Monday, 3 November 2014

Diary of a black eagle researcher


I want to share the experience and feeling of a couple of extraordinary days ‘working’ in the Cederberg.
At 7.45h in the morning I leave my car to visit a nest and walk on to a hut where I have planned to spend the night. Around 9.00h I arrive at the nest to do observations. Due to the sun rising above the nest cliff, I’m forced to search for a new observation spot where the sun doesn’t blind me. After approximately 6 hours of observing I take off in the direction of the hut. I realize that it will be dark around 18.15h and I am not sure how long the walk to the hut will be. From the observation spot I go off trail to take the shortest route to the hut. This means that I have to go up pretty steep, climbing rocks and struggling through bushes. From my map I can’t define what the inclination is, my heart rate, on the other hand, does show a steady increase. With a backpack of approximately 10 kg on my back I realize that the climb is pretty tiring. Not every boulder I climb on it is clearly visible how to get on, but that’s what hiking uphill off trail in the Cederberg is all about. Halfway up the slope I want to pull myself up a rock. I place my hand and pull to see if I it is steady enough. A disc of rock slides down and a big black scorpion appears. It was hidden under the disc. I remember this species from earlier hikes but this one is three times as big as the last one I saw. I assume that it rather sees me taking another route. At 17:30h I arrive at the hut. A stream close by is a fresh water supply. With the most beautiful sunset in the background I have had so far, I warm up my food and settle in the hut. I go to bed early realizing that tomorrow will be a long day full of hiking and two nest visits scheduled.
I have a decent breakfast because I don’t like pausing during hiking. At 8.30h I leave my sleeping place, off to the first nest. Luckily a trail leads me to the first nest and on my way I find a new nest. Even Megan has never seen this one. Unfortunately, I don’t see any signs of activity on or around the nest. I move on to the nest that I was heading for. At this spot I am lucky to spot the eagles within 10 minutes. Unfortunately, not on the nest. After watching them for a while I lose them. One of them was on the nest for a minute but didn’t seem to incubate anything. It did not come back to the nest so I assume they are not incubating. I head on to the next site. The first 15 minutes is back on the same trail, the other hour and a half are in, for me, an unknown part of the Cederberg. If I would follow the path to the nest it would take me more than a day to reach the nest. The first part off trail has a nice inclination. It is next to a small stream which supplies me with fresh water. At the source of the stream it flattens out, but with huge boulders. I assume that not many people have been up here. It is rough up here and there are ginormous boulders to climb on. At 15.00h I arrive at my observation spot. Now I am facing the nest cliff from a better angle (higher up). Unfortunately no breeding activity but two black eagles flying around the nest cliff. Meaning that the territory is still occupied. At 16:30h I finish my chocolate and my observations and leave the eagles perched. 
I realize that I have one hour and 45 minutes before it gets dark. Hopefully, I am back on track by then because I had not planned to spend another night out. After walking for a while on a plain on top of a mountain, I start feeling my backpack. I orientate on the mountains to see what my options are to get back down. The sun sets at 17.45h and I realize I don’t have much time before it gets dark. I think it will be tough to get back today. I think by myself: “I will keep walking, I don’t want to spend another night out.”  I go up one side hoping that I can get down on the other side. When I am on top it is dark. Luckily the rocks I walk on are mostly white. When I arrive on the other side of the mountain at 18:45h it is dark and I can see 50 meters straight down. That was not what I had hoped to see. In this darkness I have no clue how to get to the path now and I don’t want to climb back up in the dark. I search for a sleeping spot without being picky and take the first spot with a small overhang. Although it is on hard rock and close the edge, it will be fine for one night. I hope I don’t move in my sleep, however on this rock I will probably wake up when I start moving. I send out a message that I am out for another night to the people who may expect me back on Driehoek. On 19.15h I get in my sleeping bag realizing that it will take twelve hours before the sun rises. That is long if you are lying on rock as hard as concrete. I can’t find the good position, which I probably won’t find. Although I am constantly curious how close I am to sunrise during the night, I only check my phone twice for the time. Once at 1.30h in the morning, just halfway through the night, and the other time at 6.30 in the morning. In the morning light I can see how far down it goes. Far! But I do see the path I was looking for. That is a good sign although this route is no option without climbing equipment. At 7.30 I leave my sleeping place and go on to another place where I, hopefully, can go down. Again I am unlucky. I go back up and feel trapped on top. I check the map and find another spot to go down to the path I am aiming for. My next option is suitable for going down. At 9.20h I reach the path which leads me back to my car. At 11.00h I am home sweet home. I lost some energy but I gained some knowledge about myself, the eagles and the Cederberg.
~Steven Karel Bekker