Sunday, January 6, 2013

Helping Hands

I have had the pleasure of having some amazing assistants during this busy time.

In particular a character with many aliases: Wildman, Rasputin, Starfish, Spongebob, Pat the Phat – no one really knows his name – we only know he might have spent a little too much time on remote islands. And having come directly from the Cederberg *black eagle project*, I knew I had a winner.  We quickly found common ground with our respective experiences in Mauritius, while also finding myself envious of his time on the Kermadecs and Chathams also.  Within three hours of collecting Raz from the airport, we had the Westville’s nestling in our hands and getting its new bangles. The initiation came also with a talon through his leg, and an agreement between us to better communicate our handling and proper restraint of these powerful yellow feet.  I guess things evened out when I received a talon on the nose the next day!

The Wildman's peculiar French Canadian accent, and a repertoire of unlikely stories kept me perpetually entertained – while I’m sure this exposure will make our lad cringe, I have no doubt that this video will have you all in stitches.  (... "time ... doesn't matter!").  I hoped to keep him equally entertained with exciting research activities, so where other opportunities arose I sent him scaling trees to set traps and prune out invasive climbers, and we also ringed a few other raptors including a clutch of out-of-season Black Sparrowhawk eyeass’ and a Long-crest Eagle as well.  It seemed like he sure enjoyed his time here, and our parting goodbyes at King Shaka airport (thanks to visa problems), were quite sad emotional.

a unique way of getting a piercing

Raz approaching a Black Sparrowhawks nest

extracting two nestlings

spread wing for feather development reference

All Departures

Throughout December, Minke has also been a fantastic help.  In the early days of the project, this bright spark of an honors student was keen and always ready to call to arms, and we ringed two of last years juvenile eagles back in July. Having started quite green on raptor handling, the enthusiasm has shown through and I’ve been stoked to see confidence gained as we ringed crowneds, and a few other buzzards and raptors, taking metrics and blood samples along the way.  The biggest test of this experience and composure was to ring the nestling at San Lameer, where there was a substantial audience for the event.

It has been a real pleasure sharing the excitement of Crowned Eagle research, but Minke is now off to start her own MSc research down in the beautiful Garden Route area of the Western Cape.  As a final ‘gift’, the last nestling to be ringed for this year at Umdoni Forest on the 2nd of January, gave her a memorable parting hand shake; three talons in the wrist. Whoops.

Minke in charge of this ringing procedure, with her Dad Tjebbe, and fellow UKZN researcher Lindy

the last nestling of the season, near Pennington on the south coast

birds of a feather... get gripped by eagle talons

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