Saving the world while you wait

Encounter – Indian Black Eagle

To the Soliga people, the Indian Black Eagle is known by the evocative name of kaanana katthalu – the darkness of the forest



The Mighty Black. For most of my birding career, this majestic forest raptor has been elusive. My first sighting of the Indian Black Eagle (Ictinaetus malayensis) was not in the Western Ghats where it is more commonly seen, but in Horsley Hills, in the Eastern Ghats. We had a view of a distant, unmarked dark eagle alighting on a rock. And so it stayed until we found this magnificent hunter again, soaring above the treetops at BR Hills. 


Dr. Prashanth, who has spent a great part of his career at VGKK and knows the Biligirirangans very well, accompanied us on one of our best visits to his “home” forest. We saw the Black Eagle several times on that visit, most memorably when we were driving up to Bedaguli. Our eyes were already full of Blue-bearded Bee-eaters and Fairy Bluebirds, but the sight of the day was, quite literally, waiting round the bend. Just before the coffee estate began, a large individual chose to melt out of the dark canopy into the blazing blue sky ahead of us. It must have been about 50 metres from the car, and we gasped in unison. 


Imposing in its size and carriage, and soaring majestically into the valley. Later, Prashanth told me that the Soligas call the bird Kaanana-katthalu (literally, ‘Darkness of the Forest’). Wondrously poetic and founded on the Soligas’ unparalleled jungle wisdom. Sandy (Sandeep Somasekharan) has been particularly lucky company as far as raptors are concerned. As with the Changeable Hawk Eagle, with him I have had some fabulous views of the Black Eagle. He was with us at Bedaguli but things happened too quickly to bring in the photographic evidence. He caught this guy (in the picture) at Ramanagaram when he went there looking for vultures. The vultures were AWOL, but this compensated for Sandy’s bad day. And how!  


Photograph © Sandeep Somasekharan. All rights reserved.