Nature Red In Tooth And Clay

Sparrowhawk by David Culley | David CobhamI love all birds of prey. Their position in the natural world is a precarious one. Persecuted for taking game birds from rearing pens and decimated in the fifties and sixties by the effects of agricultural pesticides every bird of prey I see fills me with joy.

Recently, as usual, I was watching bird activity in the garden though our kitchen window. The persistent, chittering call of a Blackbird warned me that something was up. A blink of the eye and there it was. A hen Sparrowhawk flicked round from behind the privet hedge. Her tail fanned wide as she turned hard right before plunging into the chicken pen. I couldn’t see what happened but shortly afterwards she flew over the gate and up into the Ornamental Pear Tree. I could see her perched there, now and then, making ineffectual grabs at the House Sparrows, Greenfinches and Chaffinches that had taken refuge there. From time to time, I lost sight of her but could judge where she was by the position of small birds as they burst out to freedom from the trees canopy. Eventually, she plunged down into the weeds under the tree and, minutes later, emerged triumphant with its next meal clutched in its talons. Photo by Dave Culley.

The next day I was involved in another Sparrowhawk incident.

On the forward edge of our bit of water meadow bordering the river Wensum I found a recently killed Red-legged Partridge. Plucked feathers were strewn in a circle around the carcase which had been pared down to the keel-bone. It was undoubtedly a Sparrowhawk ‘kill’, probably by the bird I had seen the day before. There was nothing extraordinary about that until I noticed, a yard further on, on a dead Weasel.

What had happened?

It needed the perspicacity of an Hercule Poirot to solve this problem and luckily the next day I had a visit from my long time friend, Eddy Anderson, who could fulfil this role.

“My dear, David – it’s obvious what happened.”

He went on to suggest that, after the Sparrowhawk was replete and had flown off, a Carrion Crow hopped into the picture intent on cleaning up the carcasse. It was interrupted by the Weasel who received a life changing blow to its head from the Crow’s bill for its impudence.

“Voilà, Monsieur Cobham!”

514ksEhyIhL._SX352_BO1,204,203,200_A new book on the Common Buzzard, The Life of Buzzards, by Peter Dare arrived on my desk recently. It is, I think, the first book written about the Buzzard since Colin Tubbs monograph, The Buzzard, over 40 years ago. Peter generously talked to me about his experiences when he was working on Dartmoor studying the effect of myxomatosis on rabbits, one of the main prey items of Buzzard.

It is not a monograph but it is an up to date assessment of the Common Buzzard today with particular reference to Peter’s work on Dartmoor between 1955-58. It is full of facts, simply presented, backed up by excellent photographs. I particularly admired reading extracts from his personal logs detailing the long hours spent watching nests through brooding and to eventual fledging. It is an excellent book and I’m very grateful for all the help Peter gave me when I was writing my book.

In one of my earlier blogs I mentioned that “Mrs H,” the veteran Marsh Harrier, had returned safely to our Hawk and Owl reserve at Sculthorpe Moor in Norfolk. That was true but unfortunately, having gone through all the preparations of nest building, she disappeared. At about the same time, her mate returned from a hunting flight with four or five of his primaries blasted away. Foul play is suspected.

Marsh Harrier Peppiatt David CobhamOn a happier note, Phil Littler, our BTO ringer, fixed wing tags on the only two Marsh Harrier chicks reared on the reserve this year. On 9th July the chicks, a male and a female, were fitted with green tags. The white letters and numbers, S2 and S3, show up well against the green background. Photo by Martin Peppiatt. The furthest afield so far that our wing-tagged birds have been seen is Portugal. If you see any wing tagged birds please phone The Hawk and Owl Trust office on 01328 856788.