Second calendar year fulvescens Greater Spotted Eagle,
Basai, Haryana; 19 to 30 April 2003.
|A pale eagle was initially reported from Basai on 19 April
2003 by Aaditya and Debashish Chakravarti. They described it: "back and head
were almost completely a dirty white with very dark brownish black primaries
which, from its distant position on a stump in the marsh gave it the
appearance of a large Neophron [Egyptian] Vulture. It flew briefly revealing
buff-grey coverts and underbody and dark flight feathers. The wing edges
were parallel with a shortish tail." These views led them to think it might
be a bleached Tawny Eagle.
On the evening of 27 April I saw what was obviously the same bird. It was a large but small-headed eagle, with a longish bill and shaggy, almost vulture-like, nape. Obviously very worn, it was not even obvious what genus it was since it looked superficially like a Changeable Hawk Eagle or even an immature Crested Serpent Eagle. However, the proportions of wings and tail, the baggy, feathered legs and strong bill were indicative of an aquila.
The flight feathers and tail were dark brown, and very worn. Upperwing coverts were mid brown, median coverts and scapulars showing white and pale buff. The underparts were all white/creamy buff. The head was a gingery-pale buff, with distinctive blackish lores encircling the eye. The gape line extended back to level with the centre of the eye and the nostril appeared to be slightly oval-shaped.
Thanks to several people who commented on this bird, in particular Dick Forsman who was the only one to confidently identify it as a fulvescens Greater Spotted Eagle first time around! Quotes such as "amazing bird", "interesting bird", "very tricky" were received! Opinions were generally divided between Tawny (or possibly Steppe) and Greater Spotted, with some of the identification features mentioned being:
It was interesting to note different views on the nostril shape, i.e. some thought it to be circular and some oval! Bill and I had difficulty seeing the shape in the field, and it is only really in the two enlarged photos that it can be seen reasonably clearly. Even in one of these it does not look perfectly round, although I think this is an effect of the cere appearing to slightly overlap the nostril hole. Certainly the nostril is not the obvious elongated shape shown on the Steppe Eagle photo.
Most people did think it was a Tawny Eagle, although the combination of features mentioned confirm it to be a second calendar year Greater Spotted Eagle of the pale fulvescens form. A particular interesting discussion, and a good example of concentrating on finer points of structure for identification rather than being swayed by plumage colouration.
Mike Prince, July 2003.