Lake Panic, in the Kruger National Park, has often rewarded me with some exquisite sightings. Over the years, I’ve observed a resident pair of breeding fish eagles at the lake and have been treated to some beautiful and entertaining sights of these majestic birds of prey. Usually, there is a great variety of other water birds to be seen at the same time, so visits are always a pleasure.
One afternoon, I was keeping a watchful eye on a Goliath heron, which was casually scratching at the edge of the lake for something to feed on. Suddenly, I saw from the corner of my eye, and coming out of the blue, a fish eagle, diving like a kamikaze bomber. The heron ducked away, barely in time. Then the fish eagle’s partner swooped in, from a slightly different angle but in rapid succession. For the next ninety minutes we were in awe, watching a type of territorial battle that I personally had never seen before.
The heron used a thorn bush close behind it as a shelter to defend itself from the dive-bomb attacks of the two eagles. It was clear that the strategy of the pair was to work together, attacking relentlessly without giving the heron sufficient time to recover from the first attack before the second attack followed. The heron, however, acted like a champion boxer, feathers standing upright, ducking and weaving, with wings wide apart, flapping and fending off the blows to its head and body. At times it went so low that it put its head in the water. In spite of eagle claws slamming into its body several times, the heron managed to stand its ground. After a gruelling fight, both eagles retreated to a nearby tree, leaving me, as the referee, to declare the fight a draw!
From a photographic perspective, I would have preferred the thorn bush behind the heron to be further away to ensure a cleaner background. However, in nature, a photographer has to deal with the cards that have been given to him, and fortunately, in this case, the foreground action made up for a busy background. In the end, these photographs allow us to witness some seldom-seen bird behaviour.
This story "A Territorial Battle" is one of the winners of the first leg of our PhotoTales competition.
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