Another day of trapping in the Mara

Since I am behind this blog actually relates to experiences on May 15, 2009

We have the lodge to ourselves now as there is no one around. Off at 5 again, we watched some birds hoping to try to the “blanket technique” but with no luck. Then the “Vulture Squad” put out the meat – laid out in a nice order so as to resemble a real carcass and then we wait. We put the bait out without the nooses first in hopes of luring in some birds. Then a intricate web of snares it staked down over the carcass with hope of grabbing a bird’s foot. Unfortunately we seem to lure in a lot of non-vulture scavengers rather than vultures. Today we caught a Tawny Eagle and yesterday we caught a Fish Eagle and a Tawny Eagle. We have also come close to trapping a Bateleur. We did have some very close calls though. A White-headed vulture literally landed on a carcass with nooses attached, but then walked away allowing the Tawny to gorge. So close to handling one of the rarest birds in the world that almost nothing is known about – argh!! Instead we end up with a lovely though more common, Tawny Eagle. Tawnys are your prototypical eagles – brown body, yellow talon and the perfectly simple eagle shape. Beautiful birds, they behave like proper raptors and try to get you with their feet not their beaks (much more civilized than vultures).

While Steve the sheep head did give us lots of joy and many exciting eagle moments, it wasn’t until we saw a real carcass that I felt truly exhilarated. We came upon an impala carcass with probably 50 birds on it. In the tall grass, the only reason we spotted it was the vultures flying off of it, but why were they leaving? As we approached, we very clearly found the culprit of the vultures retreat. An angry jackal – bearing its teeth and charging the remaining Lappet-faced vulture. Though the vulture stood considerably taller, the jackal was able to charge the huge vultures as they leapt into the air to escape. The jackal couldn’t quite get them to leave, but he had them backed far enough away to steal a few bites of the carcasses. From the looks of the vultures in the trees nearby, most of the birds had already had their fill anyway (their crops were hugely swollen).

Aside from all the raptor action, we had some excitement of our own today as the vehicle tire punctured just after Munir spotted (and raced after) the rare African Hawk Eagle. “No worries we have a spare,” Munir assured me. And indeed we did, unfortunately it was even flatter than the punctured tire already on the car. Our ordeal was short-lived however as William, one of the rangers, happened to come upon us and lent us a spare.

Much later in the day, we spotted another vehicle in need. Guess who it was – none other than William, now with a puncture of his own. Fortunately he still had another spare and so didn’t need our assistance.

Otherwise our first and yet to be named African White-backed has delivered a few data points through the cell coverage. After a night of rest on his nest and a morning hanging around home, the bird headed out to forage. He was in fact travelling at 65 km/hr yesterday at an altitude of close to 1000m in the late afternoon. I can’t wait to find out where he was going, but won’t know until he returns to an area with cell network.

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