The frantic bird was screeching like crazy, flying round and round the cathedral spire in the middle of Wakefield. This was a major panic. Some workmen were climbing up ladders to get at the weathered stone but the peregrine was having none of it. It had a nest up there and wanted everyone to know just how much it felt threatened.
It was early morning, between 8.30 and 9am, so not too many shoppers around to witness this impressive sight. And I’m going back in time, to the spring.
I couldn’t quite believe my ears and eyes. Here was one of the finest falcons, a bird designed as no other to reach speeds attained by no other raptor when hunting. Here it was a few metres above my head bringing the true wild into the heart of the city.
More and more peregrines are moving into urban settings. They have high buildings to nest in and there’s a plentiful supply of their staple food, pigeons. Why stay in the countryside and risk being shot, why compete with other predators out in the sticks when the fast food market is right here right now?
The kestrel was perched on a nearby telegraph wire so I paused my walk and stood to watch, hoping to discover just what would happen next. It was looking down into some rough grass bordering a small farmstead, a good vantage point. And it could save precious energy, preferring to sit rather than hover against the wind.
I think this must be a young kestrel recently left the family scene. For one it’s a newcomer to this tiny gathering of farms and cottages – Little Lepton – and two, it seems to be learning new things.
I’ve often wondered how a kestrel knows just where to hover in order to find its prey in amongst all that chaotic undergrowth and unkempt grass? I guess it must map a small area at a time and keep the mouse and vole runs in its database for future reference.
Kestrels have fantastic eyesight but they must also have knowledge of exactly where (and when?) the vole or mouse will appear.
I stood for five minutes or more. In that time the falcon kept a steady focus on the rough ground below, occasionally adjusting tail feathers to keep balance in the remaining breeze. Mapping out
The little owl is a beautiful bird, with a square head and beetle brow. But it does have odd habits, like coming out in the daytime to hunt for food. When we first moved into this cottage on the edge of the village we got to know a little owl quite well.
One male would sit on a telegraph pole in the middle of a field and every so often dive down to catch a moth or insect that lived in and around the many horse turds.
We even saw a little owl trying unsuccessfully to catch a small finch one evening. It was a desperate flight into a small flock but the owl ended up with nothing.
Days later that same owl was driven out of the neighbourhood by a pair of territorial crows. We witnessed the incident one late afternoon on the lane that leads out into the countryside. In a medium sized oak the two crows kept repeatedly attacking the little owl, driving it away into a nearby holly tree.
The following days we missed seeing the little owl. It had gone, and the two crows had taken over.
Watching birds fly can be both hypnotic and puzzling. Large birds such as herons, vultures and white storks once airborne have that unique ability to slow time down to a standstill and fill the watcher with awe. Those slow wing beats, a certain grace, an element of danger in the way they transport themselves.
I saw a flock of white storks in Bulgaria on a warming April Sunday. They were just starting a spiral, wheeling upwards above the open fields not far from Popovo. Such wide wings and slender bodies! It didn’t them too long to gain the height they needed then off they flew north, languid, poised. Long sentences of rhyming poetry.