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Are these Bonelli's Eagles? - Sudan (1 Viewer)

tomjenner

Well-known member
I took these photos of two raptors that appeared to be displaying in the hills bordering the Red Sea in Sudan. They were distinctly broad winged and soared on flattish wings. One also hung its legs very low and they swooped at each other a couple times as if passing food or attempting to grapple talons. The photos show a pale body with darker wings; the flight feathers and primary coverts seem paler than the rest of the coverts which form a dark central band along the wing; there is also a dark tail band. The distant shot of the bird with its legs dangling also seems to show the white patch on the mantle. They look to me like Bonelli's Eagles, but I need confirmation as I believe this would be a first record for the country. Any comments appreciated.

Tom
 

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Jan-Paul Charteris

Sussex birder and budding moth enthusiast
Certainly are. That wing shape and profile as shown by the second photo especially is very obvious even at great distance, and they can be very agile when sparring for a bird of their size
 

gambirder

Kev Roy
Almost certainly African Hawk Eagles given the location.

Difficult to be certain from purely on the basis of these images. The apparent contrast between underwing coverts and remiges would support ID of AHE.
 

BuckeyeAZ

Just this bloke, you know
The apparent contrast between underwing coverts and remiges would support ID of AHE.
Sceptical though I am, given the location, it looks fine for adult Bonelli's eagle, including the apparent contrast between underwing-coverts and flight-feathers. I can't see how adult or immature African hawk-eagle fits these features. What age of African hawk-eagle are you saying it is?
 

tomjenner

Well-known member
Although it would be new for Sudan, I don't think the location is a big issue. In Birds of the Horn of Africa it mentions that Bonelli's Eagles have recently been recorded breeding in Djibuti, and the new Middle East guide shows them breeding at several locations along the opposite shore of the Red Sea in Saudi Arabia.

Tom
 

gambirder

Kev Roy
I can't see how adult or immature African hawk-eagle fits these features. What age of African hawk-eagle are you saying it is?

Hi Buckeye. To me, it looks good for an adult African Hawk Eagle. Can you explain why you don't think it fits that ID?

Pretty difficult to separate the two species - unsurprisingly, given that AHE was formerly considered a subspecies of Bonelli's. I have extensive experience of AHE in the field, rather less of Bonelli's, but have not knowingly been anywhere where they're sympatric so have never had to study the issue too hard.

On reading this thread I checked my refs to hand (especially Birds of West Africa, Borrow and Demey). They mention AHE's "white secondaries" and Bonelli's' "mainly dark underwings with dusky remiges" to separate the two. This seems to check out with my experience of AHE and Bonelli's (especially a dozen plus close sightings of the latter in April). Hence my earlier comment.

I'm keen to learn any other better features to make the ID, so please help me here. Who knows, perhaps I need to scrutinise those AHEs a little more closely in future!
 

Steve Lister

Senior Birder, ex County Recorder, Garden Moths.
United Kingdom
Bonelli's is patchily distributed in southern Arabia and that of course is no big distance from Djibouti. But Sudan is a fair way north of Djibouti. And the mapped range of African Hawk Eagle eg in Ferguson Lees does just about get to the southern tip of the Red Sea coast of Sudan.

So the logical answer would be these should be African Hawk Eagles and the question then becomes is there anything on the photos that rules this out?

Steve
 

BuckeyeAZ

Just this bloke, you know
To me, it looks good for an adult African Hawk Eagle. Can you explain why you don't think it fits that ID?
On reading this thread I checked my refs to hand (especially Birds of West Africa, Borrow and Demey). They mention AHE's "white secondaries" and Bonelli's' "mainly dark underwings with dusky remiges" to separate the two.
Exactly so. This bird (like adult Bonelli's eagle) has whitish fore-underwing-coverts (ie lesser/median coverts), blackish rear underwing-coverts (ie greater/median coverts and primary coverts), and dusky flight-feathers. Adult African hawk-eagle has white/black-speckly underwing-coverts and whitish flight-feathers with a broad black trailing edge.
What age of African hawk-eagle are you saying it is?

these should be African Hawk Eagles and the question then becomes is there anything on the photos that rules this out?
Yes: see above.
 
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Jan-Paul Charteris

Sussex birder and budding moth enthusiast
I'm with Buckeye on this one, though I'll happily admit to having bugger all experience of African Hawk Eagle, that was my first assumption too based on locality. I can't find any photos of AFE on a google search that match this bird's plumage though, and it matches Bonelli's Eagle exactly, so even though they used to be considered subspecies (so did Bean and Pink-footed Geese, and male and female Hen Harriers used to be considered different species), the question should be can African Hawk Eagle look exactly the same as a classic Bonelli's Eagle from below? I'll sensibly leave that to someone who's been to Africa ;)

Jan
 

Tib78

Well-known member
Exactly so. This bird (like adult Bonelli's eagle) has whitish fore-underwing-coverts (ie lesser/median coverts), blackish rear underwing-coverts (ie greater/median coverts and primary coverts)

AHE can show similar pattern (not uncommon actually).

the question should be can African Hawk Eagle look exactly the same as a classic Bonelli's Eagle from below?

I am lucky enough to see AHE on a regular basis, and clearly, the answer is no it doesn't (at least in my experience).


Based on these pictures, it does look like a Bonelli's, and at least if the bird is an adult (and I think it is one or perhaps a sub-adult) then it definitely is a Bonelli's for the flight feathers pattern described by Buckeye.
Ageing based mainly on the black terminal tail band.

One feature pointing towards Bonelli's that has not been mentionned so far is the white back-patch visible on one picture, typical of Bonelli's and something I have never seen on AHE.

Nice record Tom (if confirmed ;))
 
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BuckeyeAZ

Just this bloke, you know
I'm lost, TIb. You say African hawk-eagle can have underparts like this, yet you believe this to be Bonelli's? Why? (The 'white back-patch' in pic 3 only comprises a few pixels, so I'm not keen to count that!)
 

Tib78

Well-known member
Sorry Buckeye, my post was indeed confusing and I have edited it (I just removed "dusky flight feathers" from the quote of your post). AHE can show underwing-coverts pattern rather similar to Bonelli's, but the flight feathers pattern is, as you wrote, quite different and actually the best way to tell these 2 species apart.
 

Tib78

Well-known member
One feature pointing towards Bonelli's that has not been mentionned so far is the white back-patch visible on one picture, typical of Bonelli's and something I have never seen on AHE.

The distant shot of the bird with its legs dangling also seems to show the white patch on the mantle.

I should read the observer description sometimes...:smoke:

So it's a pair, so presumably adults...so Bonelli's they are...
 

BuckeyeAZ

Just this bloke, you know
The OP is saying that one photo shows a 'white patch on the mantle' - not that he saw this in the field. As I said earlier though, this comprises only a few pixels on the photo so is hardly to be relied on.
 

tomjenner

Well-known member
I didn't see the white mantle patch in the field having never got a proper look at the upperparts. I took loads of photos, but unfortunately they are all in Sudan and I jumped on a plane for 3 months of travel the day after I published this post and I have no access to them until I get back. I have little recent experience of Bonelli's, but I have seen quite a few African Hawk-Eagles and these birds certainly struck me as being different - though there are probably plumages that I haven't seen. I don't have my books with me, but I don't think African Hawk-Eagle is found in this part of Sudan. However, it must be remembered that the entire mountain range has almost never been visited by an ornithologist before, so almost anything in the region is possible.

Tom
 

tomjenner

Well-known member
I recently sent these photos to raptor expert Bill Clark, who has confirmed that they are of Bonelli's Eagles.
Thanks for all your useful comments.

Tom
 

Black Wheatear

Bowed but not broken, yet!
Hi Tom,

Being familiar with both, but very familiar with Bonelli's, I'd have no hesitation on saying your bird/s are Bonelli's. If it helps I attach a photograph of one of the many birds breeding locally on my patch.

Hope this is helpful.

Peter
 

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Jan-Paul Charteris

Sussex birder and budding moth enthusiast
Hi Tom,

Being familiar with both, but very familiar with Bonelli's, I'd have no hesitation on saying your bird/s are Bonelli's. If it helps I attach a photograph of one of the many birds breeding locally on my patch.

Hope this is helpful.

Peter

Stunning photo :t: without doubt my favourite eagle
 

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