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October 12, 2010 / Dan Whipple

Bird life

October 11, 2010

Simba and Sophie

Simba (in the foreground), with Sophie

I sit on the deck most afternoons for an hour or so, writing, practicing my Swahili, reading, and trying to learn the habits of the animal life in my new universe, especially the birds. I can now identify eleven species of birds—though I use the term identify loosely.

For example. There’s a common hawk-like bird that soars about our compound, sometimes very high, and sometimes much lower. It’s very dark gray or black, pretty ragged. It looks like it has seen better days, but despairs of ever seeing them again.

A neighbor down the street, Daktari Theo, had a party by the pool a couple of weeks ago to which he very graciously invited us newcomers. A band played traditional Kenyan music—songs from each tribe represented by people in attendance—along with contemporary pieces. Theo served nyama choma—traditionally prepared meat—which is very popular here. There were three or four of these dark raptors circling the area, gradually dipping lower and lower, trying to grab the nyama choma scraps off the abandoned plates of the diners. (And in one case, trying to make off with Simba, the small dog belonging to a neighbor. Simba means “lion” in Swahili, so maybe the dog’s reputation preceded him.)

I got a good look at these birds as they swooped in trying to cadge goat bones. A very un-raptor-like approach to fetching dinner, if you ask me. I dragged out the Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania guide, eventually settling on an ID of “tawny eagle.” In subsequent sightings, I further convinced myself that I had it right. Page 306 of BoKaNT says they’re “ragged, less elegant than other Aquila species.” Bingo.


So we go the week-long Know Kenya course, sponsored by the Kenya Museum Society, Just my luck, Kenya’s leading raptor biologist, Munir Virani, is there to give a presentation on Kenyan raptors. I’m hoping he talks about the tawny eagle. But he doesn’t, the slacker, at least not much.

Later Kathy is talking to one of the women in attendance who says, “Oh, those are black kites.” So I go back the bird book. How did I miss this? They don’t even offer the tawny eagle as a bird that can be confused with the black kite. Everybody in Kenya can identify a black kite except me.

Anyway, I got a video later out the back window of another raptor, which I’m including here. This bird is not the black kite (I don’t think—my track record here is not good). The video was shot through a window with my cell phone, so it’s pretty grainy. I’m saying that this is a steppe eagle. Any input is welcome.


One Comment

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  1. Liz Gates / Oct 14 2010 8:43 pm

    Mom says the bird looks like Sophie!

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