Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A Passing Sea Eagle

Over the last several weeks I've been sent a number of shots of White-bellied Sea Eagles, and I've had a few close encounters myself. But the weather has been indifferent to awful (but we badly needed the rain), and any chance that I've had to photograph them has been minimal. All that changed recently on a drive round Bellerive Bluff. There was a strong, gusty, South westerly wind blowing, with occasional passing squalls, and in those conditions, I often try my hand at photographing gulls in flight. These conditions often mean that the larger gulls, Pacific and Kelp, will "hang" in flight, just off the bluff, giving me a chance of reasonable results. I had taken several shots, when a passing shower made me take cover back in my car. The shower appeared to have passed so I got out, this time without camera. I scanned the sky for a break in the clouds, satisfied that a break was imminent, and casually looked up as I wandered back to my vehicle to get my camera. Aha! High above me was a solitary adult White-bellied Sea Eagle, soaring majestically, almost stationary as it rode the wind. Magnificent, but far too high for any worthwhile shots, so I contented myself with watching it through my binos. I momentarily took my eyes off it, and when I looked back the eagle was in a near vertical dive, wings folded back, and traveling at considerable speed. I panicked at this point, unsure of whether to grab the camera or just watch, and I tried to do both! I was most interested to record its possible victim, which I fondly assumed was a fish. Wrong! It was in fact a 1st year Kelp Gull flying past some hundred metres away. It saw, or perhaps heard, the eagle's approach, and jinked at the right moment (right if you're the gull!), and the eagle flew on towards Bellerive Beach and out of my sight. Cursing that I'd not even got a record shot of the, albeit, distant event, I consoled myself that I had at least witnessed the exciting episode. Standing there, still mulling over what might have been, I had failed to notice that, like the gulls I had been photographing earlier, the Sea Eagle was now just in front of me, drifting past into wind. Snapping back into reality, I just had time to take a few shots, one shown here. It then hung in the updraught at the edge of the bluff, not more than 30 metres away, but tail on to me, before sliding away along the coast. I really must stay more alert!

12 comments:

Kris McCracken said...

I just stumbled upon this blog today, and thought that I would say what a magnificent resource it is. Great pictures and the stories that really expand upon the images. Thanks for sharing them with everyone!

Penny said...

The last few weeks have been great for sightings of large raptors in the Huon/Channel area. I took a short drive from Cygnet on the coast road to see if I could spot the local WB Sea Eagle that had alluded me all season.Turning the corner I spied the juvenile perched on a dead spar overhanging the river. A parent WB Sea Eagle was copping the flack of attacking forest ravens drawing them away along a nearby ridge. Turning around I pulled over to the side of the road to make a few camera adjustments ready to walk back for that all fantastic photo opp.I looked up into the trees beside the car and not 30ft from me was a bewildered looking juvenile Wedge Tail Eagle, looking like it had landed behind enemy lines. Pleased for my interference it gracefully took its leave, and I walked back to find that the young Sea Eagle was nowhere to be seen. Returning to my car I disturbed the second parent Sea Eagle now with the juvenile, sitting in a nearby tree .As for photographic opportunities - well they all got away. I had to be content with a picture of a beak and two eyes peering at me through the fork of a tree!
So, well done Alan - a nice clear shot.

BirdingTas said...

Thanks Kris. It's been a struggle lately, so your comments are all the more welcome! I hope that the blog might entice others to become better informed and acquainted with our birds. Heaven knows, our birds need all the help they can get.

BirdingTas said...

Hi Penny,
That scenario seems all too familiar! The times when I've been faced with 2 conflicting photo opps requiring split second decisions are numerous, and what might have been comes back to haunt me often. In a recent gale, I watched a Sea Eagle hunting into wind, low over the spume filled sea, above that a second Sea Eagle hovered, and higher still, a Wedgetail. all too far away for photography. I was concentrating on them so hard, that I failed to notice a 3rd Sea Eagle passing over my head,oh so close! Missed again.

Kris McCracken said...

Well, you've won a new fan here. Ever since my son was born (October 2006), we've done a lot of walking about by the river (from Shag Bay right through to Bellerive). I've seen so many birds, but aside from a few gulls, have been pretty hopless at naming them. This blog makes that job a whole lot easier.

Case in point, next time we're out, I can say with great confidence, "now Henry, there is a 'pied oyster catcher'"!

BirdingTas said...

Hi Kris,
It's surprising how much wildlife can be seen along the riverfront, including quite an array of coastal birds. Many of them get used to the close approach of humans, and provide good opportunities for photography. There are good field guides for Australian birds, but as they contain many hundreds of birds not seen in Tasmania, they can be rather daunting or confusing. A knowledge of our natural environment, including birds, animals and flora, can help enhance any walk.
Welcome to the World of birding.

Mosura said...

Great shot of the Eagle. Oh and I learned something too. I regularly see White-bellied Sea Eagles flying over our place (NW Coast) sometimes carrying their catch of the day but I was unaware that they took birds as well.

BTW did the Kelp Gull live to tell the story?

BirdingTas said...

Hi Mosura,
The Kelp Gull did in fact survive, it didn't even seem particularly fazed by the whole episode, just flew on. Sea Eagle's take a fairly wide range of food, especially I imagine during the harsher months of Winter. I was a little concerned about that point too, after I re read my blog! I have seen them feeding on road kills, many miles from the sea, and I suspect that carrion plays a wider part of their diet than we realise, they are after all, really kites, rather than eagles. I witnessed one trying hard to catch a Coot at Orielton Lagoon. The Coot just kept diving everytime the eagle made a pass, and the eagle eventually gave up. They will pursue other birds carrying food, and it may be that was the purpose behind this incident, but it certainly didn't pursue the gull, after 'missing' it. Thanks for your comments.

John Tongue said...

For a 'sea' eagle (which Alan points out, is actually a kite), the WBSE often turns up far from the sea, so must be happy to survie on food other than fish, at times. We used to live in Tenterfield, in northern NSW, and there were a pair lived in our area - on top of the Great Dividing range, and passing down into the wester side of the range. They did have their nest on the eastern side, in a large Eucalypt, by the Clarance river, and hung around a number of inland water storages, but could also be found hunting (often rabbits) quite a long way from these.

BirdingTas said...

Hi John,
In Tasmania it's possible to see Sea Eagles just about anywhere, from sea level to the tops of mountains. Given that we have so many highland lakes, that probably isn't so surprising. Perhaps there's a reader who knows whether they breed in Tasmania away from the sea? Quite possible. Thanks for your comments John, and welcome back!

John Tongue said...

Hi again, Alan,
There is a pair of WBSE's with a nest just near where the Arthur River Cruise stops for lunch, at the junction of the Arthur and Blackwater rivers. It is right near the river, virtually at sea level, but it would be about 20 km in a straight line from the open ocean.

Penny said...

I know of a pair of WB Sea Eagles that nest above the salt water line on the Huon River. Also re diet, I have seen a poor unsuspecting hare grazing in an open paddock, only to be seen a few minutes later 150 ft in the air being carried off by a Sea Eagle in the direction of the bird's nest.