TASMANIAN WEDGETAIL EAGLE DREAMING

written by Wendy Buss

Published in Australian Wildlife 2009

The close personal encounter I had with a Tasmanian wedgetailed eagle was truly a thrilling encounter and awesome experience not only because the Tasmanian wedge tailed eagle is Australia’s largest bird of prey and a critically endangered species with conservationists claiming there are less than one thousand of these magnificent native birds left in the world ,but this rare encounter came to me as a gift that no well meaning tour company could ever have orchestrated on demand .This unique moment could not have been bought for any amount of tourist dollars .Like some of the best things in life it came to me free a raw authentic magical encounter with a top predator in the wilds that left me breathless humbled and transformed.

Indeed I had been left breathless quite a bit as I greedily gorged on the sumptuous banquet of natures beauty my first trip through Tasmania afforded ,me Moving through the constantly changing Tassie landscape was like moving through rooms in an art gallery of great masters .One minute traversing romantic rolling green pastures dotted with picturesque derelict cottages and stationary sheep melding into the grass like ancient craggy rock formations as if I had stepped into a John Glover landscape .The next passing through rippling oceans of dreamy ivory coloured poppies which were pure Monet.Further on down the road regimented displays of somber bottle green fir plantations were an impressive sight while just around the bend the landscape opened out into sweeping arcs of heavenly eatheral purple and mauve lavender fields set against a contrasting backdrop of bright yellow green hills that had you imagining you might find Van Gogh sitting at his easel in the corner of a field somewhere .

I wandered through towering old growth forests replete with luxuriant giant ferns ,breathing in deeply the mysterious sacredness of these ancient unspoilt places and gazed apon mountain and coastal vistas so pure and pristine and mesmerizingly beautiful my eyes popped my spine tingled and my spirits soared . Consider Paradise Lost must be Paradise rediscovered many times a day for Tassie travellers

My special moment though was still to come My meeting with the eagle was to take place in Germantown ,a rural and forest precinct on the outskirts of St Marys overlooking the north east coast.I arrived in St Marys under cover of darkness where my lift was waiting to take me up to Seaview farm a holiday cabin and backpackers hostel on a working eco farm up at Germantown .

As I bounced along in the car over dirt roads I couldn’t really see too much other than numerous kamakaze wallabies bounding across the road too eager for perilous fame in the glare of the car spotlights .I could however sense the vibrant fecundity of the place.The rich pungent odour of wet forest soil assailed me even through closed car windows.I could see star light filtering like filigree silver through enormously tall trees and the undiscovered landscape loomed dark and mysterious all around me.

It was really cold up at Seaview farm .Once tucked up under way too many blankets I revelled in the silence and the stillness.The burgeoning promise of the undiscovered landscape is waiting for me like a pressie am not allowed to open until morning. I couldn’t wait for daylight to come so that I could go exploring.

The next morning after a hasty breakfast I swung on the backpack and headed out the door .I didn’t actually have to go very far at all.As I stepped outside into brilliant sunlight and adjusted my eyes I discovered I was standing in a grassy paddock buzzing with huge story book bumble bees, busy little red breasted robbins finches and fairy wrens flitting and zooming about the place .This was a real treat.I could have sat and watched them all day.The air was fresh and the sky was azure clear blue .

The suddenly unexpectedly at the edge of the paddock I came upon one of the most exquisite and magical seascapes I have ever seen .Seaview Farm is set high on a ridge close to the ocean in Germantown and offers sweeping views right up to the North East Coast.Following the coastline due north one looks out onto undulating forest and covered mountains which slope steeply down to the coast.

Down below one can make out the little coastal townships of Falmouth and a little further north Scamander .From this vantage point the coastline recedes into the distance in a series of no less than six crescent shaped white sandy bays .You can see waves swirling up onto these beaches like the frothy white lacy scalloped hem of the ice blue silk gown of a sea goddess .Beyond the shoreline the Tasman sea lies ,a wide vast shimmering palette of constantly rippling and shifting shades of silver and pale icy blue and darker blue that stretches outwards seemingly forever towards the shining silver curved rim of earth.

It wasn’t just the view ,but the pure pristine wild energy of the place which is so profound and that particular icy blue of Tassie ocean is a constant reminder that due south is Antarctica .I realize that I am indeed sitting on the edge of the world .

I sat there staring out to sea in grateful silence for ages .The warm sun beats down on me. Silky dandelion clocks floated past gently brushing my cheeks .I was sitting so still those cheeky curious little finches and robins hopped right up close to me and I am in bliss.I was suddenly jolted back to earth with a start as the biggest bird I have ever seen in flight in my life came into view.This monster circled high up effortlessly gliding on thermal currents perhaps 400 metres out to sea from where I sit.Without a word of a lie the wingspan on this bird must have been at least two metres across .                                                     

It was huge I instinctively recognized it as a wedgetail eagle which are seen frequently around Germantown.This was the Tasmanian wedgetailed eagle Australias largest bird of prey and the fourth largest species of eagle in the world .

I watched it floating up there with effortless ease and grace musing on something I have heard that some native American tribes believe that sighting an eagle is a very auspicious omen signifying that the Gods are taking a personal interest in you and looking out for you. Watching an eagle in their own element it is easy to understand
why many cultures in the world have embraced the eagle as a symbol of inspirational qualities like power ,strength bravery and courage ,freedom and immortality .

From ancient times even up to the modern day many cultures have woven eagle magic into their ancestral myths and legends medicines and healing rituals and rites of passage ceremonies .Some Native American tribes have a deeply sacred association with the eagle and eagle feathers are highly prized in their traditional medicine rituals.The ancient romans believed that the eagle was a messenger of the highest Gods and indeed the eagle is the national symbol of ancient Rome

The USA boasts the figure on of an Eagle on its national crest.

As I watched the Tasmanian Wedgetail crusing out there I yearned for a closer look .I wanted to make contact with the bird and I willed it to come closer to me so that I could check it out .Well dear reader be careful what you ask for because in the next few moments this massive bird obliged me by doing just that.Unbelievably it flew right over to where I was sitting.

I watched amazed and disbelieving as the bird moved in ever decreasing concentric circles overhead until it was hovering directly above me ,perhaps about 15 to 20 feet up .I could now see clearly the dark brown and white patternings on its wings and its distinctive wedge shaped tail .As I looked up at it in a suddenly thrilling and terrifying moment I realized that the bird was staring down at me with equal intensity.The wedgetail and I locked eyeballs and I could feel the power of its intelligent gaze boring into me .I have since learnt that eagles see twice as well as people which gives birds eye view a whole new meaning .I have also since learnt that wedgetails are highly territorial with wide home ranges and no doubt I was on his turf and this top predator had come to checkout what manner of creature I was and where I fit into his order of the scheme of things.

My heart beat wildly as I tried to keep looking as the bird but under the palpable power of that concerted stare, I suddenly quailed with fear and I had to look away .
The bird had managed to outstare me and now I was freaking out .I got the distinct and uncomfortable impression that where I fit into the wedgetails order of the scheme of things was as a possible culinary detour .I wildly flipped through my mental files of everything I knew about birds of prey .I had heard of of a wedgetail regularly eating dying carrion e.g. goats sheep even a horse ,snacking on rabbits and have even heard of one taking a Chihuahua but couldn’t recall any tales of wedgetails eating humans but hey there is a first time for anything and it is not a nice feeling when a bird of prey with a six foot wingspan is piercing you with his eagle eye and maybe has you in his sights for lunch and I don’t mean inviting you.

Perhaps my ancestral DNA memories were suddenly activiated as I suddenly found myself completely identifiying with how my prehistoric ancestors might have felt as the dark winged shadow of a terradactyl fell across their path or maybe I was reliving a nightmare scene from Alfred Hitchcocks ‘The birds’ .I suddenly felt the need to differentiate mysef from dying carrion .Gripped by a stark primal terror ,I made a dash for the nearest tree pulled myself out of the birds eye lie of view and pathetically clung to the tree for dear life .Eventually the bird who probably thought I was a bit of a woos lost interest in me and flew off .

As I watched the bird grow smaller receding into the distance my heart rate resumed to normal and my terror melded into relief but the deeper underlying feeling was sheer exhilaration and joy at what had just transpired ….I know this eyeyball to eyeball encounter with a Tasmanian Wedgetailed eagle was rare enough and all the more poignant when I later discovered that wedgetails are notoriously shy of humans and usually steer well clear of them .

The experience though left me on an absolute high all day .As I walked around Seaview Farm to meet the other more pedestrian and earthbound creatures that live there I was having a ‘Lion King’ moment.

The Wedgetailed had somehow bestowed on me the remembering that I am connected to the Circle of Life in which all creatures are linked and are an equally significant part and I was keen for communion with any creature who would talk to me .I scratched the appreciative ear of an ancient donkey .I stamped in syncope with a wily black faced sheep who graced the moment of our meeting with a wild ungainly kind of riverdance .I talked endearingly to a dappled grey that cracked me up by stretching his lips like Mr Ed in a hugely comical fashion to reveal lots of gum and the most enormous set of grass stained chompers .

Finally I sing Steisand to the cows Usually I find the cows go for the big power ballads but today the Seaview Cows are unimpressed with ‘Yentyl’ and ‘Woman In The Moon’ They flick their tails in a bored fashion and barely looked up from their grazing I was about to give up when for some reason I found myself singing a song I hadn’t heard in years .A light flutely version of ‘Hey there Georgie Girl’ burst forth from my lips .The cows went for it .They crowded close to the fence fixing me with their big round liquid eyes .Their ears and nostrils quivered with curiosity and I like to think appreciation .As I took my bows and made to leave the cows ran alongside me on the otherside of the fence calling out their encores for’ moore moore ‘ I felt suitably smug as I walked away leaving my audience begging for more

As I walked the farm track I gazed towards South Sister who sits serene and silent in the golden afternoon sun seemingly unperturbed by the controversy that has raged around her for some years now.my heart skipped a beat for I could see two wedgetails circling high close by the summit. I am told Tasmanian wedgetailed eagles nest have been found in the Eucalypt forests close to South sister and the mountain is part of the pairs home range .

Sadly tough South sister has been at the centre of a logging controversy for years Forestry Tasmania plans to log there and if Gunns pulp mill goes ahead it will happen in the next couple of years .

More recently a mining company also has South Sister I its sights so this comely lady is besieged on all sides .To many folks she is a treasured local icon ,a popular tourist destination and recreational spot with fabulous views from the summit.She is also possessed of a rich biodiversity containing delicate ecosystems which represent habitats for numerous rare threatened and endangered flora and fauna invertebrates and birds including of course the Tasmanian wedgetailed eagle .Sadly the birds endangered status is critical .It faces a precarious future given that there are said by conservationists to be less than one hundred pairs of adult Tasmanian Wedgetail eagles breeding annually left in the world .If logging or mining goes ahead on South Sister it will almost definately represent destruction and loss of the more of the Tasmania wedgetails natural habitat sadly putting the fate of this magnificent bird of prey even more precariously in the balance and perhaps contributing to its overall extinction

As I gazed out towards the eagle pair still silently circling way up high my spirit soared with them .Later I read something that resonates written by Eric Phelps “Eagles teach us that we have the capacity to soar to great heights if only we have the courage to do so Through watching eagles we learn that the joy and freedom we gain through soaring to great heights is worth the fear of singed feathers”

I realized that one of the pair I am watching now is probably the same bird I had my close encounter with earlier in the day but this time I am more than happy to leave the eagles in peace and wonder at a distance >I have had enough singed feathers for one day

Wendy Buss

References

Information on Tasmanian wedgetail eagles obtained from National recovery plan for the Tasmanian wedgetailed eagle 1998-2-003 by Phil Bell and Nick Mooney

Information on South Sister kindly provided by Dr Frances Daly…. South Sister Organization

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