Sunday, 25 September 2011

A Raptorous Morning

SMP_2368With plans to visit and photograph the Rabbits I visited earlier on in the year, I stopped off first at Prestwick Carr having not been here since January and hearing of the re-appearance of the SEO’s, presumably migrating from the north.
When I got there early in the morning it was dull with brief periods of sun.  In the distance was a perfect rainbow – a sign of the rain to come, although not forecasted.  There were few people about, the advantage of getting up this early, with only the odd cyclist and walker passing by.
As I made my way up bumpy track, I spotted in the distance, a Buzzard perched at the top of a tree.  As I got closer it few across and made a swoop at second one atop of another tree.  They then flew off together into the distance.
Further in the distance I could make out a Kestrel being mobbed by a couple of Magpies and another hovering over some fields.   Jets from the nearby Newcastle Airport were regularly taking off presumably with people going to sunnier climes and I couldn’t help wishing I was one of them.
As I watched the Buzzards disappear into the distance, my attention was attracted to movement in a nearby overgrown field where I could see the occasional head of a Roe Deer bob into sight.  Suddenly, three Short Eared Owls came out of the long grass, obviously disturbed by the Deer.  In the poor light and with a converter attached to my camera, I was struggling to get a focus lock on them so had to switch to manual, by which time the owls had started landing back down again.  I managed to get one half decent distant shot before all but one disappeared as quickly as they had showed up.
SMP_2376I was annoyed about missing such a rare photo opportunity before realising that I wouldn’t have even known they were there had it not been the chance of the Roe Deer passing through and spooking them.  I waited a further hour hoping they might make another appearance, knowing that they are normally daylight hunters though these particular ones seemed to prefer dusk.  In the meantime I was entertained by a Wren fluttering in and around the long grass nearby and some ponies playing in the distance.  Eventually, with dark clouds approaching, I headed back down the track.  I had spotted five Buzzards and four Kestrels though some of these may have been the same ones, and the three SEO’s.
I arrived at my next location in a light rain (not forecast) and settled near one of my favourite locations at a Rabbits warren.  After about twenty minutes the enviable happened as a dog walker went right by me.  Where I was, was off the beaten path and this person must have seen me and what I was doing well in advance but chose to walk right past anyway, dog off on a rampage. Soon after a family with about four dogs came nearby, again dogs let on the loose.
This is area is supposed to be a Nature Reserve.  Obviously my idea of what a Nature Reserve is and what the Councils idea of one, are two different things.  I would have thought it was somewhere where nature is protected and people can sit and watch wildlife and enjoy the surroundings rather than some dog super highway.  Since coming here I have seen dogs chase rabbits, birds on the small lake, a fox, other dogs and have even had them have a go at me.  You need a dog to walk around here during the day to protect you from other dogs!
Anyway, rant over, clearly I had no chance at this late time of the day (10 am), so I started my way home taking some sanctuary and seclusion hopefully by going through a more remote part of the woods.  After an uneventful stroll and with the rain now thankfully abated, I came across the sight below – obvious a Sparrowhawk kill but didn’t think much of it as they are quite a common sight in most of the woods in the area.
A further three metres along, I saw a grey flash of movement in and around the undergrowth at the other side of a tree I was about to walk past and so stopped still.  At first I thought it was a Grey Squirrel, then quickly saw it was a bird with its wings out so I thought it was an injured Pigeon.  As I looked more closely, I could see, from only about a metre away, two yellow piercing eyes looking up at me and realised it must be the Sparrowhawk with the kill from the feathers I’d just come across.  The female Sparrowhawk was a typical ‘shielding’ of its prey from other, would be predators and the way she was looking at me, she must have included me in that!
I know from experience that Sparrowhawks kill ratio is not particularly high, having seen plenty of attempts but only one success before so I didn’t want to scare it from its prey so very slowly walked back, expecting the bird to take flight.  Amazingly, this plucky bird stood its ground – considering I nearly trod on it it wasn’t going to give way.  I got to some distance then laid down to make myself look less threatening to it and carefully took my camera out, still expecting it to make off with its newly acquired food.
I managed to get a couple of images off in the difficult, dark light before it inconveniently pulled its prize underneath some undergrowth and just waited looking around.  Eventually it felt happy enough to start tucking into the Pigeon there and then.  I was surprised as I have seen female Sparrowhawks, who are large enough, take Pigeons off into the the trees with them to feed.  It took about twenty minutes to devour its meal, regularly looking around with those bright yellow eyes, no longer interested in me as I only got the occasional glancing look.  When finished it flew off and disappeared into the trees.  I wonder what the chances of my stumbling across such and event never mind watching it until the end.  I certainly made up for previous disappointment especially considering this time there were no dogs around.


Brief video showing the Sparrowhawk feeding.


  1. Nice pics! I especially like the ones of the sparrowhawk, the eyes on that one...

  2. Hi Frank

    A super blog which is right up my street! What a fantastic set of Sparrowhawk images Frank - I'm really jealous of them! Hope to get some like this at some stage in the future. They are stunning birds aren't they and one of my true favourites. I like the SEO shots too.

  3. Thanks to the both of you for the comments. Christian, I was lucky with the Sparrowhawk, certainly one of those special encounters.