Saturday, August 8, 2009


A sea eagle is normally only seen perched high up in a tree on the beach, or gliding and circling far above the sea. They appear to be solitary birds, rather daunting when you see them up close, with their hooked beaks and disdainful air. Unlike the little birds in my garden they are not given to warbling and singing.

Rarely will you see the sea eagles catching fish.

But one evening when the gorged monsoon tide was surging onto Palolem beach, fast and furious and frothy, I saw about a dozen of them dipping down and skimming the waves and surf that washed onto the sand. This was the first time I had seen them so close to ground level.

The local fisherman had just come in, each boat laden with the prawns that are found aplenty in this season. There were also hundreds of dead silver fish scattered about on the sand, ignored by crows and dogs, but eagerly gathered by a little girl who seemed to think they were little different from seashells.

The sea that day was clearly overflowing with fish.

The great brown and white eagles circled close to the surface of the water. Every now and then one swooped down and appeared to snatch something out of the frothy sea. For this it used not its beak, as I had imagined, but its talons. Rising from the water was more difficult for the big, heavy bird. Each desperately flapped its wings and then struggled to rise again into the air. I watched one of them to see if it would fly away with its prey. It flew some distance and then turned and circled and swooped down to the water again. Had it quickly popped the fish into its mouth while flying? Had it not even succeeded in snatching the wriggling fish from the water? I thought the latter likely. Surely, otherwise, the eagles would take home some fish to feed the young ones? But maybe this is not the season for baby eagles and the big ones can selfishly gorge themselves silly.

I stood watching them for some time, unable to spot fish in the grip of an eagle’s talons, if at all it had caught any. How different these fisherbirds seemed from the fishermen who throw their lines into the water and then just sit on a rock, hoping and dreaming, or the fishermen who cast their net on the water. Yet, maybe they’re not quite so different. In the end, neither the fisherman nor the sea eagle can be sure of catching the wily wriggling fish.

You and I, on the hand, have simply to go to the fish market to have fisherwomen fighting to give us fish. Money is all they demand in return. Reminds me of a little verse:

A weaver bird might dine
Off caviar and wine,
If he could trade his nifty nest
For gourmet food –
The very best.
Alas! The little worm is his fate
For lack of just
This little trait.

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