August 20, 2019

Eagle causes a flap

A low cloud had descended across the Tamar, making a visit to the mighty river’s wetlands pointless.  But every cloud has a silver lining and I was treated instead to a remarkable story with an eagle at its heart. 

As I sat in my sister-in-law’s home high above the Tamar Valley north of Launceston, rueing a missed opportunity to stalk the waterbirds at the Tamar Wetlands Reserve, she recounted the time a wedge-tailed eagle came to call.

Normally, there’s a view of a dam and vineyards from the Stanton home, before a more sweeping panorama opens across the valley to the historic church at Windermere on its far shores.

One afternoon recently Judith Stanton was watching a wallaby joey fresh out of the pouch munching on grass on the banks of the dam. Suddenly, an eagle appeared from low over the rows of grape vines in the vineyard. In a flash, the eagle swept across the grass of the dam wall, with talons outstretched. The joey, oblivious to the danger, didn’t stand a chance and the “wedgie” had soon grabbed it without touching the ground. With powerful flaps of the wings, it rose slightly and then banked into clear air where the steep sides of the valley on its western side fell away to the Tamar’s shores.

Judith Stanton could see the joey’s tail flapping in the backdraft from the eagle’s two-and-a-half-metre wingspan but her mind was focused less on the chances of seeing such a dramatic event in her own semi-suburban backyard. Her attention was now drawn to her son’s dog Bentley, a German schnauzer, which had been entrusted to her while her son and his family were on holiday.

Bentley had been given the run of the property’s extensive lawns during his visit and she was suddenly aware of the danger the eagle posed to the dog, something she would never have contemplated before.

I’ve long been aware of eagle attacks on pets but was not aware of its frequency until doing a little research. In fact, the wildlife authorities in Queensland last year issued an alert after a spate of eagle attacks in Brisbane’s northern suburbs. In one of these a baby goat was taken from a hobby farm.

In Tasmania, the only story I’ve heard so far is of an eagle taking a cat in Sorrell a few years back. The cat, though, was believed to be a feral animal so perhaps the eagle was doing the local wildlife, and pets, a favour.

Eagles, like all birds of prey, are totally protected by law and they can’t be blamed for snatching a meal, pet or otherwise, if an opportunity presents itself. They are, after all, natural born killers living in a world far removed from that of the household dog or moggie, as Bentley the friendly schnauzer could well have discovered.

And as for the rest of his stay in Tasmania, from his far safer home in Canberra? He was confined to the Stanton’s balcony.

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