There is was, stubbie in hand, gazing over the water towards BrunyIsland with high hopes of seeing a sea eagle. It’s the kind of bird-watching I enjoy most: comfortable surroundings with alcohol on tap, great company and the expectation of seeing something if not rare, at least unusual.
Perhaps the music blaring out over the extensive gardens of the Oyster Cove Inn at Kettering south of Hobart might not have been totally conducive to the task at hand but the green rosellas flitting through grevilleas didn’t seem to mind.
To be honest, bird-watching had not been the motive for this trip down the Channel Highway. I’d been invited to the Eagle Rock fund-raiser for the Raptor and Wildlife Refuge of Tasmania at Kettering, with the promise not only of lager but 1950s rock ’n’ roll. As the Hobart Mercury’s bird-watch columnist, I felt it imperative I attend.
When I outlined my plans to my wife, she suggested that perhaps participating in BirdLife Tasmania’s annual gull count on southern rubbish tips might make better use of my bird-watching talents. The count was on the same day but I was able to justify this excursion, beyond giving support to raptor rehabilitation, by telling my wife that species spotted from the deck of the Oyster Cove Inn would aid my own study of urban birds and their place in man’s world. Already I had pointed out a pied oystercatcher on Kettering Oval and a pelican in the bay.
The raptor and wildlife refuge, run by eagle authority Craig Webb, had at that time been in existence for only a few years but he had released many injured wedge-tailed and sea eagles into the wild in conjunction with the state wildlife authorities. One of these, a young sea eagle, had been released from a trawler off Kettering earlier in the year and it was this bird that I told my wife (somewhat optimistically) we would have a good chance of seeing.
It came as no surprise to her that the eagle did not appear and as we moved from the gardens into the dancehall she wondered aloud what members of BirdLife Tasmania would be doing at that very moment: would they be at the Glenorchy tip in Hobart’s north or the one in South Hobart on their mission to take a census of the state’s silver, kelp and pacific gull species?
By now I had switched my focus to observing humans instead of birds and there was plenty of interesting human behaviour on the dance floor. It was fuelled by the music from five bands during the evening , even if two of the more modern ones – is it called grunge? – were not to my taste.
During the evening, it occurred to me bird-watchers are an eclectic bunch – or should I say bird lovers – because the people giving Webb support could not be classed as bird-watchers as such. However, I did see one face from BirdLife Tasmania meetings, a retiree from the Bahamas who has made Tasmania his home, and a couple from Cygnet who have been active in bird conservation campaigns.
After a few more stubbies – and a tequila slammer slipped into my hand – I realised you don’t need to own binoculars to be a bird-watcher or bird enthusiast. Most of the people at the Eagle Rock concert would not be seen dead in a bird-hide – except, perhaps, to shoot ducks – but they were enthusiastic about saving Tasmania’s eagles and other birdlife. There was a solicitor from South Hobart, a forestry worker from Dover in a bright-red-checked shirt, a car mechanic from Huonville and a fisherman from Franklin. There was also a man in a T-shirt that read: “I’m a schizophrenic and so am I”, which seemed to sum up my condition after another tequila slammer.
Next morning, as I nursed an eagle of a hangover, I thought a day counting gulls might not have been such a bad idea after all . . .