Tag Archives: Black-shouldered Kite

On Photographing a Black-shouldered kite

Photographing birds is a rewarding pastime. Rewarding but also incredibly frustrating. Birds seem to be able to sense when you are about to take a photograph and duck behind a convenient branch or take to flight a millisecond before you press the shutter release. How many photos have I taken of any empty branch, perhaps with a blur disappearing out of the frame? Typically the bird of interest will then settle just out of range; usually out in the open. And moving cautiously closer, camera poised, just sends it fluttering further away. Putting a longer lens on your camera has the same effect, as if the birds can read the focal length on the front of the lens and know just what its range is.

But occasionally, just often enough to maintain your interest in this taxing pastime, the little object of your attention will hang around for long enough for you to capture the image you were aiming for. And very, very occasionally the gods of digital imaging smile on you and you find yourself in just the right spot at the right time, with your camera in hand.

We had just such a moment in the Etosha Game Reserve a few weeks ago.

Black-shouldered kite

Jane was driving, I was in the passenger seat with my camera at the ready when we saw a Black-shouldered kite on a low bush at the side of the road, with a large lizard in its claws. We stopped quickly. Reversed, fully expecting the kite to depart. I took a few pictures from afar, then Jane eased the car closer and into a better position. Still the kite stayed on. A car whizzed past, through the gap between the kite and our vehicle and the kite extended its wings momentarily, but stayed on its perch. And when the dust stirred up by the passing car had settled I was able to get a great sequence of photos!

If we had happened along this road a minute earlier, or a minute later we would have missed it. If the kite had settled a few metres back from the road, or if it had been a little more nervous of our presence, we would have missed it. That kind of luck is just all too rare!

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Etosha National Park in the rainy season

Rob and I celebrated our wedding anniversary this year by visiting the Etosha National Park in Namibia.  February isn’t the best time of the year to visit the park as it’s right in the middle of the rainy season and the grass is very long.  With all the water around the animals don’t come down to the waterholes to drink and you really have to go and hunt for them on game drives.  Fortunately not seeing animals didn’t phase us too much as the birdlife was outstanding and we made the most of photographing many summer migrants, like this gorgeous European bee-eater.

    European bee-eater

With an abundance of water comes the celebration of life.  Etosha was no exception and we saw many herds of antelope with babies – the strikingly beautiful Gemsbok are our favourites and are always exciting to spot.  Their young ones are easy to identify as they still have their brown baby coats.

    A group of Gemsbok

This mother and baby Black-faced impala hadn’t quite made up their minds about which way they were headed.

    Mother and baby - Black-faced impala

A Black-shoudered kite really stood out quite dramatically with the backdrop of dark rain clouds.  Rob will shortly be doing a blog about a fantastic sighting of a B.S. Kite eating a lizard.   His photos of this meal are magnificent.

Black-shouldered kite

It’s a good idea to check the ground occasionally or you could run over little creatures like this jaunty Namaqua chameleon that was also enjoying the water.

    Jaunty Namaqua chameleon

Not all the birds are pretty.  In stark contrast to the beautiful European bee-eater above, we also saw a not-so-pretty Maribou stork wading in some water next to the road.  Doesn’t he look like he’s wearing a waistcoast?

    Marabou stork - dressed to kill!

A visit to Etosha always offers up good sightings of the Northern black korhaan.  These little fellows are everywhere and are very vocal, especially when disturbed.

    Northern black-korhaan

Even though we didn’t see any of the more exciting animals like lions, elephants and leopards this trip, we so enjoyed spending time out in nature, just enjoying the birds and the thrill of seeing new life and lush vegetation.  What a magnificent way to spend a weekend!


Bird of the week – Week 36 : Black-shouldered kite

Drive down almost any country road in Southern Africa  and you are bound to see a small grey and white raptor sitting in a slightly hunched position and looking somewhat gull-like, on a roadside telephone pole, or, more spectacularly, hovering above the ground and peering downwards for prey below. This is the Black-shouldered kite, one of the most common of the raptors in most of the region, at home in grasslands, woodlands and semi-arid areas, avoiding only the extremely dry areas and the forested areas. Its range is extensive, and these little raptors are found throughout Africa south of the Sahara, as well as parts of Asia, and its range may well be extending.
Quite small for a raptor, with a length of around 30 cm, the Black shouldered kite is pale grey above and white below, with a black patch on the upperwing. The legs and feet are yellow; the bill black and the eyes red. Their forward-facing eyes and soft plumage is somewhat owl-like. Sexes are alike in plumage, with the female being slightly larger than the male.
Seen during the day, Black-shouldered kites are usually solitary, or in pairs, while they gather into flocks and roost communally at night. As mentioned, they very often hunt from telephone poles or other convenient perches, or may hover, very much like a kestrel, over open ground from where they descend quickly when prey is spotted. Food is mainly small rodents, grasshoppers, lizards and small birds.
They are generally fairly quiet and their range of calls includes a high-pitched squeal and a much quieter whistle.
The nest of the monogamous Black-shouldered kite is a small platform of sticks, usually lined with grass and typically located near the top of a thorn tree, just below the canopy. The female lays a clutch of three or four cream-coloured eggs that are spotted with red, and which hatch after an incubation period of about 31 days.
The scientific binomial for the Black-shouldered kite is Elanus caeruleus; Elanus being the Latin for “a kite” and caeruleus being the Latin for “blue”. Thus a blue kite, which is fairly close.