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A Hunting of Raptors

Looking out the kitchen window the first snow of winter on the mountains, black twigged hedges casting frosted white shadows, that stay all day, across the fields;  a hunting Sparrowhawk flips over a nearby hedge disturbing a flock of Fieldfare, their  gun-metal blue heads shining in the afternoon winter sun as they rise as one circling the field before settling back on the hedge. 

It was Nicola Chester who inspired this post by writing on her blog ((Nicola Chester Nature Writing) about her family’s recent encounters with owls. Her nature writing posts are a joy to read and beautifully written. Go take a look.

The hunting skills of Raptors are well known - the deadly stoop of the Peregrine; the hovering kestrel; the lazy circling of Buzzard, and the softly softly stealth hunting of Barn Owl.

Here are some bird cameos of Owls Hawks and Falcons seen around home, during the year ...

The night before last it was pitch black and, as I let the dogs out for the last time a Tawny Owl hooted from close by. To dark to see - he must have been in the Field Maple overhanging the barn. They don’t usually come close to the house, but during November their calls echo one another from the woods around.

Earlier that evening, before it was properly dark, I was driving along the back-lanes to the village when a Barn Owl blew out from the fields and flew ahead of me, a white lantern lighting the tunnel of hazel overhanging the lane, before ghosting off over the fields - a night traveller - away down to the river.

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It was still light as I drove up the lane to collect my son from the college minibus. I nod, in passing, to the Little Owl huddled up close to the trunk of an old weathered Telegraph pole opposite the Churchyard Yews. The Yews some 2000 years old - the Telegraph pole young in comparison at less than 50, already past its lifespan. Yet the Owl seemed somehow older than both.

Driving back down in the evening half light, the familiar white rumps of a pair of Bullfinch flashed as they flew up from the hedgebottom to a favourite Ash tree, jangling heavily with dry rust brown keys. Just on the bend, before the church, ahead of us a Short Eared Owl wheeled and banked over the lane at the end of its flight run over the marsh. We stopped the car in the middle of the lane and, leaning on the old wooden farm gate that had seen better days, watched it quarter the marsh - a pale almost golden brown moth-like bird.

Looking out the kitchen window the first snow of winter on the mountains, black twigged hedges casting frosted white shadows, that stay all day, across the fields;  a hunting Sparrowhawk flips over a nearby hedge disturbing a flock of Fieldfare, their  gun-metal blue heads shining in the afternoon winter sun as they rise as one circling the field before settling back on the hedge. 

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Still they cannot settle - up they go again - spooked by a male Kestrel on the telephone wires nearby. ‘Kee Kee Kee’ the female skims over the field to land on a fence post bordering the garden . She sees me and is off again flying to join the male on the wires.

It was another long June evening, still light at 10.30, although the sun had set a while ago. The half moon hung in the air above the poplars. The smell of new mown hay wafted over the hedge,  faintly luminescent with yellow honeysuckle. As we walked up the lane there were bats everywhere, flying just above our heads. Our local Brandt’s Bats. A Buzzard atop a telegraph post - carved, motionless, stared down at us but made no effort to fly off. He was still there later as we walked back down the lane. A couple of Little Owl were calling from the Churchyard. 

Hanging out the washing early in the year - a beautiful spring day with not a cloud in the sky - I happened to look up. A speck high up - a dark star in the sky. Another star moved across the sky to join it - a pair of peregrine so high they seemed to  hardly move.  For a moment I was up there with them ...

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A Red Kite got up from a couple of fields away with elegant, ‘elastic’ wing beats  of it’s long angled wings; it’s long forked tail twisting, as it gained height - mobbed by our resident Raven pair. A pale red-brown  marionette in the sky.

A January night - midwinter - the dusky green of field and hedge silver-washed in the pale moonlight; the telegraph poles stark black throwing spooky shadows across the fields. A Barn Owl hunting along the edge of the wood - ghostly white. In the distance a dog fox barked.

Early the following morning a pale moon hangs above the old hill-fort - a Tawny Owl hoots from the woods below; a Mistle Thrush sings lustily from the Churchyard Yews - the piper at the gates of dawn.

Welcome the New Year.

Credits

Featured Image: Peregrine by Keith Shackleton

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Josie Holford
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Another beautiful post. And the Shackleton picture is a great accompaniment. Where I am I often hear the “Who cooks for you? Who cooks?” hooting of barred owls at night. And during the day there is a pair of red-tailed hawks that terrorize the yard with their fearsome screeching.

Martin Smith
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This is great! So evocative. Very well written