Thursday, 26 December 2013
Can you see the eagles there in the sky? Just squint and the dots become eagle-shaped! This amazing snapshot of Kuyurnpa (green dot on the right) shows how much she has progressed since fledging over a month ago. Today at noon, while most Australians tucked into those Christmas leftovers, Kuyu was soaring at 1600m above the ground, accompanied by her mother! This is the first time she has ever been recorded over 1 km up! The other green dots show her progress earlier today before reaching this altitude, and the red ones are those of Gidjee. This mother-daughter team were at the same height at noon today, although they were nearly 1 km apart (but could probably see each other with no problems!).
It seems like only yesterday that Kuyu was still sitting on her nest atop the ridge, seemingly marooned on this tiny island in the vast outback. The first few weeks of tracking data post-fledging showed her moving 'from tree to tree', in a south-easterly direction away from her nest - but now Kuyu is really expanding her home range and covering about one-quarter of the area that her mother Gidjee travels. Here's a quick map of Kuyu's progress, the pink icon showing the nest where her journey began. Where to next? More coming soon!
Saturday, 14 December 2013
Today marks the 6 month anniversary of the day I was successful in capturing an adult Wedge-tailed Eagle, a male we named ‘Wallu’. He was released in a healthy condition and monitored closely for the next few weeks to ensure he coped with his new backpack. Wallu has since remained in the same territory (which we have determined to be about 32km2 in size – quite small for the desert environment in which he lives), giving us amazing insights into his life. He has regularly been clocked at over two thousand metres above the ground, usually soaring but occasionally performing fast dives at 90km/h!Here is a three-dimensional map showing the ~2700 GPS fixes recorded by Wallu’s PTT since June 2013:
The two ‘outliers’ shown above indicate possible errors in the tracking device’s accuracy: the one at centre top showed an altitude of ~6000m, and the point at far right is about 3km out of Wallu’s territory (as shown by the rest of the fixes). Both fixes may indeed be accurate, but given their location in context of the other points, I am treating them with caution.
So far this data gives a solid backup to what we already know about this species: adults are resident in a fixed territory throughout the year. But what I’m really keen to find out is whether they may leave their home range at any given time. Such information cannot be unveiled without being able to identify individuals, and is another thing to look forward to as our study continues!
Sunday, 8 December 2013
It’s now been nearly 2 months since I removed Kuyu from her nest and fitted her with a GPS/Satellite transmitter. About a month ago she made her first flight, and carried on moving away from her nest. Now she is beginning to spread out further and, as the above map shows, she is beginning to move down off the ridge and explore the lowlands.
How is she surviving, and what is she eating? Young wedge-tails like Kuyu are still very much dependent on their parents for food. Viewing her movements alone is interesting, but to provide some context, let’s see what her mother Gidjee has been doing. For a start, we need to zoom OUT!
This map shows the area covered by Gidjee during over the same time period depicted in the first map above. Our powerful adult female eagle has covered most of her home range in just a few days, soaring as high as 2700m above the ground, and (during dawn and dusk), visiting regular hunting haunts, including some well-wooded areas inside the feral-proof mammal enclosure (possibly hunting for Burrowing Bettongs), and a number of rabbit warrens outside the enclosure. Kuyu is apparently left on her own for much of the day (although keep in mind we don’t have a tracker on Mulga, Kuyu’s father, so he may well be ‘guarding’ her while Gidjee is hunting), but her mother normally roosts within a few hundred metres of her each night, sometimes apparently sharing the same tree.
Take today for example. At 3pm Gidjee came in to meet Kuyu on a perch tree on the ridge, probably delivering some prey. She spent a few hours with her daughter, then between 6pm and 7pm, the two parted and roosted in different trees, with Gidjee moving south and Kuyu heading north. At 4am the next morning our diligent mother was already heading to a favoured hunting place nearly 2 km from her roost.
Thursday, 14 November 2013
Kuyurnpa is off! She has now well and truly left her nest and is making steady progress, heading south-east along the ridge-line that forms the northern border of her parents’ territory. Our satellite data has not shown her making any long flights (keeping in mind that fixes are only taken every hour), which probably indicates she is still ‘finding her wings’. Her most recent roost site (used last night) is just under 1km away from her nest. It is interesting to see that she has not returned to roost at the nest since fledging. Maybe there’s a secret food supply her parents are leading her to?
Wednesday, 6 November 2013
This picture shows our young eagle Kuyurnpa sitting on her nest, the last time I saw her just under a week ago. I have now left the field study area and have been keeping an eye on the satellite network to monitor her progress. Two days ago, one GPS fix (at 4pm on 4th November) showed a point about 100m from the nest, and 200m in the air, indicating she may have made her first flight. But the rest of that day was spent at the nest site, so was this a slight error in the GPS accuracy, or a very quite test-flight!? Yesterday afternoon, though, the GPS showed a clear path of waypoints to a site 160m from the nest, where our little girl roosted for the night. And today she continued, flying from one perch tree to the next and travelling a whole 370m from her nest site! By the looks of the last few fixes, she roosted right on top of the ridgeline, a more prominent viewing point than the nest itself. Here’s a quick look at the eaglet’s progress:
The moment has finally arrived – the bird has flown! More updates on Kuyu's flight path after the next GPS download in 3 days.
Wednesday, 23 October 2013
At 4am this morning I climbed into my hide in the darkness, well before sunrise. Very strong winds during the last few days had blown it around a lot, pulling off some anchor ropes and tearing the camouflage away from the front. I spent some time readjusting everything, concealing every possible crack, and just as the first few bird calls began to welcome the dawn rays, I was ready. My friend Mike then helped me haul up camera gear, food and water, before walking down slope and driving away from the nest site, making any adult eagles watching think that the humans were leaving.
After an hour and some very pleasing observations of the eaglet walking around its nest, jumping up and flapping its fast-growing wings, a gentle breeze ruffled the roof of my hide. It didn’t take long for it to pick up and soon I was bobbing around like a cork on the high seas, making filming eagle behaviour very difficult to say the least. The eaglet didn’t mind and took advantage of a few gusts to launch herself higher with powerful wing-beats. Great flying practice!
Two hours passed since my stint began… then three. Then four. There was no sign of adult eagles returning, and I started to think they knew I was in there. My hopes of observing and capturing photos of Gidjee or Mulga with their satellite-tagged chick were fading. My legs were very uncomfortable, having been folded up on the 1m2 platform for so long. Not to mention my three backpacks which were taking up more than their fair share of room, but whose company was vital for this mission. Just as I was about to give up, the eaglet began looking skyward and giving a very loud, repetitive begging call. She had seen an adult approaching!
For 17 minutes she proceeded to tear up the rabbit, feed small pieces to her chick and eat parts of it herself. The wind continued to blow me around as I filmed, making the images very shaky, but at least the behaviour was being captured in some form. I also snapped lots of photos – this one is probably the best of the bunch:
As I later wrote in my diary, when something that was once only the small spark of an idea solidifies before your eyes as a moment of reality, the feeling is profound. The mental image of Gidjee, my female satellite-tagged Wedge-tailed Eagle, feeding her satellite-tagged 10 week-old chick, finally became real. It only took a day of hide construction, a bit of dehydration, a few early mornings and about 10 hours of sitting in a hide being blown around like a cork on the high seas to get there! I bet that rabbit tasted good :)
Thursday, 17 October 2013
An afternoon visit to our eagle chick today revealed she is doing fine, and appears to have accepted her new PTT with no problems. Here you can see her sitting on the nest, with the transmitter and aerial just visible on her back (as shown by the arrows). A freshly killed rabbit was visible on the edge of the nest cavity indicating adult eagles are continuing to deliver prey. The rate of eaglet development never ceases to amaze me – it was only 2 days ago that I saw her but already more of the down feathers on her head have been replaced by juvenile feathers. In order to further monitor her progress and observe natural behaviour (flapping, preening, feeding, etc) while ‘hidden’, we built a hide overlooking the nest site, completing the finishing touches of camouflage just on dusk. Over the next few days I will try and spend some time inside to further confirm the PTT is not restricting the eaglet’s development in any way. Watch this space!
Tuesday, 15 October 2013
The third transmitter has been deployed! We visited Gidjee and Mulga’s nest today and found their eaglet, now about 9 weeks old, peering down at us with that alert look that older nestlings often have. Her large skull and long bill confirmed she was a female. After a quick tree-climb using a ladder, I removed her from the nest, blinded her to minimise stress, and lowered her to my fantastic assistants, Mike Lohr and Mike Griffiths, on the ground. I then fitted another solar powered GPS/Satellite transmitter using the same harness used on adult eagles earlier this year. This took about 30 minutes, then it was time for some quick photos. My huge thanks to both Mikes for their invaluable help.
It was only after placing her back on the nest that the moment hit me – finally I had satellite tagged a juvenile eagle before it fledges! This was the main aim of this project when it began more than a year ago, but there were many rungs to climb first, including trialling the PTTs on more robust adults first. Now we will be able to determine the day the chick fledges, document her very first flight movements, and follow her journey afterwards. Where will she go on her first ever flight? How long will she depend on her parents for? And what direction will she travel after leaving ‘home’ next year? I can’t wait to find out!
Friday, 20 September 2013
About a month ago we first noticed Gidjee begin to move away from her nest again, following a long stint of incubation. Today Gill visited the (as yet unrecorded) nest site and observed something exciting: Gidjee and Mulga are proud parents! The eaglet picture above is about a month old, well on track to fledging successfully. This bird is destined for the third PTT, currently on its way from America to my house! When aged about 60-70 days, this eagle chick will be fitted with a solar-PTT, just like that worn by Gidjee and Wallu, to track its movements when it flies from the nest, and hopefully for many years afterwards. More updates coming soon!
Thursday, 22 August 2013
A quick look at the progress of our two tracked eagles today has revealed some exciting news: the nests of both birds have new arrivals! It's been over 7 weeks since we know that Gidjee began incubating eggs on her nest, and about the same time that we noticed Wallu visiting Wurru at their chosen nest each morning, probably delivering food. This is beyond the normal incubation period for wedgies so we are safe to assume that the eggs on each nest have hatched. The behaviour of both eagles changing in the last few days provides further evidence, with Gidjee leaving her nest several times each day and at odd hours, and Wallu attending his nest or perching near it for longer periods than we've noted in the last 6 weeks. Now the challenge begins for our two pairs to feed their young and keep them alive!
Today I also received some great news that I have received approval to satellite track a juvenile eagle later this year. Provided food supply is ample and there are no extreme weather conditions, Gidjee and Mulga should rear at least one offspring each, ready to fledge around October. So hopefully if all goes well we will be able to track the progress of this bird during its post fledging period, and beyond. More updates soon!
Wednesday, 7 August 2013
Today I finished making a trailer for the next iNSiGHT Film about satellite tracking Wedge-tailed Eagles in Western Australia. The film's release is a while away yet, but you can get a feel for what it's about by viewing this preview. The film will premiere in Perth in 2014 and DVD's will be available at the screening. Watch this space!
Where Do Eagles Dare? (Trailer) from Simon Cherriman on Vimeo.
Where Do Eagles Dare? (Trailer) from Simon Cherriman on Vimeo.
Sunday, 21 July 2013
Today I looked at our eagle data for the last 3 days, and noticed a slight pattern in Wallu’s daily routine. Around 10 or 11am, he is recorded as being AT one of his nest sites – Nest 57 – which, as we discovered early on, was in mid-June being freshly lined in preparation for use. Wallu’s fixes show us that he begins the day near the rabbit warren (probably hunting), then delivers a kill to Wurru, who I think is incubating eggs on Nest 57, and takes over sitting duties for a short period while she feeds away from the nest. When she is full of ‘roo or rabbit and ready to sit again, Wurru returns to incubate and allows Wallu to fly. Judging by the large distance between fixes, he might well be spending the rest of his day performing territorial duties at the far boundaries of his patch.
It really looks like our Wallu has his work cut out this year!More updates soon.
Thursday, 18 July 2013
Gidjee is still incubating!
Imagine sitting in a tree all day with this view. This is what our female eagle is doing at the moment during the incubation period.
Her movements today show, well… no real movement! This is a good sign that she has settled on her clutch of eggs and is well into the incubation phase of this year’s breeding season. Mulga is obviously doing a good job at providing her with food, allowing this dedicated incubator to focus on the task at hand.
Monday, 15 July 2013
How fast does an eagle fly? It’s probably quite a common question, but not something that is easy to answer as wedgies don’t fly past multi-novas very often! Luckily, one of the many variables our sophisticated PTT devices have the ability to record is speed, measured in knots. I’ve been keeping track of the speeds recorded at each GPS fix and not noticed anything that exciting. Both Wallu and Gidjee are usually stationary (i.e. perched, or, in Gidjee’s case, incubating eggs), or when they are in flight, they cruise at relatively low speeds of 5 – 10 knots, roughly 10 – 20 km per hour.But today something awesome came through.
Check out this fix:
It was taken on Wallu at 11 am 2 days ago as he dived from the sky. If we convert knots to km/h, it clocks him at nearly 70km/h!! For a large bird of prey this is quite impressive. I hadn’t really paid much attention to speeds prior to today, but this fix made me light up and scroll back through the last couple of weeks’ data, and notice a faster dive occurred on 5th July at the same time of day, when Wallu travelled at 80km/h! How cool is THAT!?
Why so fast?
Currently we are in the breeding season, and it’s known that male Wedge-tailed Eagles defend their territory with aggressive aerial displays. They dive from the heavens like a bullet, showing the two white dots which are clearly visible at the point where each wing joins the body, on the dorsal surface. To another eagle these dots would appear as bold markings, and in a display dive indicate to their neighbours that means ‘I’m a big scary object at high speed, so don’t come near my patch – it’s taken’!There is also the possibility that such a fast dive is in response to a sudden appearance of a prey animal. Or, when deciding that he needs to be closer to ground level, he might as well do it in the quickest fashion possible! If you can – why not? I know that if I was capable of stooping from the sky in a controlled fashion, I certainly would!
Monday, 8 July 2013
By visiting some of the favoured roost trees of our two eagles, we have been able to see on-ground what these places look like, giving us a good idea of the birds’ reasons for being there. We discovered a couple of weeks ago that Gidjee was frequently roosting quite close to a small patch of gum trees inside the fenced enclosure, and the reason for this was she and her mate Mulga had built a new nest here. I could tell by its good condition that this nest had been newly constructed and was most likely the site at which Gidjee and Mulga would breed this year.
However, today I know my predictions were wrong.
The above tracking data shows Gidjee’s behaviour over the last few days has contracted to a small spot on a ridge overlooking the fenced enclosure. On the 2nd, 3rd and 4th July she spent most of each day at this location, only moving away a few times. This behaviour aligns with her making the final preparations at a nest by adding fresh leaves to the nest cavity, and spending more time there prior to laying. Considering we are expecting her to be laying eggs soon, we would assume she would be closing in on Nest 63, if this was her chosen nest in the 2013 breeding season. Apparently it isn’t!
I can now see that Gidjee and Mulga must have another nest, one we have not yet located, on the ridge, and THIS is where she is breeding! Being situated in this prominent location means the nest is almost certainly in a gidgee tree, hence the title of this blog post. Since the three days shown above, almost all the daily fixes have occurred at this same point, with Gidjee only leaving the nest briefly during late morning or mid afternoon, probably to receive a meal from Mulga (male wedge-tails usually feed their females on the nest during incubation). Each time we get a fix on her being away from the nest for some time, this almost certainly means her mate is incubating the eggs while she takes a break. Such is the cooperation present between well-bonded adult Wedge-tailed Eagles.
Tuesday, 2 July 2013
I am now back in Perth, 1200km away from the Lorna Glen eagle study site. But every 3 days, a nice little package of GPS coordinates streams into my computer telling me what our two adult wedgies, Wallu and Gidjee, have been up to. After just over a fortnight of tracking, we are starting to see some really amazing stuff! Here’s a little video to share with you the wonders of GPS PTT technology:
Wedge-tailed Eagle Satellite Tracking from Simon Cherriman on Vimeo.
Saturday, 22 June 2013
This morning I collected a motion-sensing camera which I had set up on the kangaroo carcass we used to catch Wallu just over a week ago. The 'roo had now been dragged out of the trap and the trap closed, to ensure we didn't catch any other eagles. Setting the camera up had indeed paid off - it gave us the first close glimpse at Wallu with his transmitter we've had since we released him!
This video shows Wallu's mate Wurru feeding at the carcass, then looking up and calling softly as he dropped down from the perch to join her, offering the camera a good glimpse of his PTT (shown circled in the picture above). You can see he's still very wary - the last time he fed on this carcass he was caught by some researchers!
Then something really interesting happens. Wurru is disturbed by something, looking skyward and running out of shot before taking off. Wallu soon follows, and only minutes later, a THIRD eagle lands to investigate the carcass! This one is a sub-adult male. You can see this from his much paler nape (neck feathers) and more golden wing-bar that he is a younger bird, and his sex is revealed by his relative size (smaller than the female), and shorter head and bill. There is also a Willie Wagtail in shot - but somehow I don't think he is the reason the eagles flew away :-D
Eagles Caught on Camera from Simon Cherriman on Vimeo.
Is this bird an invader? Why does his presence disturb Wallu and his mate so much? Maybe they left instantly to defend their territory. And maybe Wallu's relationship is being tested by the presence of a younger, more hansom male! We will find out further into the breeding season if Wallu remains in his territory and fathers offspring. More updates soon!
Tuesday, 18 June 2013
The excitement out bush continued today when we spotted an eagle perched in a dead tree not far from Trap 2, the location at which Wallu was trapped last week. A closer look at the bird revealed it was a large female – Wallu’s mate Wurru! I knew he couldn’t be far away, and minutes later I saw him perched in a live gidgee tree on an adjacent hill. He flew as soon as I left the vehicle, as did the female, but we noticed both birds settled in another dead perch tree a few hundred metres off the road. Although the odds were it was Wallu, I needed to sight his PTT (transmitter) to confirm. Neil and I stalked them, keeping hidden behind a small ridge, and managed to get within about 100m.
I set up my long zoom-lens and framed both birds – Wurru facing sideways, the male facing us front on. Where was the PTT!? I couldn’t see his back! As though hearing my thoughts, he suddenly turned around and revealed his back… and I saw it! The PTT sat perfectly, aerial probing skywards. He was alive and well!
|Wallu's PTT is visible as he turns to fly from the perch tree.|
A sighting of Gidjee earlier that morning revealed she was also doing fine, flying low over the pen not far from her release site. We now had a couple of records of our eagles since their release, making us confident they’ve resumed their normal lives. Tracking information from the PTTs also confirmed this, and for the first time we have been able to view the birds’ movements and ‘see’ what they got up to after we released them. Here’s a map of Wallu’s story…
You can see from this amazing imagery (thanks to Google Earth!), Wallu roosted on a hill about 1km from the trap site (green circle). First thing the next morning, he flew straight to an area bordering the lake system and spent a few hours there (blue circle). (Later inspection revealed this site was a rabbit hotspot, littered with piles of dung, diggings and a few large warrens. It wasn’t surprising – the day after trapping, Wallu was hungry, and flew nearly 4 kilometres to exactly where he knew he could get a meal). He then returned to the ridge to the north of the trap site and spent some time at one of his nest sites, roosting that night close by. The next day was spent close to this nest site, possibly because he was helping Wurru gather lining for it in preparation for the upcoming breeding season. Yesterday at mid-morning, Wallu again made a beeline to Rabbit Ridge, probably for another feed, before flying to perch near the road where we sighted him
|'Rabbit Ridge', showing one of the perch trees Wallu has been using on the right.|
We know Gidjee roosted not far from the trap the night of her capture (shown by the red circle just above 'Trap 1' in the above map). The next day she spent the morning on the ridge overlooking the enclosure, before perching in a tall patch of eucalypts on the plains below (yellow circle). Roosting nearby that night, she began her Monday morning with a flight above the nearby ridge, then spent the afternoon perching in patches of tall eucalypts, both in the enclosure (near an active Boodie warren), and then another patch further south of the enclosure. This behaviour may well be associated with investigating possible prey areas: these eucalypt areas are productive, usually supporting good numbers of rabbits, kangaroos and birds.
Later on we visited the area of tall eucalypts inside the pen and discovered Gidjee and her mate Mulga had built a new nest here! This is probably in response to an increase in prey density inside the fenced enclosure, as the native marsupials thrive in the absence of feral cats and wild dogs. More light will be shed on Gidjee and Mulga's breeding in this new nest as the year progresses.
Saturday, 15 June 2013
AND AGAIN!!! Today marks another day of incredible excitement in our eagle capture mission. During mid afternoon, another adult eagle from a neighbouring territory near that of the male we trapped last night was seen perching on one of our crow traps. We waited an hour then approached the trap in gripping suspense. At first glimpse there were no birds to be seen, but a few seconds later we saw two eagles take off from the ground near the trap. They were both outside, peering in at the bait. We aborted again and drove to a nearby wetland area to kill time. The sun was disappearing and light was fading fast. I began to hope that the eagles had left the trap alone - it would be much better to catch one fresh in the morning, rather than last thing at night.
Just after sunset we approached the trap for the third time. I was as nervous as ever. Nothing moved in the spotlights as we slowly drove up. Neil and I got out of the car and walked slowly to the trap. I saw a small glint. Eyeshine. Then a large shape moved - another eagle was trapped! We burst into action and raced to the cage, with nets ready to secure the bird. This one, a very large adult female (and JUST the bird we had on our target list!) was much easier and within minutes she was caught, blinded and calm. (You can tell she is a female by her much larger head and enormous talons, visible in the above photograph).
After processing and securing the second transmitter (known as a PTT - Platform Transmitter Terminal), the bird was ready to be released. With massive wing-beats and a crop full of kangaroo and feral cat (both carcasses used as bait), she flew into the night and landed in a low bush. It was a bit of a worry to leave her in this position overnight, but interfering now would do her no good. We wouldn't be able to re-capture her without a lot of effort and a risk of causing her an injury. And we instantly ruled out the thought of holding her over night due to the amount of stress this would cause her. Besides, eagles had often been recorded roosting on the ground in treeless plains. Who would dare mess with our largest avian predator!?
In morning darkness Gill and I set out again to attempt to locate the bird at sunrise. A heavy fog prevented us from seeing more than 50 metres but when the sun had burned most of it off at around 10am, I caught a glimpse of a shape perched in a tree on the nearby ridge. It was the female, and through binoculars we sighted her preening her new backpack. She was alive and well!
I'm REALLY EXCITED to give you a preliminary look at the first set of location data from our GPS PTTs, which reveals some fantastic information. Below are two maps showing the movements of each eagle several hours after release. The first maps our male, who will now be dubbed Wallu (a variation of the traditional Martu name for Wedge-tailed Eagle, 'Wallu-wurru'). After release from outside crow trap number two, Wallu flew about a kilometre to roost in a tree on top of a ridge, not far from several of the nests in his territory (the nests are not shown). From this point he also has a great view over the lake system to the south, visible on the map. The lake is currently dry but in good seasons attracts hundreds of waterbirds.
Looking at the second map, we can see the very first movements of our female eagle, who I will now announce is named Gidjee (named after a local tree in which eagles most commonly build their nests). Although we arrived at her release site before sunrise today, we did not sight her until mid morning, and the satellite information was not available until later this evening. This meant our only means of detection was to sight her in the flesh. By the time we had walked up the ridge on which she was perched, both her and her mate (who had been hanging around the trap area all morning and eying off the dead kangaroo which we removed from inside the trap!), flew away to the north-west. Some quick detective work revealed the tree she was perched in, which had several fresh scats beneath and a few feathers. We recorded this perch tree with a handheld GPS, and were thrilled to later find it matched perfectly with the location shown below, as recorded by Gidjee's harness-mounted PTT.
While this data is only the tip of the iceberg, it bodes well for a great future of further records. It is incredibly exciting to reveal that this is the FIRST TIME EVER adult Wedge-tailed Eagles are being tracked by satellite!! Never before has anyone been able to look at a map and view the location of our largest bird of prey from a remote location. If you are reading this, I thank you for sharing this exciting time with me! Please keep your eyes on this blog for more updates on Wallu and Gidjee's progress, and for news of the documentary film which will be released in the near future.
When you next glance skyward at an eagle, just think if you have ever before wondered: "Where Do Eagles Dare?"
Friday, 14 June 2013
It's not every day you get to make a boyhood dream reality!!! After arriving at Lorna Glen for our eagle capture mission on Tuesday, I was absolutely ecstatic today when we were successful in capturing an adult Wedge-tailed Eagle (this one a male) after less than 24 hours of trapping. Fitted with a long-term solar GPS/Satellite transmitter, this bird will allow us to track its movements over the coming years. Today is a day I will never forget - suspense, excitement, nervousness, and capped with raw emotion and happiness. I must start by saying a huge thankyou to all my wonderful support crew - Gill behind the camera and at my side as always, Neil H the extraordinarily calm and wise eagle handler, my close friend Judy who first introduced me to this study area, Mum and Dad here with me in spirit in everything I do, my Aunty who left us so suddenly last week and is now looking down on us all, everyone who has helped in the preparation.... and most importantly, these majestic, MAGIC eagles which continue to bring me inspiration, as they have done for much of my lifetime. Here's how the day went...
We baited the 'crow traps' (a large wire cage) yesterday arvo with a few road-killed kangaroos, and on our way out to prepare another trap site after lunch today, we saw an eagle circling near one. We slowed down to get a closer look and our binoculars confirmed this was a dark adult bird. Just what we wanted. This pair was not the primary target but (I think) the neighbouring pair towards the east. A little further down the road and we found a second adult bird perched in a tree. (This was almost certainly the mate of the bird just seen, and also very dark). We carried on to continue with our trap setup and worked for about an hour, when a call on the radio excited us. It was Judy saying that she'd just driven past an adult eagle perched right above one of our baited traps! Knowing how alert and suspicious adult eagles are, I just didn't believe they would go into a crow trap... but we held our hopes. To be honest I wasn't feeling the best and didn't feel like catching an eagle - I wanted my headache to have cleared before the big moment. But it is often at the strangest of times when these rare moments descend upon us.
Half an hour later we left our tools and drove down the road towards the the trap where the eagle had been sighted. My nerves rushed as we slowed down for the last 50 metres, then stopped. I glanced out the window. BOTH BIRDS were at it - the male inside the cage and the female sitting on the ground outside. She launched into the air and flew as Neil and I dashed to the trap. I expected the male bird to try and fly out - he didn't. He just stayed on the ground and tried running into the wire. I wanted to pin him urgently and Neil hadn't yet got the gate open, so I just dived over the fence and secured the bird with my net. Soon Neil was in and also placed his net over the eagle, then grabbed his legs. Even before we had it caught, I was amazed at how calm this bird seemed. The eagle had hardly flapped and only jumped at the side of the cage a couple of times. When secured it was totally uninjured - not a scratch. And it became even calmer when I had it blinded (thanks a million to Nick Stanton for making me such a perfect fitting falconry hood!).
The rest they say is history (although you can watch the whole thing when my documentary comes out!), but it took about 40 minutes to fit the transmitter, then band, weigh and measure the eagle, before it could be set free. Just before sunset we released him, and had tears welling in our eyes as he flew away down the road beautifully, not a feather out of place, with the transmitter firmly on his back, flapping his huge wings and lifting himself above the mulga scrub. A dream come true. But only the first phase complete. We still have one more bird to catch...