On July 14th Olga Chagina posted on her Facebook wall a photo of an Aquila sp. she took south of Kibutz Ze’elim at the North-Western Negev (near Urim) on the same day, seeking for ID Help. Some reaction called for Steppe Eagle and some suggest Lesser Spotted.
Itai Shani was the first to call for Tawny Eagle Aquila Rapax - a species with 5 former national records, four of which at Urim-Zeelim area. Shortly after Itai's opinion on FB, I supported Tawny Eagle identification and stated some identification diagnostic key-points.
Later on, Dick Forsman approve the identification. Although this is not an 'Identification article' and the features of Tawny Eagle are available in literature, without giving anything 'new', I'd like to overview the status of Tawny Eagle in Israel and to point out the key features that could be seen from the first set of photos which separate it from similar species.
Status: Tawny Eagle was first recorded in Israel on November 1st 1992 at Urim (Shirihai, Harris and Williams; Shirihai 1996). Subsequent records came from the same locality: one on November 22nd 1996 (Aldersons), and one on December 21st 1997.
Since January 1999 and during 2000 a Twany Eagle was seen occasionally around Urim-Zeelim, by different birders including James Smith, Trevor Ellery, Eyal Shochat and others.
On December 17th, 2000 while conducting a wintering raptor survey I finally logged on that bird.
On the following we were amazed to discover that it had build a huge nest (!) on one of the Eucalyptus trees by Urim's gas station. Moreover, soon after a (probable) Female Imperial Eagle showed some interest in being a possible partner, perching by the nest.
In the end, no breeding occurred but that bird enabled a close look at the species key features. It is possible that this bird was the same bird seen in 1996 and 1997 or perhaps even the same bird from 1992 that hanged around in the area for nearly a decade. We'll never know.
Last, 14 years later, in summer 2014, Ezra Hadad photographed a bird near Bet-Kama, some 20 km away from Urim.
Key features seen on Olga's photos:
In Israel we don't get the creamy-buffish morphs nor the more difficult dark morph. All the birds recorded were tawny-buffish and in this respect can cause some confusion with Steppe and Lesser Spotted. Here I give the main ID points that could be seen on the first set of photos, in order to raise the awareness of foreign and local birders who visit the area.
Tawny Eagle is a species that its features must be borne in mind!
1. Aging the bird - it could be easily seen that the bird is in active moult, growing outer primaries while the outermost primary being paler and pointed, thus un-replaced yet, indicating a 2nd summer bird (hatced in 2014).
Actually correct aging was enough to eliminate other species of the same age. i.e Steppe which still shows a broad white line on the greater coverts or Lesser Spotted which still shows whitish under-tail coverts.
2. Structure: Large headed with somewhat shortish wings compare with the long wings of Steppe or the more well-proportioned Lesser-spotted.
When perched, tail looks rather short as well and the whole weight of the bird is pressed forward. The Bill is large compared to Lesser Spotted but the gape-line is only mid-long reaching the center of the Eye, not as long as in Steppe.
In flight the wings are typically pressed forward and although it was not clear if that feature was a result of a photo that caught it in an active wing beats, the effect could be noted.
3. Partly black greater coverts - contrary to Lesser Spotted and Steppe, the black GC are more solid and prominent. Actually the promoinent black GC are similar to that of 'fulvescens' Greater Spotted Eagle which in general, at least the intermediate morph can look quite similar!
4. Barring on flight feathers - every Aquila Eagle has a unique barring pattern which enables diagnostic identification (Forsman 1999).
In both Lesser and immature Steppe, the dark barring are thin and covering all the feathers length to the trailing edge. On Olga's photos one could see that the barring doesn't reach the trailing edge (as in juv and immature Great Spotted), but also that the bars are faint, unlike all the other species.
5. Almost entirely plain tail feathers - unlike in any of the similar species.
6. Paler 'wedges' on inner primaries - that was actually a good example of how a good feature was hard to detect in a too-close photo, while later on, when flight photos from greater distance were available, this feature was easily noted: somewhat resembling juv/imm Imperial Eagle though much weaker, Tawny Eagle has paler inner primaries that creating pale 'wedges'.
On the first set of photos a different tone could be seen.
7. General Color - the plain ground color of the belly, trousers (lacking any spots typical in both Spotted Eagle species) and under-tail coverts are unique for Tawny Eagle.
Personally when seeing the first set of photos I hesitated on this feature the most, since it was hard to tell if it was the real color or a result of light-effect of low evening sun.
Still, the all tawny and plain under-tail coverts, pressed the weight on the 'real color scenario.
Tawny Eagle binging a Tristram's Jird Tawny Eagle on a Eucalyptus tree
Many of these features were also pointed out later by Dick Forsman, who also added the longish nostril as in Steppe and unlike Lesser Spotted.
Itai Shani pointed out also the contrast from above between the paler lesser and median coverts to the much darker greater coverts.
Tawny Eagle, Golden Eagle and Steppe Buzzard sharing western Negev sky
click on the photo to enlarge