Monday 18 March 2019

A Sparrowhawk Cameo 17th March 2019

We sat in the hide, patiently awaiting the arrival of the Kingfishers which sporadically visit the small pond that lay before us.

An increasingly blustery and chill  wind swept across the pond, riffling the shallow water's surface but the sky was blue and for the most part it was sunny. After a vigil of two hours our patience was beginning to wane as there was still no appearance of the Kingfishers. Other birders came and went, not prepared to sit it out.

The feeders hanging from the alder tree by the pond were swinging in the wind and doing a brisk trade with many Reed Buntings, Goldfinches and Great Tits visiting. On a couple of occasions a female Great Spotted Woodpecker hesitantly lowered itself backwards down the main branches of the alder tree to eventually fly onto a feeder, there to hammer at the peanuts in splendid isolation, as the other smaller birds, wary of its powerful bill, awaited the woodpecker's eventual departure in bounding flight, to the nearby woods.

A cock Pheasant strutted majestically underneath with a veritable harem of females about him, six in all, the pheasants vying with two drake Mallard for the seed being scattered on the ground by the birds feeding above. 

A sudden alarm seized the two Mallard and they flew from the pond while the pheasants ran fast, in a horizontal and furtive crouch, to the cover of nearby reeds. Smaller birds disappeared into bramble and reeds, their reaction to the general alarm instantaneous and instinctive. A silence fell all around as the constant twittering and grating calls of the Goldfinches were no more. This sudden disruption is all part of a wild bird's routine existence. Instinctively they knew their lives were in imminent danger although the precise threat was one of which I was for now unaware

It was clear that a predator was about and seconds later a male Sparrowhawk, slipped silently into the centre of the alder tree and pitched onto a slender branch to stand upright, half shaded amongst the sun dappled twigs and alder cones. A striking creature with buff orange face, blue grey upperparts and white underparts banded with thin horizontal lines of reddish brown. 

A small, compact avian assassin with flame orange eyes, equipped to kill with long, thin yellow legs and similarly coloured  slender toes of extraordinary length with which to seize victims, even from the densest of hedges, the toes rapier tipped with the cruellest and sharpest of black claws and a hooked bill to dismember its unfortunate prey.

Its fiery eyes stared out, expressionless and pitiless though it was not actively hunting but taking a brief time out to perch and assess the situation. 

Maybe it had already eaten or was looking for a potential meal and was attracted by  the activity of the numerous small birds at the feeders. Probably the latter, for it closely scanned a tangle of brush wood below its perch for any movement that betrayed a small bird hiding there. For less than a minute it remained in the tree, yellow toes gripping the slender branch it had chosen as its perch, looking down and back to scrutinise the surrounding grassland and hedgerow. Its body held taut, a coiled spring of energy that would be released when it re-commenced hunting in a high speed, low level, hedge hopping flight. Surprise its strategy and ally.

However there was no opportunity here to surprise and seize a bird so with a leap it launched from its perch and headed onwards, out into the wind, flying above the reeds and across the rough meadow beyond. 

Forever hungry, its blood lust never sated, seeking to deal by stealth a sudden and unexpected death somewhere, sometime soon, to an unaware feathered victim. 

1 comment:

  1. It was a stunner! (But it was there less than a minute according to the times on my photos.... A treat none the less.)