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Tuesday 17 February 2015: success with Cape Eagle-Owl just south of Johannesburg!
Jason Boyce, Justin Nicolau, Gary Nicolau, Peter Schoeman and Chris Lotz joined a few of the extremely helpful Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve staff to survey for owls.
We started scouting possible Cape Eagle-Owl sites during the day (at 1 pm) and in just an afternoon and evening we saw 107 bird species. Day-time highlights were Red-footed Falcon and Cape Vulture, both rare in the reserve.
In the early evening, all we could find were seven Spotted Eagle-Owls, with no sign of its bulkier relative. But the real excitement suddenly started at about 8:30 tonight. We heard the probable (but distant) call of a Southern White-Faced Owl (which is not yet on the reserve’s bird list), worked for ten minutes to try and confirm this species but then this excitement was all very quickly eclipsed by the deep hooting of a Cape Eagle-Owl on the hill rising above the valley we found ourselves in! Calling the rest of the group, all of us eventually managed to listen to the Cape Eagle-Owl (which had moved a bit closer to the road). We listened to it territorially calling for over an hour. Excitingly, we then heard what we think was a different individual, on a hill on the other side of the valley (we can’t prove it was a second bird though as the “first” one had since gone quiet – but it certainly moved very far if it was indeed the same bird!).
My guess is that there are rather high densities of Cape Eagle-Owls in the reserve. We want to try and follow up to try and get a feel for actual numbers and densities. But, putting together the limited available information including past records of Cape Eagle-Owl by Geoff Lockwood and also by one of the reserve staff members, plus the fact that even on our first, brief scouting trip (unless we were just pure lucky, of course!), we found up to two territories in a part of the reserve that we did not think was nearly as good for the species as the other half of the reserve (where previous records have been from). It should also be noted that there are reliable records from at least two other sites between the reserve and Nigel, both of which we plan to scout soon since the birds are calling now in preparation for their winter breeding season.
As always when we go owling, we also found some good mammals as a byproduct – such as Hedgehog, Porcupine, Small Spotted Genet, etc.
One can actually see the Jo’burg skyline from parts of Suikerbosrand – and we are thrilled that there might be a strong population of Cape Eagle-Owls practically within view of this city!
Please consider joining our next Gauteng owl survey (see Finding Owls and an invitation to join our South African Owl surveys). And, we would be delighted if you decided to join one of our “Owls of the World” bird tours; our northern Peru birding tours are particularly good for owls and we even run a brilliant owl-focused bird tour to Peru.