At the beginning of the year, we were visited by Fons Bongers. He was there on official business for the Dutch Bird Protection Society. He wanted to inspect the hawk nest (and eggs) on our premises. This was a request we hadn’t been expecting… Because while a few chickens and elderly volunteers (joking!) have gone missing over the years, we never thought the culprits would be up in the trees.
As it turns out, Fons Bongers (who quickly became known as the Hawkman amongst our volunteers) had been visiting our country estate for a number of years and knew the sky above us better than we did. He also knew that there was a nest to be found. And of course, WA’s two ‘birdmen’ (aka the volunteers looking after our bird houses) were present and more than willing to help.
Using a tree-long extension rod, the Hawkman used a tiny camera to peer into the nest. As he did, the parents circled overhead angrily. They weren’t happy that this strange device was so close to their eggs. René, one of the birdmen, was able to capture a photo of the four eggs, with one even having a beak peeking out. We were overcome with pride… a family of hawks choosing our park as their home! Who would have thought? Once Fons had gotten what he needed, he turned and said with certainty, “In six weeks, I’ll be back.”
Fast forward to a beautiful afternoon in May and there’s a growing army of bird voyeurs forming beside a tree. They’re there to witness the tagging of the eyas (baby hawks). They watched in awe as a certified climber/bird protector was hoisted up into the trees. It looked perilous to us “ground-dwellers”, but he’d been doing this for more than 30 years. Every now and then, Fons called up to see how things were going or to warn him about a diving hawk. The parents, once again, weren't too happy about the situation!
Before we knew it, the climber was back on the ground - accompanied by a plump trio of baby hawks. One of the youngsters, unfortunately, hadn’t made it. To the birdmen, this was a tragic discovery. To the pros, this was simply the way nature worked. Upon further inspection, we found out that the babies were already the size of supermarket frozen chickens. Their beaks were wide open, but released no sound. Their claws were stretched out and there was no doubt that whatever they captured would never be released. The eyas were quickly and expertly weighed and ringed by the Hawkman.
By this point, everybody wanted selfies with the trio and close-up shots of their stern stares and mouse-ready beaks. The situation turned into yet another memorable Wester-Amstel photoshoot. But before long, the two little guys and one slightly bigger girl were lifted back up to be reunited with their anxious parents.
Afterwards we, the park group volunteers, returned back to our work and our eternal battle against weeds and other "out of control" natural phenomena. But this time with the acute sense that we were being closely monitored from above.
By: Ruud Vrielink