Zandvlei Trust

The Fish Eagles that hunt at Zandvlei

When I took up bird watching again after a very long break one of my best discoveries was the Zandvlei Nature Reserve. It became a weekly trip for me and at that time there were so few people there during the week. I could pretend that it was my own private reserve.
Best of all were the Fish eagles, although I constantly felt sorry for them being bombarded by the seagulls. The poor birds hardly had a moments peace.

I was also spending a lot of time in the Constantiaberg forests and I became more and more curious about how often the Fish Eagles were overhead. I started searching to see if I could find a nest, and then I met someone who reported watching them fishing regularly in the dams at the top of the vineyards. That answered the question as to where they would find food to feed their young, if they were to indeed nesting in the Constantiaberg forests, because Zandvlei would then be too far for them to carry fish from several times a day.
Then one day last year Sharon Yodaiken and I were standing looking out over the vineyards on the Constantiaberg slopes when a Fish eagle flew over silently, tucked in its wings and disappeared into the forest. We took off at great speed especially for two ladies well over 50) and, very soon after entering the forest where the bird was last seen, found a large well formed nest. we watched and searched the area but didnt spot the Fish Eagle.
For the next year  we visited the area at least once or twice a month hoping to be able to confirm that the nest really belonged to the Fish Eagles. About 5 months ago I picked up two feathers under the nest. One was large (31cm) and black and the other small, white and triangular. That did not constitute proof, but we felt things were looking promising.
At dawn on the 7th June, Tish Foyle and I had just arrived in the forest when a wonderful Fish Eagle duet broke out. Needing no further encouragement we crept down to the nest. At first the nest seemed as deserted as always and then I saw some movement. We watched for ages as a white tail bobbed up and down over the edge of the nest.

Suddenly a second bird arrived on the nest, but in the early morning light neither of us could make out what it was. Then at last a large white head appeared over the edge of the nest. We had our confirmation! The bird took off and sat on a branch of a nearby tree, a Fish Eagle in all its magnificent glory.
The whole event was terribly exciting and it made up for all those times we had puffed up the mountain to no avail.

Ann Koeslag.
(Ann is a volunteer researcher for the Western Cape Raptor Research Programme).


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