© Copyright 2021 by Caroline Travis
Photo by Richard Lee on Unsplash
I scanned the sky, but could only see gulls.
“There!” said Paul, pointing. When his prize failed to register, he spooned himself in behind me, and with his chin on my shoulder, and his cheek touching mine, he repositioned his finger. “There!”
Paul slipped off his rucksack, dug out his binoculars, balanced himself against a large rock, and with his elbows resting on the top, he proceeded to scan the cloudless blue sky.
I slid the straps of my bag from my arms and stretched my back and neck. I searched for a moment or two before surrendering to the same rock. Leaning back, it’s heat empathised with and soothed my muscles while the sun and cool breeze kissed my cheek, and with my eyes closed, the slop-slop of the water’s edge almost lulled me to sleep.
We’d driven from Perth to just south of Exmoor and back. From the cliffs edging Shark Bay, we’d viewed tiger sharks. From the beach at Monkey Mia, I’d hand-fed a wild bottle-nosed dolphin. We’d floated over the Ningaloo reef in our first-ever outings with snorkels. We’d seen kangaroos and koalas and gazed at the southern night sky, in all of its uninterrupted glory, on a cloudless, moonless night on the shore of Kalbarri. We’d experienced sienna outback, sweeping scrubland, and dry river beds big enough to house a six-lane motorway. But this was our last day in Western Australia, and we’d taken the ferry from Perth to Rottnest Island—Rotto to the locals, so named by the 17th century Dutch, who spied cat-sized-rats from aboard their ships.
“There’s two of them!”
Paul’s excitement roused me.
“Do you want to look?”
I rolled over, and Paul handed me the binoculars.
I struggled to find my prey. Finally, I spotted the two-metre wing-span, reducing to a couple of dashes, as she increased the distance between us, and, as transfixed as Paul had been, I glimpsed the effortless glider move a muscle, change course, and head back in our direction.
“Don’t move.” Paul’s words were calm, crisp and chilling.
“What? Why?” I jumped back.
Paul reached out to steady me as one foot landed in soft sand, millimetres from the tip of the tail of one of Australia’s cutest marsupials, a Quokka. It looked more like a child’s stuffed toy than a living, breathing animal. As I went to place my other foot, I saw it wasn’t alone; just the most courageous of a pair that had, while we were twitching, helped themselves to an apple from our unzipped backpack.
“How could anyone ever mistake you for a rat?” I shoved the field glasses into Paul’s hand and detached the lens caps from the camera perpetually slung across my body and started snapping.
“I reckon,” Paul said, indicating to a high-point on the rocky outcrop. “There are a couple of chicks up there.”
“Hmm?” I dragged myself away, trying to make sense of his words. “Yeah?”
“What do you reckon – Mum, Dad and babies?”
I looked in the direction instructed, but the white rock was a mosaic of chalk and flint, dim dips and overhang shadows, and I didn’t search too hard. I looked back down at the quokkas in the shady recess. Every time the furry opportunist attempted to sink its teeth into hard fruit the size of its own head, the apple rolled away towards a second quokka who, attacking it from the other side, had no better luck. Finally, trapping the treat between them, the two sets of jaws nibbled in from opposite sides.
I knew I shouldn’t, but I couldn’t help myself; my hand reached down, under the pretext of photographic scale, and my fingers met with kitten-soft, sand-coloured fur. The joey’s back twitched once; his grazing remained undisturbed.
As the youngsters lost interest in the sand-covered apple, Old-Man-Scar-Face ambled down, wasting as little energy as possible. He sniffed the air around the fruit, moved closer and sniffed some more. He nudged it with his nose, sat up and looked directly into my eyes.
I picked up what was left and washed it off in the encroaching tide, then placed it back on the sand in front of him. He sniffed it some more and started to nibble. The refreshed aroma re-attracted the twitching noses of the youngsters who came back for seconds. Scar Face just left them to it, returning to the rock on which I had first seen him. As the juveniles again tired of the encrusting sand, I rinsed the apple anew and placed it on the rock in front of him. Maybe seawater had soured it, but he didn’t even bother to sniff it.
“Yes!” Paul’s cry snatched my attention.
I tried to focus on the area that he was studying.
“Aww! I thought she was going to go for it then.” But the raptor flapped her giant wings a few more times, her eyes still scanning the sparkling Indian Ocean shallows, and glided closer to us.
Her decent, when it came, was swift and controlled. As she neared the surface, her undercarriage opened. Her legs came down and forward, her prehistoric talons splayed. The wings changed position just before she broke the surface of the water leaving, only the tips visible.
The wings, beating against the surface of the water, lifted the body free. Two more great beats; she seemed to be struggling to get airborne, but the third took her clear, the water falling from her feathers, momentarily concealing her prowess. The raptor’s wings almost met in front of her beak as she fought and won the battle over gravity, her prize now clear to see.
The thrashing supper unhooked itself from one of the powerful talons, threatening to topple the hunter. But this master of flight caught the flapping end and steadied herself.
As the piscator got higher, she shook her head, and the undulations continued down her body, reaching her tail feathers and travelling along her wings, dislodging a rainbow shower. Mesmerised, we watched as she carried her catch to a shelf on the cliff-face where two chicks vied for the first chunk.
But time-tables and ferries wait for no man, and so the spell was broken. The quokkas had disappeared, and as we made ready to make our way back to the jetty, we turned to thank the ospreys for the entertainment.
The smaller of the adults sat on top of a warning placard, devouring his own tucker. The two gulls worrying the base were rewarded with the odd scale or two, but as his beak tore at the flesh, the only waste seemed to be a few drops of blood, running down the No Fishing sign.
This is my record of an afternoon spent on Rottnest Island, off the coast of Western Australia, detailing our one and only meeting with Quokkas together with a ring-side seat of an Osprey’s successful hunt.
have wanted to be a writer ever since I can remember, but it is only
since I retired that I have had the time to learn the craft. I
completed a degree in Creative Writing in 2013 and joined a local
writer’s circle. We have self-published some of our work, but I
have not yet won a competition or been paid for any of my scribbles.