Encounter - Booted eagle

Though smaller than other Aquila eagles, the Booted Eagle (Aquila pennatta) is a powerful bird of prey. It hunts reptiles, small mammals, and medium-sized birds, including crows and partridges.

A pale morph Booted Eagle banks in flight

My first prolonged and high quality sighting was near the Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary in Mandya district of Karnataka, when we saw two birds in the same vicinity on the same day. First, a dark morph flew off a coconut tree; the 'landing lights' (white feathers resembling the landing lights of an air-plane) were very clear on the shoulders. Shortly afterwards, we caught sight of a pale morph as well, with white undersides bordered by dark flight feathers.
Another high flying pale morph

We had another good sighting last year,a dark morph perched atop a huge fig tree near a lake on the outskirts of Mysore. We had spotted it once before there, and this time it allowed us to get really close. It was deep within the branches. Seeing us approach, it took off. (sadly, that wonderful fig tree was felled by a storm last monsoon).
Hidden deep within foliage

Finally, this year I saw from my office block a couple of crows mobbing a pale morph. But that was not yet the best sighting. A week before that, I was driving along a marshy area in the city adjoining a lake when I saw a smallish eagle swoop into the reeds. I stopped my motorbike beside the road and watched as Red Wattled Lapwings scattered from the bushes screaming 'Did he do it'... 

Presently the sleek-looking pale morph emerged back from the undergrowth, with its quarry missed, about three metres from me. It circled above the bushes for about 10 seconds and, probably realizing that the surprise element was absent, rose up and circled higher and higher away.
A dark morph in flight
Since, I have enjoyed multiple sightings of the Booted Eagle. Yet, the sight of this majestic raptor emerging from the reeds after its missed dive towards the lapwings remains my best sighting ever.

Text and photos by Sandeep Somasekharan