Western Australian woman Tarlee Smith wasn’t quite sure what she was looking at.
“When I first saw it, I just thought it was a stingray flapping on the water and caught in seaweed,” she said.
“Then I thought maybe it’s a baby seal.”
Ms Smith quickly pulled out her phone and uploaded a short clip of the creature to Snapchat, captioning it “Why does this happen to me?”
She had been riding her horse along a remote part of Harvey Estuary, south of Perth, when she made the discovery on Thursday.
“I could see something moving in the water, way in front of me and was like: That’s weird,” she said.
“I thought 'that’s not a fish', so then I went over to it. I stood there and watched it for a bit, but then it just lay down and gave up.”
That’s when Ms Smith realised that what she was looking at wasn’t a marine creature, but a soaking wet bird of prey.
“I got off my horse and walked over to it and it just didn’t move,” she said.
“I stood there and watched it, and then found a seabird rescue group on Facebook.”
What Ms Smith had found wasn’t in fact a seabird at all. It was a whistling kite. With the sun going down, she was concerned it wouldn’t survive the night.
She considered taking off her shirt and wrapping it up, but ultimately decided to take the saddle blanket off her horse and then walked the bird 3km through the heavy sand back to her car.
“My horse was confused about why I didn’t ride her home,” she said.
“She was like: Oh my god, what are we doing? She kept trying to look at the bird and I told her it’s fine, stay away from it.”
Why was the bird in the water?
Ms Smith handed the whistling kite to Western Australian Seabird Rescue volunteer Rachel Oslen who said on Friday it was recovering well.
While whistling kites are known to fish, they’re not as prolific as ospreys or sea eagles, and this can sometimes lead to trouble.
“They’ll swoop down and they’ll use their talons to grab a fish from the water and they’ll fly off,” Ms Olsen said.
“They’re not as good at it as ospreys. Often what will happen is they’ll overestimate their ability to grab a fish or they’ll misjudge the size and they’ll go down (into the water).
“An osprey or eagle has a much larger wingspan and if they’re submerged they can get out of the water much easier.”
Another possibility is that the kite could have been mugged for his fish by a large eagle, as they sometimes take advantage of smaller birds.
Juvenile birds can also find themselves in trouble as they learn to fish, but how it ended up in the water remains a mystery.
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