There were two spots I made on our first trip to The Kruger that made me really feel like I accomplished a lot: Verreaux’s eagle-owl; and a civet. The civet story and photos can wait for another day. Today is about that owl.
We were on a dirt road in the southern part of the park. It was the same day we were lucky enough to spot all big five in one day. We were driving the Mlondozi Road (S29), a bumpy, dirt section between Lower Sabie and the Mlondozi dam. Kurt and I often take dirt roads, even if there are lion sightings on a nearby main road, because while we were excited to see cats, we would much rather see something small, and new, on a less traveled back road, than sit in a traffic jam hoping for a glimpse of cat balls through a stressful, packed line of cars. So we turned off the tar road and settled in to watching for birds and elephant. (We frequently ran into elephant on back roads.)
When I saw this tree. I stared at it hard for several minutes, until it registered that I really was seeing something other than yet another tree branch. I told Kurt to stop, and we grabbed the camera and binoculars.
Sure enough, what I spotted was not only something, it was a very cool something. An owl! We knew that immediately from the silhouette, and from how far we were from the tree compared to how large it was in the branches, we knew that it was sizable. As Kurt flipped through the wildlife identification guide, I kept snapping photos, hoping it would turn so we could see its face.
When it finally did, we could see the face: similar to the shape and knotted-wood look of barred owls and great-horned owls, which we have living in our woods at home.
The distinguishing feature, in addition to its size and coloration, is that a Verreaux’s eagle-owl (aka giant eagle-owl) has pink eyelids. Sure enough, zoom proved our identification right, and we took a little while to just sit and watch it sleeping in the daylight, before finishing our trek to the dam.
“You go to Kruger…” my friend always says, “for the birds.”