Tag Archives: Bateleur

Two porcupines and a bottle of red wine

I often wonder if folks who look at photographs of animals and birds have any concept of the patience and endurance required by photographers to get their amazing shots.  Until Rob and I started photographing birds and animals we totally under-estimated the difficulties involved in getting most creatures to sit still for a second, never mind a few minutes while we get our cameras poised and in focus.  We know that birds have an area around their bodies that is their ‘danger or comfort’ zone and if we enter that zone they are off, but animals also seem to have a sixth sense about us wanting to take their photos in the first place and then they make themselves scarce!


It took three years for Rob to get a decent photo of a Bateleur

One thing is for sure, the animal or bird that you are desperately wanting to photograph, will put in an appearance when you are least expecting it and when you are least prepared for it!  The irony is often that people who aren’t keen to see any particular animals or birds, get first class sightings without any effort whatsoever.  I heard a classic story related by a tour guide whilst I was queuing up to enter Kruger National Park.  He said that he had been a guide for 27 years and had always wanted to see an elusive pangolin, when one unexpectedly put in an appearance one afternoon while he was doing a tour.  As these are nocturnal animals and quite rare, he was over the moon – while the tourists wondered what all the fuss was about.  We will feel like he did when we eventually (if we ever) get a photo of an aardvark or a pangolin.

Black mongoose - very rare sighting

A rare animal is very gratifying to photograph

Sometimes the best laid plans for a photo shoot can go horribly awry, although they do have their upside as well.  Take for example our recent quest to photograph a pair of porcupines that make nightly forays to the bottom of a friend’s garden for a meal of left-over veges, pumpkin or watermelon.  We bought an enormous, thick-skinned blue pumpkin to lure them in for a photo-shoot and Trish, our hostess, went to great pains to peg the pumpkin down so that they didn’t carry it off into the night.  She also set up an infra-red and other lights for us and so all we had to do was set up our cameras and wait patiently for the porcupines to put in an appearance.


This fellow was coming in for a meal at Erongo Wilderness Lodge

Fortunately I had the foresight to take along a good bottle of cabinet sauvignon wine to help while away the hours and we settled in for our long wait.  Trish is a good conversationalist and we soon learnt of her incredible life in Madagascar and elsewhere in Africa.  (That’s one of the amazing things about the people you meet in Namibia – they have mostly lead such interesting lives and are widely traveled).

Needless to say, the wine glasses emptied, we mellowed and the porcupines decided to stay away.  At an embarrassingly late hour we took our leave of Trish, went home and settled in to bed, only to receive an sms to say that our guests had finally arrived for their meal.  Damn!!!!  The next day Trish sent us photos of two enormous porcupines dining happily on their blue pumpkin.  (Unfortunately I can’t use these pictures as our policy is only to use our own photographs on this website.)   Disappointing though it was, we will be doubly pleased when we do eventually get the photos that we’re after – and who knows, perhaps it will take a few more bottles of that delicious red wine and good company before that happens.

So next time you see a brilliant animal or bird photograph think about that poor photographer’s liver! (Hic!)

Rob and I would like to wish all our readers a very blessed and merry Christmas.

Bird of the week – Week 39 : Bateleur

When the ruins of Great Zimbabwe were discovered by the first European adventurers in the early 16th century, and more fully investigated in the 19th century, one of the intriguing discoveries made amongst the magnificent stonework was several carved statues of what has come to be called the “Zimbabwe Bird”. These statues were carved from soapstone and set on stone monoliths within the great city, probably during the 11th century, by the ancestors of the present-day Shona people. Subsequently becoming a symbol of Zimbabwe and being featured on the national coat-of-arms as well as on banknotes, coins, and stamps, the “Zimbabwe Bird” is now thought to have been modelled on the Bateleur.
And the Bateleur is truly a magnificent bird, both at rest and in flight, and would have been a worthy model indeed for the ancient sculptors.
It is an eagle of medium size, male adults being about 70 cm in length, with predominantly black plumage except for a chestnut-coloured mantle and grey tail. The bare facial skin and the legs are bright red; the bill is black. The males and females have similar plumage, although the females have grey rather than black secondary flight feathers.
The white underwings with a black trailing edge, together with the very short tail (the feet extend beyond the end of the tail) make the Bateleur very distinctive when in flight. The black band along the trailing edge of the wings is wider in the males.
The prey of the Bateleur consists mostly of birds up to the size of a Sandgrouse, as well as small animals. They will also prey on snakes, and are sometimes referred to as snake-eagles as a result. They will also feed on carrion.
Bateleurs are found through most of Africa south of the Sahara, where they prefer open savannah country. They are monogamous and will often occupy the same nest, a platform built from sticks and located below the canopy of a tree, for several years. The female lays a single egg, which hatches after an incubation period of about 42 days.
The name “Bateleur” derives from the French for an acrobat or tightrope walker. With its very short tail and long wings, the Bateleur is capable of quite spectacular aerial manoeuvres, which apparently led to the adoption of its common name.
The scientific binomial for the Bateleur  is Terathopius ecaudatus; Terathopius from the Greek for “marvellous looking” and ecaudatus from the Latin meaning “lacking a tail”. Thus a marvellous looking bird with no tail. Can’t say fairer than that.