ON THE WING

Mercury (Hobart) - Magazine - - GROWYOUROWN - WITH DON KNOWLER

Hand­some, strik­ing; a male pere­grine fal­con, the fastest crea­ture known to na­ture, perched amid the tan­gle and chaos of the hu­man world, sit­ting atop a lamp tower on the Tas­man Bridge.

He sits up­right, jerk­ing his head about him. Look­ing up, look­ing down, his eyes fol­low­ing the flight of star­lings ar­row­ing to­wards their win­ter night roosts on the bridge’s con­crete spans. Re­turn­ing at day’s end from feed­ing for­ays into the coun­try, the star­lings know the pere­grine will be wait­ing, tim­ing his ar­rival at the bridge to match theirs: be­tween 4.30pm and sun­set at 5.07pm.

Fly­ing in tight for­ma­tions, sway­ing and gy­rat­ing like a swam of in­sects to con­fuse the fal­con, they try to deny him a single tar­get to pluck from the sky. Dur­ing his swoop, or stoop, the pere­grine will be ca­pa­ble of reach­ing speeds of up to 300km/h.

The spec­ta­cle of pere­grine fal­cons (pic­tured) hunt­ing star­lings on the Tas­man Bridge is well-known to bird­watch­ers. In the past, par­ties of bird­ers vis­it­ing from the main­land have been moved on by po­lice, the of­fi­cers wor­ried the gawk­ing and point­ing might dis­tract mo­torists.

Sea­soned pere­grine watch­ers, how­ever, know the best van­tage points are the car parks on each side of the river. Here, the dashing flight of the an­chor-shaped pere­grine can be seen in the con­text of an open sky framed by the South­ern Ocean to the south and hills and moun­tains to the east, west and north.

The night I ar­rive, the pere­grine fails to show at first. I know he is about. A friend who pho­to­graphs ships slid­ing through the bridge’s spans re­ported a sight­ing the night be­fore.

I am about to de­part as it gets dark, think­ing I’ve missed him. But sud­denly, there he is. He’s a beauty, a perfect, well-groomed male. Sil­ver feath­ers on the breast, flecked with grey, slate-blue back and black “mous­taches” run­ning down his face to ab­sorb glare from the sun dur­ing the day.

It’s a sur­real mo­ment at dusk; theatre in the spot­light of the bridge’s lights just com­ing to life in time for the evening rush hour. The whirr of traf­fic, the steady rhythm of tyre on tar­mac, the soft, long whis­tle ut­tered by star­lings as they come in to land, as though call­ing to clan mem­bers to move over and make room for them on the crowded con­crete ter­races un­der the bridge, above the rip­pled wa­ters of the River Der­went.

A groove has been cut in the black surface of the river by the wake of a fur seal, and as a flip­per breaks the surface this flashes yel­low in the beam of the bridge’s lights. An oys­ter­catcher pipes its stac­cato song as its flies fast and di­rect across the wa­ter’s surface, an­other re­minder this chaotic, noisy world be­longs to both man and beast.

But at dusk, it be­longs most of all to the regal pere­grine.

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