Sunday, 24 July 2016

Northern Loops

After spending the past 3 weeks at Roy Hill, Kuyurnpa has again drifted southwards back towards Matuwa, this time taking a slightly 'western' (compared with previous trips) route which took in parts of the Great Northern Highway. As you can see in the above map, there are three points at which her journey overlapped with WA's main artery north. Two of these were just 'crossings' where our eagle soared high over the thin strip of bitumen and kept flying, but the third and southern-most point shows Kuyurnpa spending several hours at ground level near the road, then roosting for the night 200 m west of it, about 100 km north of Meekatharra. A likely explanation is that she was attracted to feed on roadkill, a common activity for many young, nomadic eagles like Kuyurnpa. This behaviour occurred after a 420 km journey from Roy Hill. Most travellers I know don't even last half this distance before they are tempted to stop at the nearest roadhouse for some 'roo jerky'... then again, most travellers I know are not eagles!! 

Turning east again, Kuyurnpa spent the next two days completing her 640 km trip back to Matuwa. Her homeland was then the focus for two-and-a-half weeks, but on 22nd July she completed a huge northern loop by flying 430 km north to Roy Hill again, a total return distance of ~1500 kms! Here's a map showing those movements:

Although Matuwa only kept her attention for 17 days, and the above map shows a few concentrated GPS fixes which do not seem to indicate much movement, this initial glance is misleading. Let's zoom in a bit:

The green dots on the top left and top right corners of the above map show GPS points recorded on Kuyurnpa's inward (4th July) and outward (21st July) paths to the Matuwa area, respectively. It's really interesting to look closer and see the exploratory behaviour during her stay. The large cluster of points near the south-east corner of Matuwa, where Kuyurnpa spent several days at a time exploring a (possibly vacant) territory are actually broken up by a few flights back and forth to roosts in the north (on Kurra-Kurra, the Martu Aboriginal property adjoining Matuwa). Together with some loops to the east and west (including one flight over her natal territory, shown by the blue triangle), the distance our girl has travelled while 'not really moving much' is over 500 kms! This means the loop we saw above on the first map is actually 2000 km, a miraculous achievement by Kuyurnpa and a demonstration of the sheer ease with which this magnificent eagle species can cover ground!

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