Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Erne From The Coast

The Very Rev Hunter Farquharson, who breeds and shows birds as a hobby, returned to his cottage to find his prize-winning goose Beatrice dead, and a white-tailed sea eagle perched on a fence post nearby. The giant raptor, with a wingspan of up to 8ft, was one of 16 released recently in the east of Scotland as part of a controversial reintroduction programme.

Mr Farquharson, Provost of St Ninian’s Cathedral in Perth, said he was "horrified" to find the goose, worth about £300, "ripped to shreds". He went inside to phone the RSPB, a partner in the reintroduction project, but then heard a "terrible noise" as the eagle chased his champion gander Bertie. When he tried to intervene the raptor jumped on his back, tearing his shirt, leaving a 4in wound below his shoulder and cutting his head.

My kids were up on the west coast of Scotland last week and saw a couple of sea eagles. Reminds me of this - T.O. Beachcroft's The Erne From The Coast - a rite-of-passage favourite of school short story anthologies "in elder days before the Fall".

When they saw Harry come towards them they waited, unmoving. They could hardly see at first who or what it was. Harry came up and dropped the bird at his father's feet. His coat was gone. His shirt hung in bloodstained rags about him; one arm was caked in blood; his right eyebrow hung in a loose flap, with the blood still oozing stickily down his cheek.

“Good God!” said Thorburn, catching him by the arm as he reeled.

He led the boy into the kitchen. There they gave him a glass of brandy and sponged him with warm water. There was a deep long wound in his left forearm. His chest was crisscrossed with cuts. The flesh was torn away from his neck where the talons had sunk in. The doctor came. Harry's wounds began to hurt like fire, but he talked excitedly. He was happier than he had ever been in his life. Everybody on the farm came in to see him and to see the eagle's body.

All day his father hung about him, looking into the kitchen every half hour. He said very little, but asked Harry several times how he felt. “Are you aw reet?” he kept saying. Once he took a cup of tea from his wife and carried it across the kitchen in order to give it to Harry with his own hands.

Later in the day old Michael came back, and Harry told him the whole story. Michael turned the bird over. He said it was an erne, a white-tailed sea eagle from the coast.


JuliaM said...

"He went inside to phone the RSPB, a partner in the reintroduction project..."

So they could issue it with an ASBO?

James Higham said...

Different world to mine, Laban.

Hexe Froschbein said...

Mistake 1: Forgetting the meaning of your first name.

Mistake 2: Leaving your other animals unprotected with the eagle whilst you retreat inside.

Mistake 3: Chasing dangerous varmint without a useful weapon or a clue and getting shredded. He was very lucky btw, the eagle could easily have caused more serious hurt.

Mistake 4: Letting the varmint get away alive whilst helping out the human vermin that released it.

I guess this lesson on what happens when you pick up a cat by the tail has not been learned. Maybe it will, once the eagle starts picking up tasty babies from prams or random toddlers (less trouble than a goose and more meat on it too for the same weight..)

Weekend Yachtsman said...

I don't know whether they take toddlers, but they certainly make short work of lambs, and not just new-borns either.

Babies I have no doubt would be easy meat if left available; I suppose it's only a matter of time before some ned-mother takes the risk.

JuliaM said...

Eagles carrying away babies is an urban myth.

Unfortunately. Or releasing flocks of them around some of our less salubrious housing estates could prove interesting!

Hexe Froschbein said...

Julia, it's a matter of opportunity. If prey is available, it'll be taken, and bears killing sheep and wolves attacking children also was an urban myth, until the idiots reintroduced them on the continent, and suddenly, livestock gets savaged by the herd and small kids end up fending off packs of wolves with Ipods sounds on the way home in the evening.

And it's ever so easy for people to not realise the threat (or not know about it) and instead of a prizewinning goose sunning itself on the garden lawn, it'll be someones baby next, given that the eagle already is scanning people's gardens for prey.

Even if you sit right next to your child, there is a non-zero chance that he'll make a clean snatch and you will not have a chance to stop it. Of course you can keep your small kids indoors or under a cage instead, but I think it's easier to just jail the eagles in the zoo.