Born on one of the highest Perth Hills Wedge-tailed Eagle eyries that I've ever had the privilege (or punishment!) of climbing, the female eaglet I am holding above was one of 18 that were captured and marked for my research this year. When I fitted her rings/bands and took measurements earlier in the season, I left a climbing rope in place in order to be able to access the nest again, and yesterday the time had come to do just that, to fit her with a GPS/Satellite transmitter. This particular transmitter was sponsored by Tronox, a titanium company operating on a mineral sand mine just north of Perth. I have fond memories of visiting the 'Cooljarloo' mine for fauna survey work with Bamford Consulting Ecologists, not long after I finished uni over ten years ago. Connections were again forged with Tronox through Bob Huston from the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, who has provided amazing support for my eagle research in recent years. Together with property owner John Ffarrington (who kindly gave me access to search for eagles on his Gidgegannup land), Ieva Tomsons from the Toodyay Herald newspaper, and my dear Dad (who was yet to experience an eagle banding activity), our little 'tagging team' set off on a fabulous Noongar Country afternoon to deploy the transmitter.
|Beanstalk: scaling the 30m to a particularly high eagle nest.|
After scaling the very tall Wandoo nest-tree and lowering the eaglet down in a handling bag, it was time to fit the transmitter using the 'backpack' mount method I learned from friends and raptor researcher mentors Ewan and Jenny in Scotland. I was very fortunate to have my friend and fellow environmental scientist Andrew Moore along to help by holding the eagle, who turned out to be quite a handful!
|Andrew Moore, also an experienced drone pilot, carefully grips the juvenile eagle's talons.|
Although she had been fitted with a falconry hood, which normally blinds (and subsequently calms) the bird, this eagle must have been able to see through a crack in the eye slots, as she persistently bit my hands and fingers while I carried out the attachment procedure. The main concern when handling eagles is their powerful talons, which in juveniles are pin-sharp, and together with extremely powerful 'ratcheted' toe/foot muscles, can inflict severe injuries. The bill is more of a 'tearing tool' and has far less power than a foot, but it does have a very sharp tip, useful for tearing apart kangaroo flesh, so it can still hurt!
|Ouch! Not as bad as a talon though!|
Fortunately Chris Bean from Tronox, who had been taking many wonderful photos of the occasion, stepped in to calmly support the eaglet's head which eased the beak-attacks on my hands! I could then carry on with the fitting the harness in relative peace.
|That's a red fingernail you can see - not eagle (or Simon) blood!|
After about half an hour of fine-tuning the transmitter harness fit, stitching it with a 'weak link' that will eventually fall off with natural decay, and taking a few updated measurements of the eagle's wings and feet, it was time to return her to the nest. I ascended into the canopy, gently removed her from the handling bag, and she hopped out in a slightly frustrated manner, but seemed relieved to be free to move about again.
Looking back at an eyrie and seeing a young Wedge-tailed Eagle safely back 'home' after it has been marked for research, and knowing we will be able to follow its journey, evokes a very unique feeling in me. It is mainly one of excitement and intrigue but also satisfaction (especially after such an adrenalin-induced tree-climb!) and a very strong element of concern for the bird, knowing it will soon leave the safety of its nest and venture further out into this dangerous world.
|Baakininy, back on her nest wearing a new high-tech 'backpack'.|
Although I'd been bitten by eagles quite a few times before, I certainly hadn't experienced a bird who bit so persistently, and this behaviour prompted me to suggest the name 'Baakininy', which in Noongar language means 'biting'. I was very pleased that Chris and the Tronox team also thought this to be appropriate. While I haven't traditionally been into naming wild animals, I believe it is important as a scientist to create an identify for the individual animals we are researching, particularly those whose progress we are able to follow in the close detail satellite-tracking allows. As an ambassador for Australia wildlife, the ecosystems of which it is a part, and the ancient cultural connection that Aboriginal People have shared with this amazing landscape, I have chosen to use indigenous language (Noongar in South-west Western Australia, and Martu in the Wiluna area) for Wedge-tailed Eagle names, because I feel it serves to remind us that these animals have been observed by people for thousands of years. These people are in some places in danger of losing their cultures, which are intricately linked with the lives of native animals and very much on the same page as 'western' values of biodiversity conservation (modernly referred to as 'Caring for Country'). Of course, such languages may provide us 'whitefellas' with new pronunciation challenges, but learning anything new always seems more difficult at first, and what better way to continue the use of an ancient language than by speaking out loud names given to charismatic, majestic birds of prey!?
The day was an extremely memorable one, and I am so grateful to all those who took part for their support, assistance and encouragement. We'll be excited to watch Baakininy's progress with eagle eyes!
|Bob Huston, Ieva Tomsons and property owner John Ffarrington with Baakininy the eagle.|
|The team from Tronox enjoyed seeing a young eagle up close!|
|Sharing an 'eagling' experience with Dad was by far one of the highlights of my year.|