Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Of Hawks And Falcons

 
Female Sparrowhawk 










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. 
Tercel or Tiercel is the name given to a male Falcon. It comes from Latin tertius, meaning third, probably because male birds of prey are often a third the size of females.

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)

51 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed this post. I love to watch birds and have only had a chance to see falcons/raptors a few times, but it was so interesting. There's a rescue group locally who come to give talks at the library for kids in the summertime. They didn't come last summer and I've been hoping they'll be back this year because my kids liked it too. I've noticed the light returning quickly where I live too. Spring is not far off.

    ReplyDelete
  2. A peregrine visited Newark church for a couple of days a few years ago, not for last couple. It scared the pigeons mightily, you always knew when it was around.

    Was baffled by the harris hawk, until I saw the falconer!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The birds were a bit thin on the ground around the Cathedral too! :o)

      Delete
  3. Oh you made my tummy churn with the height thing but how wonderful to see what you did. It was very interesting to learn the differences betwixt the birds of prey. Thank you. You should be a teacher or summat! X
    We've been looking at Patterdale puppies ... Watch this space! Maybe I'll start it on lamb dinners! That's IF we get one!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. oooohhhhh PUPPIES! I didn't know you were considering acquiring a small furry- is this to make up for Theo's forthcoming move away from home? xx

      Delete
    2. We've hummed and ahhhhed and deliberated for years really. Not sure it's Theo's impending departure or his owner's!

      Delete
  4. We got very close to a peregrine nesting on the cliff face of Lundy a few years ago. The only time I've seen one in the wild. Lots of owl activity round about and I saw a toad at my allotment today. He had taken refuge under my compost heap which I turned today. Got to do something active in these freezing temperatures. How wonderful to be up Salisbury Cathedral.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great about the Toad. The migration is sort-of starting here so we'll soon be on nightly toad safety crossing duties! x

      Delete
  5. Lovely to see your photos, I am looking forward to spending lighter evenings outside xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was soooo lovely to be gardening as it got dark. I have missed it :o)

      Delete
  6. I think it is spring here also. Every day more and more cottontails, quails, doves and hawks. I really wanted more spring rain our monsoons will not start again until July.

    cheers, parsnip

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We've had a fair bit of rain here recently to make up for a dry start to winter. Ready for some sunshine now :o)

      Delete
  7. What a great post and wonderful photos of stunning birds. Hubby and I are planning to visit the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary at Stonham Barns in the Summer. Can't wait to see all the owls and other birds of prey :o) x

    ReplyDelete
  8. Lovely photographs. We are very lucky around us here out in the depths of the country - we see birds of prey almost every day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm wondering whether you get Goshawks? They are making a comeback but I believe are absent from my neck of the woods.

      Delete
  9. I share your excitement in seeing the large birds of prey up close. You have to get excited about this stuff, otherwise those around you (who aren't bird savvy) wouldn't realize what a treat it is to see these birds! Love the photos you got of the sparrow hawk, and what a great experience to see the Harris hawk. I've never heard of birds of prey hunting in groups. I just read H is for Hawk last month and really loved the details about falconry.
    I think your sparrow hawks are bigger than the North American variety (also called American Kestrel here). We often see sparrow hawks on the hydro wires, even in town. Such a brightly coloured bird this side of the ocean. Last weekend I saw a snowy owl!! First ever for me, but we were driving on the highway and couldn't stop.
    Poor Poppy having to go for a trim ... not her favourite thing?
    Wendy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Wendy, just checked and your American Kestrel is a different bird (even though it's known as a Sparrowhawk) - it's more closely related to our Kestrels as it's a falcon rather than a Hawk. Fantastic about the Snowy Owl- I am very envious :o)

      Delete
  10. Really interesting and great photos. Recently I've become a bit woozy when I've got to the top of tall buildings which is rather irritating! Glad Teddy's improving. x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had to stand well back and not look over the edge inside the spire, but oddly was able to do that when on the outside! x

      Delete
  11. Another marvelous post. I can well imagine your extreme glee at seeing the peregrine flying...but was feeling a bit wobbly thinking of you effervescing at such a great height on such ancient architecture. I am also Not Good With Heights. I always feel a bit sad for the folk who can't see the sheer brilliance of such sights.

    Speaking of which -- our ravens are busy doing refurbishments on their nest which answers my "will they come back again next year?" question...but leaves me with the "isn't it a bit early to be nesting?" question -- seeing as it's still bloody cold and snowy. I shall have to look it up. Maybe they're going to go for two rounds of kids! B got to watch them snapping sticks off the big maple outside his office window yesterday...which made me dead jelly.

    I'm imagining Ted snickering as Pops is heading off for her haircut....xo

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd trust the birds, they have a better sense of what's coming than we do :o) XX

      Delete
  12. Wow, you are great at getting the best out if your camera opps! Magisterial creatures. I can't bear heights so would have missed the peregrines completely. We did spot a fleeting silhouette of a bird of prey last week with rather a large creature in its talons, would love to know what it was...So glad that Ted is healing up.x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One glimpse of the Peregrine and I forgot all about where I was, hence the leaping about squeaking excitedly :o) Teddy says Woof, by way of thank you :o) XX

      Delete
  13. Lovely photos of the birds of prey, CT. The sound of the garden does change, doesn't it, when a sparrowhawk appears and the little birds vanish into the hedges. How incredible to see a peregrine and hear its cry. It is thrilling.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was so chuffed to hear it and then even more to see it. I forgot all about the guide after that and was properly zoned in to Peregrine frequency :o) x

      Delete
  14. What fantastic photos and how I would love to have taken that spire tour with you. I would have been yelping with excitement to see the Peregrine as well. I love birds of prey, have you ever been to the Hawk Conservancy, it is just down the road from us and my son is a long time volunteer there and gets to fly various birds of prey when he helps out on experience days. xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You should do the tour, it was well worth the money plus you get to see secret bits of the Cathedral and up high in the roof too. I know the Hawk Conservancy- that must be an interesting place to volunteer x

      Delete
  15. So many special moments in one week; lucky you. Lucky Teddy too managing to avoid a haircut - every cloud and all that. Enjoy the rest of half term. xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It has been a Time Of Hawks for certain :o) Ted is pleased NOT to be getting a hair cut this time round, however, he knows it is only a matter of time....:o) XX

      Delete
  16. Fantastic bird sightings, the sparrowhawk photos are wonderful. The boys like all the peregrine facts. Anything that is the fastest is of course absolutely fascinating. I seem to recall they have special eyelids to protect their eyes from the pressure. I hope you have a lovely half term and that Ted is all better soon. CJ xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I couldn't believe it, it was only a week or two ago that I was opining about how I rarely see them and then there she was! xx

      Delete
  17. What a fab thing to do & so exciting for you to be so close to a peregrine. I agree about the magical feeling of being so close to a sparrow hawk, I'm still looking for my photo of our local one, I must check my phone xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It has been a great few days for birds here :o) XX

      Delete
  18. Lovely photos of lovely birds, how exciting to see. I bought my first seeds yesterday to be planted up and spent some time in the garden to. Loving the lighter evenings..
    Amanda xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's such a great feeling when seed buying time comes round again isn't it? x

      Delete
  19. Always wonderful to see a Peregrine and Sparrowhawks also cause a bit of an excitement in the garden. From someone who hate heights I think you were rather brave to venture onto that gallery!!

    Its incredible the way Peregrines have moved into cities to utilise tall buildings for their nests :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I surprised myself re the heights. Got definite wobbly legs at one point but as no-one else was wobbling I pretended I was fine! x

      Delete
  20. CT, I just had to tell you I had a sparrow hawk in the cottage garden today. I was able to ID it thanks to your post yesterday. She was on the wire for ages and then took off across the garden. Lovely to watch while I was cleaning kitchen cupboards and sanding work tops..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's great, Sarah, I'm thrilled for you. They tend to be birds of cover (especially the males) so to be able to watch one sitting on a wire is fantastic! XX

      Delete
  21. Hey CT,
    I've mentioned my sparrow hawk encounter before. And yes, it really is thrilling. There are peregrines living in Bristol city centre. They like the pigeons apparently. But how lovely to see one from such a vantage point. Not that you'd catch me up there. I get giddy up a step ladder!
    Leanne xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was so pleased to see it, it's something I won't forget. I did feel woozy height-wise but forgot all about that once I'd seen the bird. Even entertained the brief fantasy that I could fly too....not sensible half way up a Cathedral! xx

      Delete
  22. A fascinating read!! Your photos are incredible too! Braver than me to go up the Cathedral spire! I will just enjoy it from the ground!! Hope that Teddy is OK. xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I surprised myself re the Spire. It was probably the guide saying at the start that if anyone was afraid of heights it was best not to do it- no way I could chicken out after that! x

      Delete
  23. Harris Hawks always brings a memory back . We had gone to the local game fair and a falconer was showing his birds and one must have taken a shine to me as it glided across the paddock and landed on my head every so gently. He was overcome was the falconer and rushed over to take her off and the hubby joked he must have thought the wife was a fence post her only being 5'. The thing that struck me was how gentle she felt on my head no talons stuck in my head. Since then I have been in awe of these gracious birds.
    Sue R

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow! You were lucky to escape without a sore head :o) They are beautiful birds.

      Delete
  24. Wow that must have made your week seeing those 3 birds! I always look for the Peregrine falcon when we are walking along the beach but I have only seen it a few times! Now you know where they are in Salisbury I'm sure you will revisit them too! Sarah x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I remember that wonderful picture you took of your Peregrine. Lovely to have them so near. I shall be taking my bins with me on the next Salisbury trip and camping out in the Cathedral grounds! x

      Delete
  25. How brilliant to see these three magnificent species and have a close encounter with the female sparrowhawk. Thrilling. I know exactly what you mean about the exhilaration of hearing a peregrine. There's a pair (at least) on the cliffs here and their characteristic cry always stops me in my tracks. I find myself grinning and almost hopping with excitement when I spot one – I must look slightly demented to any onlooker. Birds of prey do have a certain magic about them. Sam x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm wildly jealous you have Peregrines nesting near you. They seem to be improving numbers-wise after years of decline. That cry does do something to a person, doesn't it? It's an ancient sound x

      Delete

Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x