From Parrots To Eagles

On a recent trip to the UK, we got to spend a week with our good friend, Rhian Evans in Scotland.  Rhi used to work with yellow-shouldered Amazon parrots on Bonaire.  These days she is busy reintroducing white-tailed eagles to Scotland.  Below is a story I wrote “From Parrots To Eagles” for the Bonaire Reporter.  Earth Island Journal will also be publishing my article about the rewilding of Scotland in their winter issue.  Rhian and her eagles will also be featured in that piece…

Chick in Norway

In June of this year Rhian Evans found herself far from the tropical shores of Bonaire.  She was on a hunt along the fjords of Norway searching for chicks of white-tailed eagles, the fourth largest eagle in the world with an incredible wingspan of nine feet.

Evans works as a sea eagle officer for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and is responsible for reintroducing of the eagles back to the east coast of Scotland.  Livestock owners heavily persecuted these magnificent animals in the 19th century in Great Britain.  The last was killed by a reverend in 1918.  RSBP began reintroducing Norwegian white-tailed eagles to Scotland in 1975.  Now Evans has the privilege of completing this landmark species reintroduction project.

“If it wasn’t for the work I did on Bonaire with loras, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now.” says Evans.  “That set me up really well.  I learned how to organize people and myself, and how to go about doing fieldwork.”

Evans worked for three nesting seasons on Bonaire with loras, our yellow-shouldered Amazon parrots.  In 2009, she served as fieldwork coordinator and gained valuable conservation experience and left the island in 2010.  “I love the loras for their personalities, their colors, their calls—even their wickedness!  They’ve got an attitude. I think the parrots hurt much more when they bite and they are far more sneaky than the white-tailed eagles I work with now.”

But Evans is quick to point out some of the similarities of the two birds. “On Bonaire, you’ve got mango munchers (loras love eating mangos) where as here in Scotland, you’ve got sheep munchers (white-tailed eagles have been known to eat lambs).  In a way it’s the same issue, you are dealing with people who work on the land except here it is on a slightly different scale.  It is a little bit more serious in the UK.”

Photo by Dean Bricknell.

Having recently spent a week with Evans in Scotland, I can attest to the seriousness of her work.  She was responsible for gathering, transporting and processing six white-tailed eagle chicks from Norway through British customs. The birds were then transported to an aviary in an undisclosed location in Fife, Scotland.  There, Evans and her assistant cared for the chicks, feeding them venison and salmon in hopes for them to quickly reach the required six-kilo weight for their impending release.  She also fitted the birds with tracking transmitters and identification tags for easy spotting in the wild.  Then there was work to be done coordinating with BBC television and other media as well as environmental stakeholders and private funders of the project to be present for the releases.

Photo by Red Kite Mike.

By the time this article is published, all six white-tailed eagle chicks will have been released into the Scottish skies.  Evans will then change from caregiver to data gatherer and follow the fledglings as they adjust to their new environment.  It is very different work than what she did on Bonaire over three seasons.  “Once the eagles are out of their cages, I won’t see them often.   They cover such a massive area.  That is why we need to track them with transmitters.  With the loras, I got to know individual pairs. I got to observe their behavior.  I like them both immensely, but they are obviously very different birds.”

This busy life is quite a contrast from the days that Evans spent working with the parrots.  She still reminisces fondly about the island.  “I miss the people of Bonaire.  I like how relaxed Bonaire is, how happy it is.  It’s a very calming place to be. The United Kingdom is just busy and stressful in comparison.  And I like island time.  I can easily operate on island time, all the time, but it doesn’t quite go down that well here (laughs).”

For those who want to follow Rhian’s blog about the white-tailed eagles, log on  http://www.rspb.org.uk/community/ourwork/b/eastscotlandeagles/default.aspx    

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