Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Hiding and Watching in the Wind

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!
Two minutes later and I filmed as an adult eagle swooped in from the sky and landed on the nest, with a dismembered mammal trailing from its talons in the wind. I could see a transmitter – it was Gidjee! She glanced in my direction with a suspicious look, but got straight to work and hopped onto the nest with the mammal, which I could now see was a rabbit.

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 :)

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