12 Feb 2013

I wondered why it had gone quiet

We have two small garden areas running along the length of the house, which is quite long and thin, resulting in two long thin gardens too.  One of these is under the shade of large trees, so not much grows there, so we keep a number of bird feeders out there that we can see from the windows on that side of the house to enjoy our feathery visitors.

Because we live near some decent tracts of woodland and open farmland too, we get a pretty decent selection of birds visiting, from the standard garden friends of blue tits, great tits, coal tits, robins, chaffinches, sparrows, dunnocks, blackbirds, thrushes, collared doves, goldfinches, green finches and siskin, to slightly less well seen wild birds, like wrens, bull finches, nuthatches, tree creepers, wood pigeons and long tailed tits.

We also get occasional treats like this bemused looking female greater spotted woodpecker that sat on the railings in the rain for quite some time last week – looking upwards around herself, pointedly blinking as though it were waiting for someone.  They’re usually very timid and the slightest movement inside the window causes them to take flight, but I was able to go about my work near the window and watch her for some time.  Maybe she was a youngster and not yet learnt to be scared of human movement.  We certainly know that our local pair had a brood last summer as Mum put a lot of effort into getting food from the feeders for them and then brought the youngsters to show them one of her favourite eateries.

But having put fresh food on the table at breakfast time yesterday and filled all the hanging feeders, I’d got used to the sound of the goldfinches and blackbirds especially squabbling over the food – I don’t know why they put so much effort into fighting over it when there is plenty for all of them.  Two robins had a significant airborne battle the day before over ownership of the ground table, when there are enough sources and locations of food for them to both fill to busting without bloodshed.

But as I started clearing the breakfast table and washing up, I was aware of it becoming very quiet, so I looked out of the kitchen window expecting there to be a local cat staked out in the garden.  But quite often with cats, the birds just stay a bit higher and swear and hurl abuse at the cat, but this silence was quite eery.

Then I spotted the culprit – much more exciting than my neighbours black and white moggy.  But possibly much more dangerous too.  Certainly faster.  No wonder the birds had vanished and those that stayed around weren’t drawing attention to themselves.

I think this is a male sparrowhawk.  We’ve had them visit the garden before – the very fact that we get a good selection of birds presents them with a running buffet and even the tree cover doesn’t thwart them, they’re designed for and adept at negotiating through woodland, although it’s true to say that my best sightings have always been when there is less leaf cover at this sort of time of year.

Normally all you see is flash of movement, the sense of a shadow passing, occasionally a cry of alarm from the prey or birds adjacent and then the same eery silence.  Sometimes they’ll settle nearby to pluck and eat their catch.   That’s the only time I’ve been able to photograph them before.

I just spotted this male as he stretched and his head and shoulders came in to view above the low garden wall – he was settled on a branch beneath the level of the bird tables – as our garden is higher than the adjacent land – which is where he had settled himself for a stake out.   I actually typed ‘take out’ there – maybe I was right the first time.

I might have missed him had he not stretched upwards and his familiar stripey jumper had come in to view.  As he was low, I was going to have to get high to take any photos.  He stayed there for quite some time and as you can see above, he was clearly aware of me and checked me out periodically, but seemingly wasn’t troubled by me at all.  By the end, I was stood on steps at the window with my camera at arms length atop my walking pole which has a tripod mount in the handle, using it as a monopod.    The light was incredibly low and murky and he was down beneath deep railway bankings in shadow, so the images are rather poor quality.

He’d occasionally stretch and flap his wings and swapped the leg he was standing on – the other being tucked up under his tummy feathers and periodically, an unwary bird would venture onto one of the feeders above which would cause him to watch it intently, as above.  I didn’t see him leave in the end, he’d been there for almost an hour.  So I don’t know if he managed to snag a snack, or just got bored with waiting for it to land in front of him.

Either way, it was an hour that totally stopped me getting any work done at all.  But I don’t regret it for a moment, sometimes it’s worth just enjoying whatever treat the day presents you with.  Because you never know how long it might be, if ever, before it happens again.

4 thoughts on “I wondered why it had gone quiet

  1. I wonder if it was a female sparrowhawk you saw – they’re larger and more brown than the male and more buzzard-like, although perhaps lighter overall than a buzzard. I think buzzards prefer carrion – rather than actively hunting a live prey as a sparrowhawk would. Or maybe it found the pigeon dead or sickly. Either way, a treat to watch.

  2. He’s a handsome fellow! We’ve had a buzzard (I think) round here lately, like you I think it was the sudden silence that first made me look up and spot him sitting in the apple tree. A couple of days later we were able to watch him across the road, demolishing his breakfast of pigeon and completely ignoring the occasional car driving past him.

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