangered because it has undergone a rapid decline in the last 30 years, mainly due to habitat loss. They like sparse woodlands and savannah, and avoid settled areas. Each pair has a range of 100-300 so even South Africa’s vast Kruger National Park only contains about 100 pairs.

Let us admire this magnificent bird, and hope that there continue to be places for it to live in our ever more-crowded world.

This is a juvenile, always an encouraging sign:

The adults form monogamous pairs, which stay together for life:

In Kenya they breed at any time, but especially April to November. There may be the start of a nest (or the vestiges of an old one) to the right of this next photo, which was taken in April:

Their diet includes monitor lizards, large birds, and smallish mammals (weighing up to 5Kg, including small antelopes!) Indeed, in South Africa it is called a  lammervanger (or “lamb catcher”). This one is plucking the fur from a freshly caught scrub hare:

After feeding, the crop is prominently enlarged. This is a different bird, on a different day, but it has clearly fed well on something:

One day I watched a martial eagle fighting a black-chested snake eagle, a somewhat smaller bird. Here are three photos, the first showing both birds (martial eagle on right), then the martial eagle, then the snake eagle.

I don’t think either was trying to kill and eat the other; they both typically swoop onto prey on the ground. More likely, a territorial dispute.

PS I like this poem by Zimbabwean poet Terry Dawson about the Martial Eagle, which is known for its avoidance of populated areas:

A Poem for an Eagle

by Terry Dawson

Wildest of all the wild things 
Is the king of the hunting birds. 
Wild-one that to the wilderness clings 
Where the olden ways are preferred. 

When mankind comes and with him brings 
His dogs and flocks and herds, 
A disquiet comes upon this king 
As though misstep’s occurred… 
And at such coming spread his wings 
For wilds undisturbed. 

Back in Zambia, and down to earth

There are still sundry delights that I haven’t shown you from my Zambian trip many months ago. Looking downwards is sometimes as rewarding as looking up.

The Vlei Ink Flower was everywhere :

Vlei Ink Flower

The copious heaps of elephant dung (composed of poorly digested plant materials) provide minerals for butterflies:


and nutrients for fungi:


The dung is also food for baboons,  vervet monkeys, and civets. Civets are mainly nocturnal, and I have only seen one once, in Zambia in 2005. It didn’t hang about:

Still looking down, there is the occasional reptile, like this Variable (or perhaps Side-striped) Skink:

Ground-feeding birds abound, like this Southern Ground Hornbill, Bucorvus leadbeateri (hard to  miss, it is four feet long):

and this Rednecked Francolin:

Red necked Francolin

Even ground-dwellers sometimes get tired of looking up at the world, and find a vantage point instead:

Red-necked Frrancolin

Some mammals are not spectacular. This modest Smith’s Bush Squirrel, Paraxerus cepapi, is quite small, at 14″ long (half of that is tail) and 7oz (1/2 to 1/3 the weight of an adult grey squirrel).

It is also called the Yellow-footed Squirrel, though its feet aren’t especially yellow in my photo!

It is eating the fruit of the Pawnbroker Tree (or Pepper-seed), Excoecaria bussei, and there is a second fruit on the ground in front of it.

And at night there is, if you are lucky, an elephant shrew:

Elephant shrew

PS The tiny 1.5oz Elephant Shrew, so-called because of its long nose, is actually quite closely related to its namesake! Their closest relatives are things like tenrecs and aardvarks, but after that it is hyraxes, dugongs, manatees, and elephants!!!. Who knew? The Elephant Shrew is marketed as one of the so-called Little Five: Elephant Shrew, Buffalo Weaver, Ant Lion, Leopard Tortoise, and Rhino Beetle! I have seen all their Big Five counterparts, but not yet a Rhino Beetle.

PPS Here’s a better civet picture, from Wikipedia, taken in captivity by the look of it. If I ever see one properly, I’ll tell you all about it!

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