I had heard about the Black (verreaux’s) Eagle chick nesting on the cliffs of Noordhoek Peak overlooking Hout Bay in the Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) and desperately wanted to see if I could locate the new bird hide before the chick, which is currently about 9 weeks old, took flight.  Perversely, whenever I had a break in my work schedule, wet and windy weather kept me indoors.  Then last week a magic Spring day beckoned. I set off for the Silvermine Section of the Table Mountain National Park in the hope that I would be able to find the path to the hide and that Inca, the almost fully fledged Black Eagle chick had not yet left the nest. 

Enticed by the perfect reflections in the Silvermine Dam, I did a circuit on the boardwalk before heading up the track and onto the footpath to the bench looking down over Hout Bay.  Here a group of hikers directed me to the rocky path that follows all along the edge to Noordhoek Peak.  Just as they had explained, the path lead me to a sign directing me to the Black Eagle hide on the buttress before Noordhoek Peak.  The photo on the RHS shows the location of the nest on the cliff below Noordhoek Peak.  

The nest is well positioned, inaccessible to predators and protected from the rain by an overhanging ledge.  Its precarious position on the cliff does not give Inca a second chance if flying lesson 101 goes badly.  Apparently, after their first tentative flight, Black Eagle chicks return to their nest for as long as 10 days. I imagine that it takes that long to convince themselves that the first attempt from such a scary launch pad was not just beginners luck!    

 The hide has been built in a natural cleft between two large slabs of rock on a buttress directly opposite the one on which the Black Eagles built their nest.  The cleft in its natural state was too deep to provide a viewing platform so the TMNP crew filled in the base and carefully positioned cut stone to form a path and a cool but comfortable bench.  It is very discrete and although eagle eyes will no doubt see the heads of bird watchers, it is too far from the nest to be intrusive.  Without binoculars it is possible to see the pile of sticks that make up the nest but it is too far away to see any detail.  With binoculars, I could see the chick sheltering from the sun under an overhang immediately above the ledge that the nest had been built on.

Although I made myself comfortable at the hide and enjoyed a cup of tea while I watched the parents did not visit the nest  and the only action I saw was Inca changing position and flexing a wing.  Photo on LHS shows rock cleft with viewing platform.

 The Black Eagle family on the slope of Noordhoek Peak in the Silvermine area is the only breeding pair in the Cape Peninsula.  The female who apparently changed mates 3 years ago has successfully raised chicks for the past 9 consecutive years.  Inca the 10th owes his / her name to an alphabetical sequence of names.  The previous chicks were named Argo, Bladen, Canute, Dana, Echo, Frodo, Gandalf and Hannibal!!  Very little is known about the dispersal of young eagles once they leave the nest.  For this reason Inca was tagged recently and now sports a leg ring and wing tag.  These are identification tags are important to researchers with the Western Cape Black Eagle Project whose work is providing valuable information about the distribution of Black Eagles.  Anyone seeing a tagged eagle is requested to contact project co-ordinator Lucia Rodrigues and if possible report the number as well as the colour of the tags so that the eagle can be identified.  Click here to email her   For spectacular photos of these magnificent eagles go to http://verreaux.wordpress.com/

KimK 8 September 2012

* Editors comment:  Sorry, but I just can’t resist commenting on the renaming of our birdlife.   I feel that the `new international’ names represent an assault on our cultural heritage.  To me a Black Eagle or Wit Kruis Arend will never be a verreaux eagle anymore than a Dikkop would ever want to be a thick knee.  KimK