The Osprey

posted in: Writing | 12
Osprey on nest, Iluka (photo by Ray Carpenter).

The osprey sees all. High above the town on a metal wire bowl, atop a mobile phone tower. From her crookedly pile of driftwood nest, she surveys the scene. A scattering of fibro shacks, low blocky brick apartment buildings, squat lowset brick houses, clustered near the shore of the silver expanse of estuary. A few wingbeats (to her) from the wide straight beach with the crashing waves, and that dense wet forest behind the dunes that she often flies past, but rarely enters. As the stars wheel over at night. When the grey sodden clouds bring the drenching drizzle. On summer mornings when the sun is already hot, relentless, at 9 o’clock.

At night the fuzzy osprey chicks murmur and dream, surrounded by the comforting odour of fishbones and bird vomit, clouds streaming by darkly against the glitter of stars. Below them the mobile tower spews its multitude of static human urges: a jitter of text messages, a jumble of mobile conversations, snapchat selfies, facebook tittering, flickering Netflix images, Foxtel sports roaring, and a pink blur of pornography. All through the night, in the estuary, and the sea, fish cluster and dart within a dark watery nightmare. Trying to avoid the sudden nameless shapes, barely sensed in the gloom, with open maws, and snatching, gnashing teeth.

By day, people wander about below, going about their business. Walking to the shops to get the bread. Driving large gleaming four-wheel-drives to end up on a boat somewhere, sticks akimbo, their form of fishing. Kids riding small bikes to school, hats on. Most do not notice her, do not think of her, high above, watching them.

But then, she isn’t always there. Most of the day she’s somewhere along the coast, somewhere in the estuary. Sitting watching from another perch. Fishing, often fishing. For she is a more faithful and skilful fisher than all the men with bloated bellies in their tinnies, or the bigger bright-white boats. Or even the ones in the sturdy, diesel-driven vessels with the large tree-like arms that extend out on both sides, and drop the snares that enmesh all. They chug out of the harbour at dusk, crowned with bright lights.

She doesn’t need boats or rods or sharp hooks, or plastic transparent lines that cut and tangle and strangle all. Just her eyes and her wings and her strong feet with their hooked talons. Did you know that she dives bodily into the water after the fish – and is submerged momentarily, like a tern or cormorant or penguin? Before flying away, somehow twisting in midair to shake off the saltwater, a fish writhing below. She doesn’t just prissily try to grab the fish with her feet, like the proud white bellied sea-eagle (who likes to keep his belly white – and dry).

Sometimes she sits in the cypress pines on the rock wall that protects the harbour, and the net-bounded human-swimming place, only lifting off when the Iluka-Yamba ferry steams past, full of stout, white elderly people. These humans shuffle slowly along behind walkers and then plop down gratefully on the lower-deck seats. Easy to catch if they were fish, the osprey thinks. But she’s never seen a slow, fat fish in the ocean or river – it’s an impossibility. Just like a fat osprey would be a folly. For to get too large would mean to lose the ability to fly. And then to die.

She drifts along above and a bit to the seaward side of the headland, then fast, past the dunes. Sometimes she isn’t looking for anything in particular. Just is swept along, carried by the wind, with a belly full of fish.

Near Yamba she will sometimes perch on the mast of one of the yachts moored close to shore. Far enough away from the tourist parks clamouring with children, where more pale humans emerge from boxy identical cabins, or enormous white capsules with wheels, towed by more big shiny four-wheel-drives. Here she is also far enough away from the loud rattle and hiss of the coffee machines in the cafes frequented by the seniors, cyclists and arty writers alike. The tackle shops peddling another million ways to kill a fish. The emporiums that mingle cheap chinese trinkets, with those things they called homewares, with the more honest efforts of local artisans. Homewares… she wonders… Looking at the pile of sticks where she rears her young.

And then she rises once more into the boundless sky, with brown wings spread. Over the glistening wide waters where the river meets the ocean. And the clouds weave their changing weather dramas over the distant seas.

12 Responses

  1. Gail Rehbein

    Wonderful imagery Paula. The Osprey is quite a stately bird and do seem to claim their place so regally at the estuary entrances. We have a pair at the Currumbin Creek estuary that have lived on the beacon tower on the rock wall that marks the entry to the creek’s mouth. Each year, they add more sticks and after 11 years, their nest is not flat like the one in your photo but rises on a 45 degree angle up through the metal bars that make the beacon tower. I always enjoy watching them. They’re quite majestic and always so focused.

    • Paula Peeters

      Hi Gail, lovely that you have a local pair that you can watch. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. Sue Southwood

    I just love the way you write…it is very inspiring to a neophyte (?) writer like me. Your writing seems almost poetic. The place is very near to my favourite place in all the world, Sandon River, in Yurigir National Park. There’s a huge white sea eagle who has nested upriver, on a particular bend in the river, for as long as I’ve been going there, over 20 years. Need a boat to see it next time. Ahh…one day. Yes, your osprey seems to have commandeered a very handy place to nest.
    Ps…Could you send me the name of that upside down plant with the flat stems and red flowers at the base? I want to draw it, and name it, but can’t find it anywhere.

    • Paula Peeters

      Thankyou Sue :). Sandon River sounds fabulous, I’ll have to check it out one day. While staying at Iluka recently we also paddled the Esk River, which was sublime. I had to look up notes for that plant, it’s name is Leptosema chapmanii, or dwarf dogwood. I still have a dried specimen on the windowsill above the kitchen sink as a reminder of Bimblebox. I hope I can see your drawing one day.

  3. Jan W

    God Paula, that’s beautiful. Can’t say more wouldn’t mean anything. She’s beautiful.

    • Paula Peeters

      Thanks Jan, I’m really glad Mrs Osprey touched your heart!

  4. Belinda

    Thanks Paula
    You very accurately describe this beautiful bird. I, alongside 50 year 5 students, watched an osprey as it lifted off the water just behind our boat. It swerved right and sailed past so closely the students let out a collective ooh! as they saw the fish firmly within its claws. It swooped a few more times ( just to get those kids gaping mouths open a little further) and finally rested on a beacon. A magic moment in Moreton Bay!

    Love what you do .

    • Paula Peeters

      Hi Belinda, You painted a fabulous image just then – thankyou. I hope those kids will remember that bird for a very long time. Going out on Moreton Bay like that is undoubtedly good for the soul. Thanks for reading and commenting :). Look forward to some shared cuppas at the State Library soon!

  5. Jane

    Beautiful writing, Paula. I’ve never had the chance to observe ospreys for long but I feel like I have now that I’ve read your post. Thank you. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Paula Peeters

      Hey Jane, thanks for reading, and apologies for the delayed reply from me – I’ve been away with no internet access. I’m glad you enjoyed the post ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. carol donaldson

    I love the idea of all the mobile phone messages and internet chatter streaming away beneath the osprey, a wonderful contrast of the natural and unnatural human world.

    • Paula Peeters

      Hey Carol, thankyou, I thought it was just rather weird – the calm dignity of this amazing bird, juxtaposed with all the human frenzy going on below. Thanks for commenting, and apologies for my delayed reply – I’ve been in the field for 2 weeks with no internet access (heaven ! :)).