I caught up with local angler Martin Scuffins this week. Martin is one of those people who’s so multi-talented, if he wasn’t such a nice bloke, it would be annoying. Despite his protests to the contrary, he’s a capable flyfisher (which he demonstrated when we went chasing midge feeders), gifted wildlife artist and accomplished musician.
Perhaps most fascinating though, is Martin’s affinity with birds of prey. As well as rehabilitating injured hawks, falcons, owls and eagles for release back into the wild, he has a troupe of display birds. Watching as Martin interacts with each of them, is to observe a raptor whisperer at work. After playfully clawing at Martin’s back to reinforce the pecking order (so to speak), Yarram the wedge-tail eagle sits on his arm like an inquisitive kelpie – and it’s about the same size. Eyes that can spot a rabbit at one mile dart to me and then back to Martin. In the background, we can glimpse an even bigger female eagle with wings that would block out a windscreen. I must keep well away from her, Martin explains – she doesn’t like men (except for Martin).
The smaller falcons are another matter; friendly, safe, and curious – partly a function, Martin points out, of their intelligence. Free flying, one enjoys perching on my boys, while another strikes with breathtaking speed and accuracy at a lure Martin swings. Apparently, they’re not up to the pace of the larger and more wilful peregrine falcons. These can dive at 390 km/h.
We meet a gorgeous boobook owl that looks like an exaggerated character from a Pixar movie. It’s nice to see one up close: the call of a boobook has lulled me to sleep on many a fishing trip. Not so the barn owl. Martin plays a snippet of a barn owl’s screech on his smartphone, and the real thing next door joins in. It sounds like someone or something being murdered. More than a few times, while walking back from the river after dark, I’ve heard that noise and quickened my pace. It’s good to know there’s a fairly benign and fluffy explanation – unless you’re a mouse…
Later, Martin and I exchange raptor stories. When you spend plenty of time quietly moving through the outdoors flyfishing – watching, listening, waiting – you get to observe a surprising amount of wildlife besides fish. So I’m able to add my share of tales: a wedge-tail eagle taking a big black cormorant at Talbot Reservoir; or standing still beside a lake on evening waiting for a trout to move, then having a shape whistle past my ear at blinding speed and explode into a flock of corellas just in front of me. Or watching a black duck safely herd her flock of ducklings across 100 metres of open water while under constant attack from a swamp harrier.
I’ve been fascinated by birds of prey for at least as long as I’ve been flyfishing. Some time with Martin has only added to that fascination.
For more about Martin Scuffins and his work, visit http://hawkandowl.com.au/