You can always tell when a bird of prey or raptor is flying overhead often before it is visible.
All the birds in the immediate vicinity leap into action, bursting out of the foliage in a desperate attempt to find a safer place. The air is shrill with the alarm calls of Magpie-larks and birds dart everywhere diving for cover.
Birdwatchers look up, searching the sky, in what is one of the most thrilling moments in bird observation. What is it?
On this particular day it was a magnificent White-bellied Sea Eagle, the second largest eagle in Australia after the Wedge-tailed Eagle. They are big, with a wingspan up to two metres and can weigh up to four kilograms. Females are larger than males.
These eagles are a conspicuous and imposing sight around coasts and waterways in Australia and are also found in Asia and New Guinea. They soar gracefully overhead in a quartering pattern looking for prey and eat among other things, mammals, birds, fish, carrion, sea snakes and turtles. Along the coast at Stockton they can often be seen perched on a log in the sand dunes.
White-bellied Sea Eagles are white on the head, rump and underparts and dark grey on the head and wings with a large grey hooked bill. They are characterised by their enormous cream feet and long black talons and have a wedge-shaped tail with a whitish tip.
The eagles form permanent pairs and inhabit territories up to 130 square kilometres, often shared with other pairs of eagles for hunting. They build a untidy nest of sticks high in a tree and the female incubates the two white eggs. The same nest site is reused for many years.
Young Sea Eagles get their adult plumage at about four years of age, first breed at seven years and live 30 years.
In Australia the thickness of the bird’s eggshells have been affected by DDT use and it is susceptible to toxins in polluted estuaries.
Birdlife Australia Discovery Centre in Sydney has an EagleCam, which broadcasts live video recordings of a White-bellied Sea Eagle nest. This is extremely popular in the breeding season, June to September when it is possible to watch the young downy chicks being fed.
Check out the EagleCam site at www.birdlife.org.au/visit-us/discovery- centre/eaglecam.