Three-in-one Raptor

By Abhijit Menon-Sen <ams@toroid.org>

2009-11-15

While driving back into town from a very productive trip to Sultanpur, Clive Harris (a "Delhibirder-at-large", and one of my favourite people to go birding with) spotted an interesting-looking raptor (i.e. not a Kite) soaring, and we stopped to have a closer look.

…the bird circles, flying away from us…

Me, looking at the thin, upraised wings: Is that a Harrier?

Clive: Yes, I think so

…the bird turns, flies towards us…

Me, looking at the mottled whitish underparts with a dark hood: Wait, no. It's a Short-Toed Snake Eagle!

Clive: Yes, you're right

…the bird circles overhead…

Me, embarrassed: That isn't just a Honey Buzzard, is it?

Clive: Yes, that's what it is.

It turned out this individual was a pale juvenile in heavy moult, explaining the unusually thin-looking wings and strangely bleached plumage. It wasn't until we saw the shape of the body with its small head and protruding neck and the diagnostic pattern of banding on the tail that we could identify it with confidence.

Raptors are difficult.

(Other highlights from the trip: Delhi and Haryana's first record (as far as I can tell) of Whistler's Warbler Seicercus whistleri, Sultanpur's first record of the Orange-Headed Thrush Zoothera citrina, and its second recent record of the Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia; and at least two Moustached Warblers Acrocephalus melanopogon, my favourite Acrocephalus and a regular winter visitor to the reed-beds at Sultanpur.)