White-bellied sea eagle and an eel - Santhosh Krishnamoorthy
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White-bellied sea eagle and an eel

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White-bellied sea eagle and an eel

White-bellied sea eagle is a rather large bird of prey found predominantly along the coastal belts and also sometimes along other major water bodies over a wide geographical range, right from India, Sri Lanka through Southeast Asia, all the way to Australia. With an imposing size, presence and an impressive wingspan of around 2m, it is a majestic bird indeed.

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On my birding outing to Andamans in Feb 2018, had a wonderful encounter with this eagle. We were just about driving back after one of our morning birding sessions when I happened to see a bird descend down onto a large water body, a lake of sorts. It was some distance away, pretty much in the middle of the lake. I immediately asked my guide who was driving the car to stop,  jumped out of the passenger seat and ran towards the lake bund, camera in tow. Reaching there, saw that it was White-bellied sea eagle. It had picked up something that looked like a long, fat stick, from the thick water hyacinth growth. I presumed that the eagle was picking up some nesting material. Looking through the camera is when I realised that it wasn’t a stick but a big Eel. The eagle had just made a catch.

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The slimy eel seemed to be slipping away from the eagle’s grasp. The bird was balancing itself and adjusting the hold of it talons on the eel. Once it got a good grip, it flew on with its meal.

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The moment this eagle made the kill, a few onlookers, other White-bellied sea eagles, perched on the trees close by, took flight with a thought of probably stealing the prey from the rightful owner.

So as to not waste too much time, the eagle settled down on the ground nearby in the hope of starting to feed. However, things weren’t going to go as planned.

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Another eagle, which looked like a juvenile white-bellied, came down and snatched the prey away.

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The new owner hadn’t ventured very far by when there were other contenders up in the air trying to see if they could get a piece of the meal too.

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In all this melee, the one holding the catch was forced to drop it back into the lake. The eel was dead and it was going to float back to the water’s surface soon. The contest was an open one now and any of the strong contenders could pick up the kill and claim ownership. Even the aggressive and the opportunistic crows couldn’t resist. They began chasing the eagles away.

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All this commotion left the nice meal of an eel go a-begging. No one really went to claim the prize for quite a while. And it was time for us to head back. So, will never really know as to who, finally, was the lucky one.

All of this action transpired over a period of 15min at most. During those 15 or so minutes it kept me on my toes. On all my travels I always love to keep looking for nice encounters that will make some lovely stories. And rightly so, the moment I noticed what was happening, knew there was a nice story in it. I tried to capture as much of the action as possible, as best as I could, so as to be able to make this post.

What an encounter it was ! Hope you enjoyed reading it. Until next time….

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