Southern Africa is home to a huge diversity of predatory birds, from tiny pygmy falcons to commanding crowned eagles. A strong contender for the most photographic of Africa’s raptors is that black-and-white beacon of bird “badassery": the martial eagle. While many photographers have managed to snap photos of these handsome birds, few have been as lucky as professional wildlife photographer John Bryant who recently captured some images of a pair of mating martials.

Bryant was winding his way along the Timbavati River in South Africa’s Kruger National Park when he came across a martial eagle perched amongst some dense vegetation. Conditions were tricky for the photographer, but Bryant managed to take some photos through the branches, before the massive raptor soared across the road and landed in the upper boughs of a nearby tree.

“I had just started to take pictures – slightly adjusting the exposure because of the strong back-lighting – when my wife shouted: ‘Here comes another one!’” Bryant told Wild Magazine.

Realising the rarity of the sighting, Bryant quickly fired the shutter. “In total, I took 88 pictures from the moment the male bird swept in until the remarkable display sadly ended after some 19 seconds,” Bryant explained. “The male hovered over her and positioned himself on her back without digging in his talons. Once the male was reasonably well settled, she lifted her tail.“

Martial eagles are monogamous, so it’s possible that this pair have bred before. Egg-laying season usually falls somewhere between February and August, peaking from April to June and the raptors usually only fledge single chicks.

According to conservation biologist Rowen van Eeden, the Kruger Park can support between 60 and 70 breeding pairs of martial eagles, making it a vital stronghold for the species. Recent research indicates that martial-eagle sightings in South Africa have dropped by 60% over the last two decades with electrocutions and run-ins with humans outside of protected areas cited as the most likely causes for the decline.

Let's hope that these two "lovebirds" will be back again next breeding season! If you are lucky enough to spot a martial eagle in the African wilds, be sure to report your sightings to martialeaglesightings@gmail.com. If you're in the Kruger Park, lookout for colour rings on martial eagles and try to take a photo for easier identification. Check out John Bryant's full photo set on his Flickr or SmugMug pages.