3/10/2008

Surreal birding experience

Posting the video of the Crowned eagle reminded me of my weirdest and one of the most thrilling birding experiences ever. I was in High School at Treverton and I was doing a biology project on eagles. I was fortunate in that one of the best naturalists in the area was also a friend of the school. I ended spending two glorious weeks with him studying eagles and other birds. The one morning he told me we were heading out to a Crowned Eagle nest site to watch them repair the nest for the new season. I figured we had a good 2-3 hour drive ahead of us as we were in Escort which is bushveld and Crowned Eagles prefer heavily forested areas. He smiled slyly as we headed to the car.

The drive turned out to be 20 minutes long as the nest was located right outside of town. You can imagine my surprise when we pulled up to a house on about 2 acres with a beautifully manicured lawn. Right in the middle of the lawn stood a massive eucalyptus (Blue Gum in SA slang) tree with an enormous stick nest in the center. Surely this couldn’t be a Crowned Eagle nesting in some dude’s front yard, I thought to myself. I was introduced to the home owner and we all took seats on his porch. Sure enough, within a couple of minutes a Crowned Eagle flew in with a massive branch. This continued for a long time while the three of us watched the show. By now I was sitting spell bound with my jaw literally on the ground.

To my surprise the day got even stranger because as we were leaving I saw something thin and long flying across the yard. I noticed a cat in the area where the flying object originated and I decided to go see what had landed in the bushes. As I approached the area I noticed a small snake lying there. I took a few more steps and the little man reared up his hood in an aggressive show of strength. Yip, we had found ourselves the first flying Mozambique Spitting Cobra. Both of us decided that this day was moving from the surreal to the ridiculous, so we packed up our donkeys and headed on home.

Its fun thinking back to that weird day and I often wonder whether that nest is still there or whether someone handed that Crowned Eagle a bird book and explained that it was actually nesting in the wrong spot. I also wish that I had owned a camera back then, so I could post some of those incredible pictures that I still have in my head. I was fortunate to see Crowned Eagles on several occasions; mostly either circling above the forest canopy or zooming through thick patches of forest; but nothing came close to my day in Escort! Have you got any surreal birding experiences? I’d love to hear from ya.

7 comments:

Patrick Belardo said...

Awesome! The first time I saw a Resplendent Quetzal in Costa Rica was in a woman's backyard feeding on an avocado tree. She was doing laundry about 20 feet away from it and we were standing in the driveway even closer than that. We came up to the house, turned the corner, and there it was - not much further than 10 feet away. How I wish I had the lens I have now back then!

Mel said...

Great story, I think we all have memories that we wish we could have captured with today's technology, but, as some bloggers told me: plenty more memories to come and enjoy!

Jochen said...

Flying cobra??

Owlman said...

Nah, not really a flying cobra. The cat had swatted it across the garden. I guess the cat didn't know that it was not a toy, but rather a pretty dangerous snake....

mon@rch said...

very surreal and I also wish you had your camera with you! Thanks for sharing!

Jochen said...

Man, that's lucky about seeing the cobra. During all my time in Namibia and travels through the Cape, I always wanted to see a Cobra (preferably yellow/golden form of Cape Cobra) or a Puffadder (of course from at least a distance of 5 m) and never succeeded except for road kills of both. Well, as a birder I wasn't specifically looking for them but hoping to cross one's path sooner or later. All I got to see were non-poisonous snakes and the small - gosh, can't remember the English name - "horned vipers". One of the latter was very beautiful though as it had freshly shed its skin.
A Mozambique Spitting Cobra, even a small one, must be very nice to see - again, from a certain distance.
And that cat was very lucky, indeed!

Owlman said...

You definitely need to look for snakes in Africa to find them. I was lucky in that our boarding school encouraged us to study wild life and snake catching was a big part of that. Although the teachers weren’t thrilled about it, we did catch quite a few venomous snakes including spitting cobras (Rinkhals) and adders (night and puff). The area also had a lot of non-venomous snakes such as grass and tree snake, water snakes etc etc. One of my best friends was an avid snake catcher and I interacted with several species. My favorite by far was the puff adder. They are amazingly beautiful snakes, especially when they’ve just shed their skin. Although they are highly venomous they are also extremely docile so it makes handling them slightly easier. It’s amazing if you look for snakes in Africa how many you can actually find in your backyard. This is definitely not the case with other wildlife other many foreigners think all areas of Africa look like the jungle book
;-)

Incredible photos shared by the Flickr community group - Owls of North America. Click on the play button to begin the slideshow - ENJOY!