🐾 Maybe the reason I love animals so much, is because the only time they have broken my heart is when theirs has stopped beating.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Visit the Black Eagles at Botanical Gardens

"Black Eagle" Watercolour on Bockingford 300gsm watercolour paper - Maree©

FOUR years ago the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden in Roodepoort, South Africa, had a crisis. Their magnificent Black Eagle male disappeared and it was thought that a 40-year old breeding programme would come to an end.

But the female eagle took charge. She disappeared for several days, and reappeared with a young male, and the pair have continued breeding ever since.

The Garden, some 30 kilometres west of the city centre at Roodepoort, is one of a network of eight botanical gardens around the country. It consists of around 300 hectares of landscaped and natural veld areas, planted with only indigenous trees, 600 species of indigenous flowering plants and shrubs. Over 230 species of birds have been recorded in the Garden as well as a number of reptiles and small mammals.

The kilometre walk to the top of the waterfall is worth it to get a view of the eagle's nest.

The Garden, donated to the people of Roodepoort in 1982 by the farmer who owned the property, is crisscrossed with trails, one going to the top of one of two small mountains that overlook a waterfall and the eagles' nests. Other walks take the visitor past the wild flower garden, a fern walk, a forest walk along the spruit, or a walk down to one of three dams on wheelchair-friendly brick and wood paths, to sit in the hide to watch the water birds.

There's more - an arboretum with shady lawns, a water-wise demonstration garden, acres of green lawns, a cycad garden, a magico-medicinal garden (plants used for magical and medicinal purposes), a succulent garden, and environmental education.

The eagle pair have two nests, towards the top of the beautiful 70-metre Witpoortjie Waterfall in the Gardens, and each year they alternate between them. The pair mate for life, and every year around March they prepare the nest when new sticks are added and a nest cap of leafy twigs is made. The male performs spectacular courtship displays, and two eggs are laid around mid-May, four days apart.

Magnificent gardens filled with indigenous flora, as far as the eye can see.

After 45 days an all-white chick hatches and once the second chick is laid four days later, the "Cain and Able" struggle begins. The first chick, Cain, proceeds to kill Abel, the second chick, over the next 3-4 days.

The white plumage changes to a golden brown over the next 90 days, when the bird leaves the nest. This juvenile will spend the next three months in the gardens, being fed by its parents. During this time, it practises and perfects its hunting and flying techniques, and in mid-December or January it will leave to establish its own territory. The chick has an estimated 30% chance of survival in its first year.

At around 4-5 years the eagle develops its beautiful dark plumage, then finds a mate and establishes its own territory.

This breeding pair are one of the few in an urban environment, and are unique to the Witwatersrand area, although they are under stress because of urban encroachment on their natural environment. This pair live mainly on hares and guinea fowl, although traditionally black eagles eat mostly Dassies.

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