— 17 February 2010
— in East Africa Project
Having spent a productive full two days at Tsavo surveying birds of prey, we were quite excited to explore Rukinga ranch, an 80000 acre private piece of land just south of the Taita Hills, a world renowned biodiversity hotspot. I was particularly ecstatic because of the possibility of seeing another Taita Falcon (I saw my first ever Taita Falcon in the wild in Tsavo West a couple of days ago). For those unaware of what exactly a Taita Falcon is, it is the avian equivalent of a wild Amur Leopard. The rare Taita Falcon is a winsome, yet powerful little falcon with huge feet, and capable of attaining speeds of up to 160 miles per hour at full stoop, leaving its prey no chance of survival. The Taita Hills was where the first specimen was discovered. My colleagues on this survey - Teeku Patel and Karim Kara are avid raptorphiles and we were invited by Dipesh Pabari (Manager of Kenya Camps International) on the last day of our survey to Camp Tsavo to document the ranch's raptors and look at the possibility of assisting with specialized raptor training courses.
It was extremely hot and we were sun baked (almost roasted) as we observed raptors from the rooftop of Teeku's vintage Land Rover. Arriving at Camp Tsavo at 4.00 pm, we were warmly greeted by friendly staff and shown to our rooms. Our minds however were set on the cliffs atop Marungu Hill where we had spotted quite a lot of whitewash on our way to camp. We were introduced to Ken, the camp's guide who meticulously explained to us about the ranch and Camp Tsavo what its aims and objectives were.
Our minds however were set at exploring the cliffs and it didn't take long to convince Ken to drive out to the base of Marungu Hill to look for raptors. So off we went through a narrow winding path, stopping occasionally to photograph an elegant Eastern Chanting Goshawk and a Brown Snake Eagle. As we got to the bottom of the cliff, we hurriedly leapt out of the Land Rover to find fresh leopard scat and pug marks. The silence was broken by the sounds of binoculars whooshing, aimed towards the sky atop the cliff as two silhouetted predatory birds effortlessly soared the cliff ridge. "Verreaux's", I yelled, expecting confirmation from my colleagues. The Verreaux's Eagle is the African equivalent of the Golden Eagle, and the second largest eagle in Africa (after the Martial). Very few outdoor experiences come close to watching one of Africa's majestic eagles in display over a pastel orange sunset sky. We watched the eagles being dive-bombed by a falcon (too far to get a positive identification on) and could only speculate that it may have had chicks.
The landscape was lush green and comprised Commiphora and Acacia shrubs, all in resplendent bloom. We headed back to camp and were treated to a sumptuous dinner and some excellent company with the camp's ecotrainers. The lights went off promptly at ten and as I lay on my bed, my mind was abuzz with all the possible opportunities to conduct ground breaking raptor research in this Biodiversity Hotspot area. I shall certainly return.
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