Mark Muller, Birdlife Botswana birding expert and photographer recently spent some time at Dinaka observing a Spotted Eagle Owl incubating her nest. Read below as Mark documents his account of the evening:
Recently Ker & Downey Botswana contacted me to advise that they had found a Spotted Eagle Owl at Dinaka that they believed was on a nest and asked if I would like to try and photograph the bird. As soon as I was able, I drove down to the 20,000 hectare private reserve that is situated on the Northern boundary of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, some 135 kilometers due South of Maun. I arrived late in the evening and we went straight out to the nest site arriving as full darkness drew in.
The pictures will, hopefully, give a snapshot into the life of an incubating Owl. What they cannot really do is tell you how much I enjoyed my time with her. The whole ambience of the night was truly wonderful, the Milky way and stars were laid out in the heavens above me, it got to me more that I can elaborate here.
On several occasions, Jackals called to each other with their wonderfully wild and lonely yelping calls. A lone Lion was roaring far away and was a gentle but powerful reminder that this really was wildest Africa.
The dark of night can often be an alien and intimidating time. It is a time with which, many of us have had very little exposure to. There is a whole new suite of life that go about making a living during the dark hours of the night and it is a time that I find endlessly fascinating. During the five hours that I spent with the nesting bird a little of the rich nightlife of Dinaka came to visit.
I had set up, right next to my camera, a very small and very dim light so I could, with the help of my binoculars, see what the bird was up to – this allowed me to observe some of what was going on.
On a couple of occasions, I had an inquisitive Barn Owl investigate me, almost hovering, a couple of feet above with the ghostly, totally silent flight that most Owls have – this Barn Owl landed in the tree above the incubating female and was immediately seen off by the Male Spotted Eagle Owl. Thereafter I heard the Barn Owl giving its eerie screeching call from several different spots not to far away.
The dim light attracted insects and small insectivorous Bats regularly swept in and out, feeding on them just inches from the camera lens.
The male Owl spent a lot of time sitting in the top of a small tree just behind the vehicle, I could just make him out, skylined against the dark starlit night sky – He called at regular intervals and, for a long time another Spotted Eagle Owl was answering him from far away. The two birds were, I am sure, letting each other know that they were on their own territories & would tolerate no trespassing. I had really hoped, as has been documented, to get a picture of the male bringing food to the incubating female.
However I think that he would bring food to his tree top perch & call gently, the female would reply with a lovely gentle hooting response and, shortly thereafter, would leave the nest & fly out over the car to join the Male – it was too dark for me to see what went on but, shortly after leaving the nest, she would fly back to the ground & as the pictures show walk back to the nest & with infinite care & gentleness settle herself over the eggs & continue her incubating duties.
Eventually at close to midnight I left her. I drifted away to sleep that night happy to know that I had managed to document a little of the mysterious life of a magnificent Owl and that the whole experience had been enhanced by the mystique of the night and an enormous sense of freedom – it was nature at it’s very very best and I was really in my own little bit of heaven.
Story and Images by Mark Muller