[6 November 2017] Have you ever watched an African Fish Eagle. How it magnificently swoops down to the water’s surface and flies off with its long broad wings, clutching its prey in its talons. Have you seen it throw its head back and proclaim its territory?
When we arrived in Australia in June we were warned of Magpie Season. “You just wait till September, then you’ll understand what we’re talking about.“
Well September came and went. I read about Magpies swooping down on people venturing too close to their nest. I saw cyclists with funny hats with antennae and large plastic eyes on cycling helmets, and chuckled. I even saw signposts warning pedestrians of swooping birds. I walked just about every day in September, passing various Magpie couples, but never was there the faintest attempt to swoop at me or scare me away.
But all of that changed last week.
I was blissfully walking down a footpath lined with willow trees, on my way to Lake Pertobe, where I was told two Australasian Bittern had been seen flying out of the reeds. The air smelled of spring and the dappled sunlight glowed through the bottle green leaves.
All of a sudden, out of the blue, a dark bird flew from behind at a tremendous speed, and swooped down at me not more than a few centimeters away from my head. I looked up and froze. There, perched in the tree in front of me, sat a large hawk-like bird. I took a few shots with my camera but the light was behind the bird and I could only capture a silhouette. So I started walking again. I didn’t even see the bird take off, but the next moment it was dive-bombing me again. This time, even closer, and faster. Again it perched in the tree in front of me. Again I took a few shots but then decided to up my pace to get out of the area where he or she obviously had a nest.
My heart started racing. It came for me again and again, each time from the rear. I walked faster, but it wouldn’t back off. It dashed for my head at least seven times. I was expecting it to pluck a piece of my flesh or even an eye. Would I become part of the statistics on people landing in the emergency room because of a bird-inflicted injury? I had no defence, but to get the hell out of its territory.
I was terrified. By now there was no back-lighting and I saw that the bird had a heavily streaked chest and large yellow eyes as it once again sat in the tree in front of me. The eye-contact that it made (I could swear it had a frowning expression) as well as its powerful talons were horribly intimidating.
I bravely lifted my camera one last time, took multiple shots, and prayed that my shaking hands and pounding heart wouldn’t interfere with the focus too much.
At last the trees were behind me and the swooping stopped. Just as suddenly as it started, it stopped. I didn’t stop walking, however. I didn’t peek over my shoulder. It could obviously follow me for as long as it wanted to. I would plan my route home when I was totally satisfied that the bird had lost interest.
This is when I thought of the African Fish Eagle. I could now totally identify with its prey. When the eagle swoops down, the fish would see its attacker through scattered light, and this enormous blotch of a bird arriving out of nowhere must be the most frightful sight. Imagine having to live your life continuously in fear of a swooping eagle.
While positively traumatised, at that moment I did feel a little closer to becoming an Australian. I had been baptised by a swooping Brown Goshawk. Not by the widespread Magpie as one would expect, but by the spectacular Brown Goshawk.