Birds had no especial interest for me until one memorable morning! Camping in about 1969 under two enormous fig trees on the banks of the Botlele River near Maun in Botswana, I woke to the call of the African Fish Eagle, perhaps the most stirring call of the African bush—and there they were, two of them, perched high up enjoying the break of day. This awe-inspiring experience stirred a latent interest in me and I became intrigued to discover more about the wonderful world of birds.

Fish Eagles range over large areas of Southern Africa but are less frequently seen in the Eastern Free State and are absent from Lesotho and the high Drakensberg. Margaret Dix for two years saw Fish Eagles hunting their fish in their dams at Craigrossie near Clarens. These birds may arguably be the best known of African raptors with their dark bodies tinged with russet and their conspicuous white heads, yellow beaks, tipped with black. They are magnificent and unmistakable. No wonder there is a brandy named after The African Fish Eagle.

Pairs are highly territorial; groups seen would include immatures and youngsters that have not yet established their own territories. Fish Eagles perch silently for hours in trees overlooking rivers, dams, and estuaries before swooping down with unerring aim to grab fish, lifting them out of the water to eat at their perching site. They prefer fish of less than one kilogram but can carry fish weighing up to 2 kg. Heavier fish requires the bird to submerge and paddle its prey to the shoreline using its wings.

References: Raptor Identification Guide Ulrich Oberprieler and Burger Cillie

Author: Craig Walters

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