A White-bellied Sea Eagle fishes for compliments

A White Bellied Sea Eagle scans the seascape
A White Bellied Sea Eagle scans the seascape

At Goa’s Betul Beach the Sal river meets the Arabian Sea. It is at this confluence that I met a White Bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster).

Epitomizing patience, the raptor made several sorties looking for piscine prey. Undeterred by mobbing kites it circled for over an hour close to dusk. Ever the greedy birder, I had terns and gulls to distract me, but the White-bellied Sea Eagle grabbed my full attention as it hurtled towards the Sal river in a steep dive resembling the swoop of a Peregrine Falcon. As it neared the water its wings fanned out and with outstretched talons it disappeared behind a riverine wave. It re-emerged and, with great effort and concerted flapping of wings, it rose until it hit a convection current. In its aerial maneuvers I couldn’t find a flaw, yet I noticed the White-bellied Sea Eagle’s empty claw.

I knew White-bellied Sea Eagles wouldn’t make that astronomical push without a gastronomical pull. This bird had no apparent interest in playing the avian Sisyphus.

“You should try the sea food in Goa”, I remembered being told at a restaurant. I am sure the Sea Eagle tried too, but failed.

I lost sight of the White-bellied Sea Eagle thereafter and my thoughts had been drowned by the rising tide, signalling the time for me to return to roost. As I walked away from the mouth of the river and along the sea shore, admiring the setting sun, past the congregation of plovers, I saw a heavy bird flying low over the sea waves with slow but forceful wing beats. The silhouette revealed a White-bellied Sea Eagle heading for a treetop clutching what appeared to be aquatic prey.

This was one eagle that dared.

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Andy

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