Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The White-Bellied Sea-eagles

There are two kinds of eagles we’ve seen on Corregidor.  The more common are the Philippine Serpent-eagles.   They soar over the Middleside area around the house, and we often see and hear them, but they are so high that we have never been able to get a decent picture.  Our bird book says that their “overall size” can reach 51 cm (20 in).
Recently, however, we have been fortunate enough to find a spot where two White-bellied Sea-eagles perch and hunt.  The first time we saw them we were hiking with a new friend, Mike from San Diego, California.  (Mike actually came out for a day-trip, a first-time visit arranged for him by Valor Tours of San Francisco, and he loved the place so much that he came back a couple days later for an overnight stay to allow for hiking time with us.)  The second eagle-spotting occurred about a week later when Marcia joined long-time Corregidor hikers Julia and Jill for a trail walk, and they saw the eagles in the same place.  In both cases the eagles took off when they heard us approach, quickly soaring too far away to photograph with the pocket-size cameras we had with us.
So we decided to take a chance and go back by ourselves the next morning, taking our good camera and the telephoto lens.  We tried to sneak up on them, being very quiet and staying behind cover.  We slowly approached the cliff ledge overlooking their perches, hoping to get photos of them in the trees.  You’ve heard the expression, “eagle-eyed.”  In fact we used it in our last newsletter, satirically referring to Steve as “Old Eagle Eye” when he almost stepped on a ten-foot long python that was sunning and digesting at the edge of the trail near Battery Hanna.  Well, these eagles are indeed eagle-eyed and apparently ‘eagle-eared’ as well, because as soon as we spotted them at least 100 feet below us, they took to the air.  Fortunately Steve had the camera ready to go, and shot the sequence of photos that we include, showing of one of the pair circling above their home area.  Not all are in sharp focus, unfortunately, thanks to distance and motion.  After that, the two eagles decided to stay at greater distance and height, making good pictures impossible.
According to our little book, “Birds of the Philippines” by Tim Fisher and Nigel Hicks, these eagles are huge – 76 cm (30 in) – and “uncommon but widespread,” and live in coastal areas where they feed on fish and sea-snakes.  Despite their large size, on our first sighting we saw one of the eagles being harassed by two Brahminy Kites, of which there are many all around the island and which the book puts at 43-51 cm (17-20 inches) in size.  Watching the kites ‘dive-bombing’ the eagle was when Marcia was shocked to realize just how large the eagle was – kites look plenty big when we watch them circling over the house, but these two looked small when flying close to the eagle, less than half of its wingspan.
Most evenings we stay outdoors in our dirty kitchen after dinner, as long as the insects are not too bothersome.  Sunset is about 6 P.M. now, and it gets dark very soon thereafter.  We sometimes light mosquito coils, which remind Steve of family camping trips more than 50 years ago, but they only repel mosquitos.  They are no help with the many other insects that come to buzz around us and our lights.  Sometimes we are visited by bug eliminators, namely lizards and frogs.  The lizard in the photo is called a gecko, or tuko, and is 10-12 inches from nose to tail.  Both of its names are similar to the sound that geckos make.  The frog in the following photo has been staying close to our dirty kitchen for a couple weeks now, often not moving for days.
We hope you enjoy the photos, by no means professional quality, but the best we’ve been able to obtain so far.  To paraphrase General MacArthur, “We shall return” to the eagle area, hoping for better ones.
Steve and Marcia on the Rock

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