How do you explain to a German or a Brit, without sounding like youre putting them on, that eagles are a part of our everyday life on North Island? Until theyve spent a few days here, they just cant fathom the fact that this bird of near mythic proportions in the old country is about as revered here as a robin and almost as abundant! Yet on North Island, as common as it is, it maintains a respect that is uncommon; probably because it is a raptor, one of our largest birds of prey.
Even the smallest birds of prey command a lot of attention. Every once in awhile the Stellar Jays that hang around our yard go into a frenzy of excitement and you sense they are in imminent danger. A stray cat will get them going but not quite at this pitch. Most of the time it is a raptor that is no bigger than they are, the little hawk they call a Merlin. The Jays are terrified and usually sit near our house where they think its safe. On one of these attacks the Merlin misjudged and hit our window knocking himself silly. I really thought the little fellow had done himself in and picked him up to determine whether it was a true tragedy or if he would live to triumph again. He was very much alive and soon free of my incarcerating hands but, in the instant I held him, our eyes met and I felt a tinge of the fear that his potential victims must feel. His gaze was absolutely hypnotic, one I had only seen once before when I carried an eagle in my arms.
I have no idea how the eagle got himself into the state in which I found him, half-drowned among the rocks at the oceans edge, but upon lifting him I knew he was too exhausted to cope with the incoming tide. Our brief encounter lasted only a short time as I cautiously carried him to the safety of dry land and the forest, but two impressions stayed with me to this day, the first being his weight. This was a mature bird with a white head, meaning that he was at least three years old, yet he was astoundingly light. This means, of course that all the strength these creatures have is in their wings! That they are able to lift large fish out of the water is truly amazing. The fish must often weigh many times more than its captor. The other startling thing about him was the same as the Merlin As fatigued as this helpless bird was, his eyes burned a hole through me.
In my brief encounters with these wild things my respect for them has deepened. As most North Islanders I see Eagles more often than hawks, but never cease to be thrilled at their sight, whether they are sitting on branches above my head screaming their eagle scream or blowing me away with their incredible mile-high acrobatics. Eagles are icons of the wilderness. This painting shows one of them in the heart of that wilderness, high on the cliffs at the entrance to Knight Inlet.