RE­FLEC­TIONS

The rare sight of the se­cre­tive Goshawk is a real de­light

Bird Watching (UK) - - March Id Challenge -

AF­TER A MORN­ING of heavy rain, an au­tumn sun was shin­ing from a clear sky, cast­ing long shad­ows over glis­ten­ing fields. Late black­ber­ries gleamed on a Bram­ble by the gate. Un­der the blue­ness of the wide East Anglian sky, grass­land and arable fields sloped down to a lake in park­land of oak, Ash and spread­ing Sycamores. No­body was about. The corn­field along­side the foot­path had been ploughed and har­rowed. In a dense clus­ter of trees, a ma­jes­tic Cedar of Le­banon tow­ered among ma­ture Beeches and wil­lows. I walked down to the bridge cross­ing the river that feeds into the lake, its wa­ter mir­ror­ing the sky be­tween patches of bright green al­gae. Then, a flurry of ac­tiv­ity as a flush of corvids and Wood­pi­geons scat­tered out of the trees. A Kestrel streamed across the bright sky, leav­ing me breath­less. It was a salmon-backed tor­pedo fly­ing past me, sil­ver un­der­wing catch­ing the light, flap­ping and float­ing across the field in flight. It was the cry that gave them away, a call quite dif­fer­ent from more fa­mil­iar birds of prey. This was no Buz­zard mew­ing or Red Kite call­ing. Over the dis­tant tree­tops I saw a pair of large birds, rounder-winged than a Buz­zard and big­ger than a Spar­rowhawk. With re­laxed wing­beats, sin­u­ous, the two rap­tors flapped and glided, short tails turn­ing like rud­ders as they banked to­wards the Cedar of Le­banon. They were Goshawks. Hold­ing my breath I watched, in­cred­u­lous at my luck, for Goshawks are se­cre­tive birds and sight­ings are rare. I fol­lowed them through glasses as they wheeled and chased, float­ing down oc­ca­sion­ally be­yond the tree line be­fore reap­pear­ing. I was grad­u­ally able to make out colour­ing and de­tail – dark-backed, brown and char­coal with streaked plumage on pale chest and belly. So, they were ju­ve­niles that I’d been watch­ing.

The dark canopy, the pale streaked chest and un­der­belly, sail­ing on the wind, cir­cling and hunt­ing and call­ing. Turn­ing in tan­dem, in sil­hou­ette against the light, the bar­ring of the un­der­wing gleamed sil­very below the chest­nut tinge on the shoul­der.

The game­keeper told me that Goshawks had re­cently been seen in th­ese woods, and ev­i­dently a pair of young birds had found an ideal win­ter habi­tat, with all the food and wa­ter they needed in the pro­tec­tion of dense wood­land. I watched un­til they dis­ap­peared, then con­tin­ued walk­ing through the park, down an av­enue of limes and out again into pas­ture­land where horses were graz­ing, and back to­wards the wood. I had heard that Goshawks will perch in a tree for hours on end and was imag­in­ing them poised, in­scrutable, on a great branch high up in the trees. But to my ex­cite­ment the two of them ap­peared again, fly­ing out over the tree­tops, ap­par­ently en­joy­ing the bright Oc­to­ber sun­shine – chief­tains of the air prospect­ing for prey, lit by the low­er­ing sun against a clear sky. The dark canopy, the pale streaked chest and un­der­belly, sail­ing on the wind, cir­cling and hunt­ing and call­ing. Turn­ing in tan­dem, in sil­hou­ette against the light, the bar­ring of the un­der­wing gleamed sil­very below the chest­nut tinge on the shoul­der. What struck me forcibly was the size of th­ese birds and their awe­some pres­ence. You can’t help but no­tice the yel­low eye and strong beak, and the in­tense, in­tent stare that au­thor T.H. White de­scribes in his na­ture writ­ing clas­sic, The Goshawk. The “mad marigold or dan­de­lion eye ... an alert, con­cen­trated, pierc­ing look. Hawks are sen­si­tive to the eye and do not like to be re­garded. It is their pre­rog­a­tive to re­gard,” he wrote. The un­com­pro­mis­ing down­turn of the beak gives the Goshawk a fierce ex­pres­sion, borne out by its sta­tus of top preda­tor. Pale at the nares (a won­der­ful word for the nos­trils of a hawk), the black-tipped up­per mandible is down­curved into a ra­zor-sharp hook for tear­ing flesh. T.H. White aptly calls the Goshawk an ‘ex­quis­ite as­sas­sin’. Not many crea­tures will mess with Ac­cip­iter gen­tilis, in­clud­ing hu­mans. Ac­cu­mu­lat­ing im­mense speed on im­pact, it can in­flict se­vere flesh wounds with beak and claws. They flew close enough, and the af­ter­noon light was good enough, to see the strong yel­low legs, which make a Spar­rowhawk’s look puny, and the enor­mous yel­low claws, which make a Spar­rowhawk’s look dainty in com­par­i­son. Rosamond Richard­son is a free­lance writer on wild flow­ers and birds. She is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to The Coun­try­man and is au­thor of nu­mer­ous books about the coun­try­side. Fol­low her on Twit­ter: @rosa_rich

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.