Light is returning. I know this because I have been in the garden tidying, planting and planning as the gloaming fell twice this week. It was almost 6pm when I went indoors. Robins are the last birds up at that time of day; they hop about in the semi-darkness bobbing their tails and tilting their heads in anticipation of Worm Ofference. Apparently, they are completely unconcerned that everyone else is roosting by then. Blackbirds are the last birds singing, usually from the top of a tree, mixed in with Song Thrushes and the odd Dunnock.
There is a feeling of Spring's approach, but even so, it will be a while before butterflies, bees and beetles return. This morning our ponds were frozen so I am hoping the newts haven't moved back in yet.
I woke up a morning or two ago and looking out of the window across the garden sensed an anomaly but couldn't immediately put my finger on what it was. There was a discordant note; a feature not usually there. I looked more closely, got the binoculars and realised it was a female Sparrowhawk perched in our hedge. Luckily, she completely ignored the (in my opinion) foolhardy Blue Tit who dotted about the hedge within three feet of her, gaily oblivious of the danger so near. She made no attempt to grab it, so evidently had already fed. Instead, she looked about her, occasionally making eye contact with me but again not appearing especially perturbed by the human face who watched her. Eventually, she opened her wings and glided off silently, leaving me feeling I had been touched by a Wild kind of magic.
A day or two later I got a call asking if I wanted to go and watch a Harris Hawk working on a friend's farm. Frank (the Hawk) is six and has been with Chris (his person) since he was 18 months old. Harris Hawks hail from the States and are unusual in birds of prey because they hunt in groups. Frank is trained to catch rabbits and although he didn't get any while I was there it was impressive to observe his complete focus and concentration as he worked.
They say things come in threes. This morning we took the Tower Tour up Salisbury Cathedral. A pair of Peregrines have nested there for the past two years. As we got to the base of the spire (from the inside, I hasten to add!) I thought I caught the tail end of a Peregrine's cry. Its the sort of sound that raises the hairs on the back of your neck. But everyone was talking and when they stopped I couldn't hear it any more, so I figured perhaps I'd imagined it.
Our guide then opened one of the tiny medieval doors that leads out onto a kind of balcony half-way up the Cathedral spire and as we emerged out into daylight to stare down at the tiny weeny people on the ground far below, a grey bird with long, sharp wings shaped in an arc (a bit like a Swift's) flew beneath us, something small and black clutched in its feet. I knew exactly what it was, and the diagnosis was confirmed a second later as the cry came again, eerily echoing around the spire and the cathedral grounds.
Jumping up and down in excitement squeaking incoherently that you've just seen a Peregrine Falcon is perhaps not a very wise thing for a person to do when they are 200 feet up in the air balanced on medieval architecture. Particularly if that person is a teeny weeny bit scared of heights and has been experiencing odd sensations in their stomach and other (less mentionable in polite society), parts of their anatomy, but then again how many times do people get to look down on a wild Peregrine Falcon flying?
No-one else seemed particularly bothered. It's only the second time I've seen a Peregrine, and the first one was a distance away across a cold January field and all I saw was the characteristic Long Wing that gives the species its other name. Did you know they've been recorded reaching 200 mph in less than 2 seconds and pulling 6G? (I refer you to the truly excellent book A Sparrowhawk's Lament by David Cobham). If that isn't enough to impress I don't know what is.
Incidentally, in case you were wondering, the difference between a Hawk (of which the Sparrowhawk and Harris Hawk are examples) and a Falcon (Peregrine) lies in the genus they belong to and in differences in their anatomy.
- Falcons belong to the genus Falco.
- Hawks fall into several genera.
- Hawks have a curved beak.
- Falcons have a notched beak (just before it curves at the base).
- Hawks use their feet to kill their prey (the Sparrowhawk has an extra long central toe for this purpose).
- Falcons use their beaks.
Hope that was interesting and that all are well? Half term here at the moment and we are all appreciating a little time off from routine. Poppy is thrilled because she is now on Teddy's yummy lamb roast dinners. This will change when she realises she's going to see Mrs Danning on Friday for a hair cut and Teddy's isn't because of his wet eczema which is still healing up. I will be Miss Popular with her then..... :o)