Raptors -home and away

Flight.  If there is one thing above anything else that makes birds so amazing to me it has to be flight.  Looking into the eye of a blackbird as it watches you fill a bird bath you can feel an element of attachment.  The moment she leaves the tree to get to the water the attachment is broken.  In that instant she has done something I can never do.

And if that’s amazing what can be more spectacular than seeing migration in action. The most visible form is that of large birds of prey gathering to cross the narrowest stretches of sea when moving north and south.  Gone are the limited number of species and the odd glimpse of a Honey Buzzard through the trees if your lucky.  They move in thousands across the central flyway of the Mediterranean.  We hope to catch a few of them at least as we travel around Sicily, but will want to keep tabs on what others see.

In preparation I have treated myself to this wonderful book.  However I fear I have become more confused and fully expect to look up at my first rufous buzzard or ring tailed harrier and still not identify it as it circles away.  This is a must have book.  I wanted it when it was first published and should not have waited so long.  I doubt that all this information is sinking in though.


They are spectacular visible and easy to shoot.  The activities of illegal hunting was what has driven some of the most determined conservationists in Italy, Malta and elsewhere.  We point our finger at Jonny Foreigner and tell him not to rip birds from the sky in illegal hunting.

The problem being when you point a finger, three point back at you.  And here’s the rub.  There are lots of reasons why big birds that need hot weather to circle for prey (vultures) or for the prey to be available in large numbers (Short-toed eagles).  Even then we still do not look after what we have got.  In 2016 Red Kites shot and persecuted in North Yorkshire, buzzards illegally killed and hen harrier nesting attempts in England down to 3 from last years high of 13 (when there should be several hundred in England).

To add to this all Natural England has issued a licence for 10 buzzards to be shot so we can protect Pheasant rearing.  What madness is this?  Malta must be looking at us and saying we are glad Britain is leaving the EU look at what they do to their raptors.

Next weekend sees the 4th Hen Harrier Day celebrations.  Go along support the day understand that upland driven grouse shooting subsidised with public money are taking away amazing birds from the skies of England.  Don’t be conned into thinking Europeans are to blame for the mess we are in.  When it comes to birds of prey we can do that all by ourselves




After Henry had gone.

I managed to make the patch just after we lost Henry.  The idea that we now have named winter storms is weird.  Suddenly we have personality traits to watch out for, rather than it just being windy.  Perhaps we will also become a nation of rare cloud watchers and gawp at dying sperm whales.

I could not get parked in the small car park on the patch and from a distance I could see the Paps were out photographing the Short-eared Owls in the lull after the storm.  This included the guy from Chester-Le Street walking the footpath on the east of the grazing fields as though field craft had not been invented.  I was glad to hear that they still had a chance to feed after he had gone.

In 2007 when I found ‘my patch’ I never envisaged too many people was going to be a problem.  Anyway I found another parking space and covered the west end until it got dark.

When I have more time I will do a piece on my views on (re)introducing species, but until then watching a Kite circle its wood is mesmerising.  I remember my first Kite in England in Cambridgeshire in 1986 and I remember later getting one in mid-Wales in 1992 cutting the edge of a reservoir.  Both were distant birds, but seeing one up close as it just delicately turns its tail to steer and slowly moves across the sky is poetry.

Flight, both its metaphors and reality is a key thing about birds for me.  Even when you know the physics of air moving across the wing causes lift it does not ruin this magicians illusion.  There is a great spot on the hillside that looks out across the valley.  Here with a scope you can get up close and personal with this mastery of the air.

Not just Kites but Buzzards put on a show too.  When you watch a Kestrel hunt, its head remains still while its body goes through all types of contortions.  A buzzard though can just hang as if some sky hook holds it in place without the effort.  Mewing, he too is staking claim to his wood.

Behind me a Song Thrush hammered snail against stone.  Small mammals moved as they take their place in the food web of the valley.  A Sparrowhawk not anticipating I would stand up at this point as it travelled along the hedge. Eyes on the prize.  The sound of air through its feathers; close enough to touch.

There was just enough light to see a Woodcock flight out from the Birch wood, but it was dark by the time I reached the car.  Several new patch birds for the year and even got a patch tick;  @ramblingwalker1 is the only other birder who does that side of the hill regularly.