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Soup of This Day #75: On A Dark Desert Highway, Cool Wind In My Hair

September 25, 2011

A Wedge-tailed Eagle hovering over roadkill
A Wedge-tailed Eagle lording over a roadside meal of kangaroo or possibly wallaby – Photo: Djambalawa, 2008. Djambalawa is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

Wedge-tailed Eagles are Australia’s largest bird of prey. They can weigh up to 5.3kg and a female killed in Tasmania in 1931 had a wingspan of 2.84m. They are not Australia’s largest bird, in the air or on the ground – The Australian Pelican has a roughly approximate wingspan and is considerably heavier at up to 15kg. It also, incidentally, has the largest bill in the bird world. The Emu meanwhile, while flightless, is up to 2m tall and can weigh in at 55kg. Anyone who has seen a Wedge-tail as a speck in the sky, lazily riding thermals a couple of kms up though would definitely categorize them as at the top of Australia’s avian royalty.

Once, while working as a field assistant on a mining survey I had a Wedge-tail hunting around where I stood atop a ridge. That bird cared not 1 iota for my presence. There was no apparent fear or even consideration for my presence – I just didn’t register as important. At 1 point the bird swooped to attack something only a couple of metres from where I stood. For contrast, some months later a colleague and I stumbled upon a surprised emu in the bush.

We registered as important.

My colleague spent some time up a tree while I sat on the roof of the ute. That’s how important we registered.

But that’s emus for you. Mostly they’ll run away from you and often, confusingly, they’ll run away from a car by running in the same direction as the car. And in front of the car. Wedge-tails on the other hand will calmly sit on the side of the road, more concerned with the kangaroo they found than with the passing vehicles.

In spite of this they are not an elegant bird. They are instead a fearsome predator and majestic scavenger, often found feeding on small furry animals or larger furry roadkill and other such carrion. They don’t take any crap from anybody so get your own damn food thank you very much.

Which is why the AFL decided to tether a couple of Wedge-tails to the roof of the MCG in an effort to dissuade seagulls from flocking to the ground during Friday night’s Preliminary Final between Hawthorn and Collingwood. See, the seagulls have been messing with the football. Said Andrew Demetriou, AFL supremo:

‘At night time and they were all over the ground and they detracted from the spectacle.’

They also crap in your beer Andrew.

Nick Mooney of the Raptor and Wildlife Refuge of Tasmania suggested that the better bird for the job of deterring the seagulls would have been the peregrine falcon, because:

‘One the peregrines are free flying, of course, what they may do is actually attack a seagull and they may actually catch one and you don’t want that happening in the middle of the MCG of course.’

No Nick, we probably don’t want that. Well spotted there.

‘It’s also at night under light so it’s, the risk also is that any bird flying that’s not familiar with that, such as a trained bird brought in, might get disorientated and have a crash and just turn into a debacle.’

A debacle. Thank you Nick.

So tethered Wedge-tails are the raptor of choice, even if the Victorian Department of the Environment, who issued a permit for this feathered showdown, indicated that it wasn’t really a long-term solution.

It’s probably worth noting now that Collingwood, the Magpies, defeated Hawthorn, the Hawks, by 3 points in a thriller, thereby notching a win for passerines over raptors. No word yet on the score from the other avian stoush.

If my zoologist-trained wife is reading this then hopefully she’ll be impressed that I know that an Australian Magpie is a passerine. That 1 is for you babe. See, it’s not all sport.

Eagles are a potent symbol in the sporting world. The 2nd Preliminary Final at the MCG today featured the Freo Dockers local rivals, the West Coast Eagles, up against the 2007 and 2009 Premiers, Geelong. The Cats were as majestic as their opponents namesake and promptly thumped the outclassed West Coasters like they were mere passerines. It will be a Collingwood/Geelong Grand Final next week, which is what pretty much everyone expected, as of Round 5, roughly 20 weeks ago. Eagles might be a powerful mascot and a possible deterrant to seagulls but they don’t kick goals, not having boots and all.

Another team, badged as the Eagles was in action on Friday – The US Eagles, the American entrant to the 2011 Rugby World Cup, was up against the Wallabies, Australia’s national outfit. The Wallabies were licking their wounds after a debilitating loss last start to the Irish and if we play a quick round of who-would-win-that-fight-in-nature we’d clearly have an eagle taking out a wounded wallaby.

Except this is rugby and Australia has 100 years of top level pedigree while it remains by-and-large a college game in the US. It therefore unsurprisingly finished 67-5 to the marsupials with the only major antipodean concerns being a series of injuries to key Aussie players.

The birds did get 1 key victory on Friday night – With the Red Sox game vs the Yankees postponed the Toronto Blue Jays did Boston a solid by beating the Tampa Bay Rays 5-1. This bird-beats-marine-life outcome, coupled with the A’s edging the Angels out West, has seen the Sox move half a game further clear of their wildcard rivals. It’s got to this now – The other guys losing while we’re rained out is the highpoint. This reminds me of a scene from The Magnificent Seven.

Vin (Steve McQueen) is trying to convince an old man to keep safe. The old man in turn asks Vin if they are ready to face Calvera’s bandits:

Vin: lt´s like that fella who fell off a ten-storey building.

Old Man: What about him?

Vin: As he was falling, people on each floor heard him say ‘So far, so good.´


Vin: So far, so good!

As long as the Rays and Angels keep losing… pause… so far so good.

It could be worse. English Premier League giant Arsenal have endured their worst start to a season since 1953. They lost their 2 best players in the summer market and another star, midfield tyro Jack Wilshere, is out injured. Their phlegmatic French manager Arsene Wenger is now under fire and adoring fans, who once smugly asserted that ‘Arsene knows’ are starting to collapse under the weight of their own expectations.

Arsene’s deep, considered response:

‘I am supposed to take the bullets and absorb them – like a polar bear.’

Yeah, Arsene, I don’t think polar bears are, strictly speaking, supposed to absorb bullets. They probably can wear a few but I’m not sure they have evolved with the aim of taking rounds.

At least last night the polar bears were safe – The Gunners scored a much needed win against 10 man Bolton, thus moving up to 12th on the table.

So far so good Arsene.

On A Dark Desert Highway, Cool Wind In My Hair

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