Lennox Head





Sometimes when we’re travelling we’re so busy we forget to keep our eyes open. It was my boyfriend who spotted it first- a lump of shaggy brown struggling in the water, swimming awkwardly towards the rocks that line the ocean at Lennox Head. We were sitting on the balcony of our apartment, one with a view that looked down a green slope to the water’s edge, a place where every morning brings a new kind of coastal meditation.


Whales migrate south during the Australian spring, the young ones leaping and showing off with their spectacular submarine-like breaches, while older humpbacks simply lope slowly in a spouting rhythm. Pods of dolphins play in the surf, each morning at sunrise looping in a circle around a school of fish for breakfast. When they aren’t hunting, nesting pairs of regal birds of prey used the decades-old Norfolk pine trees as a timber thrones.


However there was nothing regal or meditative about the brown bird swimming for its life in the water, pushing desperately with its wings through the waves towards the rocks. Grabbing a pair of binoculars to get a better look at the breakwater, we realised that it was a bird of prey – and just like taking a fish out of water, this was a bird that had no business being in the sea.


Grabbing keys, tennis shoes for the sharp rocks and towels, we flew down the back steps and around the house to get to the water’s edge to try to rescue it. But by the time we got there, other passers-by had seen it fighting and waded into the water, pulling it out and placing it on the rocks (nearly losing fingers in the process).


It was an Osprey, with wet bedraggled feathers and a dirty white head.  It sat in a few metres away in a soggy half-drowned mess of feathers looking entirely racked off. Clutched in its foot was what had been wearing it down - a big fat juicy fish big enough for human consumption. It’s talons were splayed awkwardly across the fish, and embedded in it’s body- almost as if fishing wire was tangled around it’s foot anchoring it to the fish.


However, it was a little less sinister than that. The bird was simply a bit of a gumby- he had hooked his talons in to the fish and got them stuck in between the gills, the eye sockets and some bone- and had pretty much almost drowned himself out in the water, unable to let go of a fish far too big for it to catch.


His group of rescuers chuckled and headed on their way- the couple powerwalking along the path, the surfer who had paddled in, and the guy riding a bike with his dog. My partner and I stayed, a bit wary of the dogs, snakes and oncoming night time chill that still posed a threat to its safety.


The bird was so wet he couldn’t fly more than a metre off the ground, and he eventually half flew, half hopped to large piece of driftwood to consume his prey- or rather, pick the fish off his foot. With his wings spread to help them dry, he shredded, pecked and mangled the fish bit by bit, as we inched closer and closer to the bird. He eyed us a few times but didn’t move, letting us come to within a metre of his perch. My boyfriend put his arm around me, and we sat in silence and watched him eat as the light faded.


It’s hard to describe what it was like to be allowed to sit there for an hour next to such a wild and magnificent creature- humbling is perhaps the only word that comes close. This bird had deigned to let us sit there, and perhaps sensing we weren’t a threat, he was patient with us getting so close. So much of travel is about doing something or rushing somewhere, checking in online or paying top dollar for a manufactured experience-but here it was about taking a moment to truly experience something.  And our hour sitting within a few feet of that magnificent bird of prey is something we’ll never forget.


Pictures by Chris van Hove