First published June 26
1. July 2016-This magnificent wedge-tailed eagle drifted from the high heavily wooded hills beyond me … the same region from where I heard shots just a few weeks ago.
2. Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo. Curious and even cheeky at my ‘intrusion’. Feeding high on pine-nuts. Parks and Wildlife Service notations see it declining because of loss of habitat and large trees it uses for breeding hollows.
3. August, 2016. In a high tree at least a kilometre away. A regular sight. Since hearing the shots I have returned thrice with camera. The tree is empty. If again sighted, will send the good news to TT.
4. August 2011. Window of shooting opportunity…about 10 seconds and gone. Click! Got you forever little wren, tiny wings a-blur against the sun in readiness for flight. I used this shot for the cover of a private publication on myriad flora and fauna for friends who own ‘the block’.
5. July 2009, near Campbell Town. Car comes to a dramatic halt. This fellow had a mate and were hunting rabbits.The camera is loaded for shooting. Tragically so too are shotguns.
6. The sea eagle frequently soars into my lens from Spring Bay and across my house. This time a double bonus…I heard them ‘quacking’ and made a dash for the camera.(October 2012)1.
7. “I dreamt I was an eagle bold with wings outstretched and glinting gold…” A sea eagle, common but forever inspiring-August 2008, Spring Bay.I photographed it while fishing. It scooped up a discarded fish. Will they feed on contaminated fish from Tassal fish pens should they come to nearby Okehampton Bay?
8. April 2017 – the gentle robin…’that’s why I follow winter…with the sun upon my chest’.
9. March 2017.Suddenly an invasion of galahs. Did they breed up in high numbers from being released as pets over the years? Dunno. But they are treated by the natives as intruders and the bird wars are reaching great heights.
10. June 2016, would it ever stop raining. A deluge of 144mils in 8 hours. About the only thing that keeps a currawong silent … for a while.
Over my back fence there’s a large recreation area adjacent to an expansive private block, a-jumble with old trees and pesky rabbits, squabbling mynahs, plovers, rosellas, magpies and more recently large flocks of galahs and currawong.
With the exception of the beach just over the road for sea-birds or a bushy private block just up the road for golden whistlers, pardalotes, cockatoos, kookaburras and wrens, I need only to aim my camera over my back-fence to a bird-photographer’s paradise. A cursory observation shows that there’s a reasonable toleration between all these feathers that flock together chasing grubs and insects and each other in a short bout of multi-cultural territorial discord. But every now and again there’s a cacophonic eruption over this back fence and I’ll leave the barbie or the XBox and make a dash for my ever-ready camera. Because I can hear the warnings “Eagle about … Eagle about”.
And these great gliding raptors are the photographer’s prized subject. The Wedgies from the nearby high hills and the sea-eagles that drift in from Maria Island National Park and as far away as Ile de Fouke, the locals call White Rock. They don’t hang about for long, for they seem to have a consistent flight path, perhaps doing a rabbit-sortie as these gregarious little critters, some diseased proliferate the landscape and are easy prey for the masters of the airways.
My 60x zoom lens ignores the privacy they cherish in the distant hills and my heart thumps with delight as I download onto computer at the successful and detailed intrusion of my world into theirs.
As I write this just a few days after being alerted by the alarm signals from the paddocks out back to the presence of two Wedgies, now captured for all time on camera, I feel it a necessary epitaph for a keepsake record on the Tasmanian Times of the recent loss of one of these majestic creatures in Orford … a homily of ignorance that glides along with them from farmers with guns pointed to the skies at lambing time, double-barrel bogans with pissant perspectives and even to me as a kid, attacking and killing these monarchs for pigeon-club bounty.
Extract from my memoirs, The Plonkermaker …
“We found it easier to approach the hawk trap by climbing the less-steep far end of the uprising and as we made our way to it, we heard a commotion that sent my blood cold; a shrill call of a large bird pierced my brain and stopped us both dead in our tracks. “Gawd, what was that!” Steve too was frozen by the high-pitched lilt that seemed more a warning than an expression of fear. So distinctive was its message that we remained poised, our ears straining for a repeat of the call which never came until we resumed our journey, now with induced trepidation. This time there were two calls; distinct voices of alarm, a warning from one to another that danger was approaching. Again with great hesitance we pushed through the thicket of saplings and came onto the clearing and were astounded at the sight before us. Two huge birds, their distinctive brownness starkly contrasting with the cream-coloured wisps of native grass about the trap, icons of fierceness and bravado, screeched a warning to the air. The sight and sound of the frantic and flapping, trapped animals induced us to an equal high pitch of exclamation and we approached, me now armed with a solid piece of fallen timber raised high, I could smell the distinct kerosene smell wafting on waves of air propelled by the huge wings now in a panic-frenzy before us. Wedge-tailed eagles, a mating pair were in our hawk trap, one without a talon, clipped neatly off by the sharp trap. A second leg smashed and useless was the link between the trap and the bird. At any time, with the extra exertion caused by our sudden appearance, the thin strands of tendon would break and the bird would soar into the air, devoid of any natural weapons to sustain its existence in paradise beneath the mountain which frowned in a blue hue in the distance. The sheer size of the birds and their menacing, seemingly fearless stance, presented their captors with the dilemma of their fate. The ignorant mind crunched the facts; would Stan pay for eagles? Were they fleet enough on wing to pose a threat to the racing pigeon? Would they have a nest of fledglings somewhere, destined to a slow death from starvation or exposure? Would they survive with mangled and missing claw? Would they ever forgive us for what I was about do? At the end of the rapid deliberations that suspended the club for a brief moment of spared life, the overriding purpose of the hawk-trap was the decider: bounty. Money for feathers and beak and claw. Ten bob minimum. Perhaps more for a nesting pair. No more babies from them to chase pigeons. And I had heard that they were merciless with new-born lambs. Picking their eyes out while they were still alive. Not that there were any sheep in the entire Rossarden district. Besides Stan had paid good money for a mangled owl. The club came down hard but only stunned the bird, glancing off its slick-matted head feathers; its eyes rolling back with the impact; its head slewing hideously; mouth stretched to the sky indignant at the temerity of an ignorant mountain boy presuming to surpass the supremacy of Creation’s most majestic creature of the air. And fall foul club and thud; now the broken neck and still defiance in its shattered demeanour; and again, this time a direct hit and blood fills the once wondrous eye and I have killed something, not just within my swinging space, but within myself. And I lunge again, The bird now quivering in its death throes as I strike again as its mate pulls hard on the trap that has secured it too for imminent death. And I am upon it, almost frenzied in self-doubt and for the need to complete this act of deep treachery against all that is magnificent. It is over in three hard blows and I stare at the lifelessness before me, my brother speechless at what we have just achieved. This was a great wrong and we know it. The pigeon too is lifeless, its head plucked by a native cat, frantically struggling for freedom, but copping a single blow to its head and falling lifeless. Stinking native cats; plentiful and bothersome; gone to a justifiable death. The traps were removed from the hill and we never returned to the hawk trap; perhaps remnants of it still about; a reminder of rampant ignorance and the beginning of the getting of wisdom; the second last time that I would take the life of a bird of prey, the symbol of freedom and superiority; an icon of mankind’s folly in the ignorant years. Stan Martin didn’t barter. He was almost stupefied at the tumbling mass of feathers that emerged from our swollen bag. His head swiveled like an eagle surveying its domain and his exclamations saturated with expletives. Stan stretched both birds out before him and estimated the larger at six or seven feet tip to tip. He went into the house and emerged with a ten-shilling note and paid us for a good day’s carnage; before taking the birds to the far corner of his back yard, saying he’d have to bury them fast. Why?”
The recent senseless killing of the Orford eagle has raised the hackles of bird-lovers and authorities alike, an event distributed world-wide by the media, and a $10,000 bounty for the head of the person who pulled the trigger to the shotgun that maimed it.
It could have drifted injured for several miles from impact before begin found alive but dying shortly after. And so I have reported to local police that in that same week I heard 2 or three distinctly-shotgun reports from the high hills beyond our house.
My belated reporting related to my not hearing or seeing media reports until local banter drove me to websites for the details. Was it the bird that sat in the large tree sharing the same hills? On full zoom I had seen it as a regular visitor there, but zooming back relegated to a dot on a distant silhouetted tree-scape.
I have since returned thrice to the same vantage point on the land that I visit and I have not seen that Wedge-tail on that bare tree. Perhaps I was fortunate enough to have recorded it for all time, not just as a graphic of its magnificence, but also as a record of a creature that once lived in wilderness splendour, its sudden absence a reminder of the dark side of some of those amongst us who will never in lifetimes yet to come, understand the beauty that they would cut down, burn or shoot.
My report to police may be of little significance but given their sensitivity to community outrage over this incident, every little bit of information helps. Let’s hope articles as this help keep alive the outrage of the killing of something majestic in us all.
*Paul Tapp spent much of his working life in journalism, corporate PR and in press secretariats in Tasmania, Brisbane, Adelaide and the Northern Territory. His Launceston career in accountancy came to an end through Conscription in 1965 and on his return from active service in an infantry battalion in South Vietnam he cleaned milk trucks and took on odd jobs, finally landing a position as a copywriter for 7LA and moving to cadet journalist with The Examiner Newspaper at age 30. He worked in PR for the HEC in Hobart before moving to ABC Hobart as a police reporter working to TV News and Current Affairs and radio. In 1988 he won the State’s major award the Keith Welsh Award, described by judges for ‘good and gutsy’ journalism. Paul was the first broadcast journalist to win the award for journalistic excellence. He was also presented with a specially-made police baton and badge by the executive of Tasmanian Police Association, for his investigative work on unfair dismissals and transfers of police officers. He moved to Adelaide as the ABC police reporter before trying his hand in press secretary work in the Northern Territory. Tapp returned to Tasmania and continued his investigative work after being contacted by Dr Geoffrey Boughey on his release from prison for murder in 1991. Dr Boughey refused offers from national media networks and avoided local media and gave exclusive interviews to Tapp, who as yet remains undecided as to the direction he should take with his self-published book “Get Boughey”. Paul also worked at close quarters with Ray Groom, in the lead-up to the 1992 election, where Groom became the 39th Premier of Tasmania. In retirement Tapp keeps in his hand with contributions to the Tasmanian Times and enjoys photographing wildlife and self-publishing both fiction and non-fiction. One such publication became central to the 2000 Gilewicz Commission Of Inquiry. Another more recent publication, excerpts of which were also published in the Tasmanian Times was central to a Coronial Inquest into the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Lucille Butterworth. Married in 1966 prior to his Vietnam embarkation, Paul and his wife have two sons and four grandchildren. Tapp’s main occupation today, beyond writing some fictional work, is the production of movies with his grand-children, so that they may understand at an early age, the great pleasures of working with film.