As photographers every on of us has at some stage missed an incredible opportunity to get top class images be it at a sports event or on a safari somewhere. That feeling of hopelessness as someone walks in front of your camera as you push the shutter or the animal you are tracking decides to make its kill behind a bush. There is absolutely nothing you can do about it but savour the sighting and hopefully be mindful of any potential interferences in future. You look back at the sequence and think “if only”. In this case, “if only there wasn’t so much dust”.
In my case this particular lost sequence happened on one of our CNP Safaris in the Etosha National Park when we were sitting at a waterhole near the Namutoni camp one afternoon in 2013. Over the previous few days large birds of prey like the Martial Eagles and Tawney Eagles had made a number of attempts to catch Guinea Fowl around the water hole. This must be one of the favourite hunting grounds. The female Martial Eagle weighs in at 4.7kg is the largest bird of prey on the African continent and can take prey of up to 8kg in weight. The prey normally consists of mammals in the 1 to 4kg range but then also birds up to 1.5kg and lizards up to 3kg. So all in all a formidable predator that packs a big punch when it strikes.
The attack happens so quickly that the only indication you have of the immanent attack is the fact that every single Guinea Fowl is franticly trying to get to cover and then you see and hear the large predator swoop down and try to pick out one of the fleeing birds. There is so much action everywhere that it is difficult to pick up the attacking bird through all the dust and flying birds. In addition to the fleeing birds you have the local Black-backed Jackals running towards the action in the hope of picking up any injured birds.
In our case we saw the chaos erupt in front of us as the birds scattered and then saw the large Martial Eagle swoop down, hit a Guinea Fowl, rip out a clump of feathers and what looks like part of a wing but failed to pick up the whole bird. The Martial still clutching a talon full of Guinnea Folw feathers, looks back to see if the bird is down before dropping the feathers and doing a flyby. Looking straight at us.
The injured Guinnea Fowl managed to make it to the top of a small thorn bush where it later died. The Martial Eagle did not come back for the dying bird, but we saw a Tawney Eagle scavenging on the Guinea Fowl carcass the next morning.
The Martial Eagle attacked from behind and over the vehicle so we have a lot of dust to contend with. You can see the power and impact of the initial strike which would leave most animals staggering and easy to pick up afterwards.
Normally the Martial Eagles will take the smaller prey up into a tree or bush, but in this instances didn’t even try and follow up with a second blow.
They can spot their prey from up to 6km away so should not have had a problem in finding the injured bird.
This series was shot with a Nikon D4, a Nikon 600mm f/4.0 lens and 1.4 extender. Fortunately I had my camera set up for maximum shutter speed by shooting at f/5.6, ISO 720 and exposure compensation at -1.3, which allowed me to freeze the action at 1/8000 of a second.
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