News on Rosy and Girl:
Those of you who remember Rosy and his cataract eye operations may be curious to know how he is getting on. The truth was that for months after his operations and prolonged treatment he was a shadow of his former self, usually sitting idle in his corner half blind and unable to interact with Girl, his mate of some 25 years. He could not easily find his food or build a nest and he just spent his day loafing with glazed eyes. Every now and then he’d crash into the shed wall and our hearts would sink. I had little hope and therefore no reason to write about him when in so pathetic a state. While it has been incredible that he could see a bit and look after himself we’ve all been disappointed that it was not a miraculous total recovery. But sometimes he’d surprise us all by being seen high up on a perch looking cocky. How did he get there?
Girl inspects Rosy's DIY skills.
For the last year and more I usually spend 2 to 3 days in one place before heading off to another destination in my camper car. It (then) hadn’t resulted, as I had hoped, in employment or a place to live. But I think I am doing a number of worthy things and being productive nevertheless. But when I am utterly fed up with everything and in despair, I end up going to see Rosy and Girl now happily housed at Sarah Higgins’s sanctuary at Naivasha. I feel good and among family when I see them. When I visited in October 2010 Rosy and Girl, were showing distinct signs of breeding. They would sometimes sit side by side. Rosy would try to get the food to the nest, or Girl would take a sprig of green leaves in her bill and look confused. In mid December, while asleep in my car roof top tent behind their shed I was awoken by Girl calling at night. That was always a sure sign when we were all together in Athi that she was thinking of breeding. It was a low monotone call, somewhat sad and foreboding. I went down to see them in their pen in the morning and saw Rosy at one end low down on his usual perch and Girl up in the old nest. Nothing had changed.
Rosy and Girl on nest
By mid October 2010 I was helping Masumi Gudka to do a Fish Eagle/pesticide project. We were all staying at Sarah Higgin’s place where she also has a research facility. I heard Rosy and Girl make a “mating” call! By the time I rushed down to their shed I saw nothing other than Rosy and Girl on the nest looking innocent. But Rosy was on the nest….a rare feat for him. Over the next few weeks Mwanzia and I with the help of Sarah’s workshop fundis put together a King Sized eagle bed, built for having large and strapping eaglets. A massive iron structure some 2.2m across was set, with some danger to life and limb, on top of their old nest. Not only is the centre nest tree flimsy, but Rosy and Girl could of course drop you with one single blow. We then added a few extra poles to assist Rosy in getting to the nest. Within minutes after we departed Rosy was in there busying himself with nest renovations. By late November he was totally at home nest building and rearranging. I suspected that they had mated, but I was not sure. Still almost blind, his determination is so admirable that it just makes all of us stand back and shake our heads with wonder. He is incredibly clever at using what senses he has at doing what he was always good at. He used to be an exceptional nest builder and father who used to take on incubation, brooding and feeding chores with rare dedication. During the beginning of his current nest duty he would charge threateningly down the perch to collect fresh green branches we placed for him. He would return to the nest to place it with artistic flourish in the bowl, and I smiled a lot for no very good reason. I haven’t smiled in this paternal stupid way since they last had a chick in late 2005. Rosy and Girl look to be back in business, and with them I feel as though things never changed. It would be better than just “good” if they did breed. It would defy all that stood in the way. Much did, and I still harbour simmering anger at those that did harm and ruin so good a thing. But this great news would surely delight all those that helped by gave funds when Rosy needed two cataract operations. Those that contributed and those that did the surgery and cared for him would all finally feel it worth their while. Rosy and I owe so many people, especially Sarah Higgin’s. Above all, everyone can rest assured that the operation was no failure and Rosy and Girl are back together.
Eagle foreplay. NB: Closed 3rd eyelid.
(At this point I had hoped to close one blog entry so as to build suspense for the next. But caution ruled and I did not post it. Part 2 of the story follows)
In January 2011 they were both busy making the nest. It was impossible now to enter without Rosy or Girl attacking. When the mating call was being made I would rush down and just miss it. Sarah too would dash to see what was happening. Only Mwanzia witnessed them mating, but something was not exactly right. When I finally did see them mate I was confused to see Girl on top of Rosy! It is a very rare thing for eagles to do. Physiologically the mechanics of the whole process just don’t work in this position. I assumed Girl was frustrated with Rosy’s ineptitude at this tricky task. It takes a lot of caution (those feet could kill the female), and balance to mate. But every time Rosy looked near to mating (lots of nibbling and foreplay etc), Girl would back off. Rosy is smaller than Girl and I worried that this odd mating position could end in serious injury. Girl’s feet are massive. However on one occasion in late January I rushed to the peep hole to see Rosy dismounting. What happened I was unable to tell.
The nest and eggs. The metal nest rim can just be seen.
On the 2nd Feb 2011 I came in exhausted from a long drive to look into their shed and see only Rosy. Alarmed I swung open the door and entered, only to have Girl rise like a massive demon from the nest and glower with gaping mouth and open wings. She was on an egg! Rosy stood statuesque and in solemn pose a few feet away. His demeanour may look calm and composed, but he was anything but. Had I stepped one more foot into the shed he would have flung himself at me and Girl would have certainly followed. I raced off to tell Sarah. When I returned to Naivasha a week later Girl was on two eggs!
An egg! Girl attacked so photo poor!
Eagles, unlike people have two birthdays. There is cause for celebration when the egg is laid, and there is yet another celebration when it hatches. In a way, the nail chewing period stretches the entire incubation period for nearly two months. If one or more eggs hatch, Sarah, Mwanzia and I would be thrown into disarray. Good food will be the top priority, and not easy to find.
Of course this is something of a record. Rosy is the only eagle in the world with 2 artificial lenses. He is the only one with such a disability to breed. That both are in the mid thirties is also a feat of sorts. And in Africa captive breeding eagles of any sort is extremely rare. On top of all that, not much was going for them when Sarah stepped in and helped us all out when we had to separate and go our different ways. One thing is for sure, I have felt an inexorable pull towards them and failed hopelessly in the attempt to rid myself of the birds and get a “real job”. I can’t, and should they have a chick I see it as inevitable that I slide back into doing what I always enjoyed. Breeding eagles and releasing their young is about the only thing that has made sense to me in a conservation world utterly bogged down in semantics, strategic plans, funding proposals, jargon and futile inaction. Rare is it to break through and actually work with wildlife make it grow, nurture it and set it free.
(Here I end the second blog entry……read on if you wish to know what happened!)