Hawk

Neil Fletcher takes a regular look at the everyday wildlife at Woods Mill, headquarters of the Sussex Wildlife Trust, and at his home in nearby Henfield.

sparrowhawk / Neil Fletcher

Couple of evenings a week, just before it gets too dark, I trot down to the bird hide to top up the feeders. This time I was armed with some video gear as I wanted to film in close-up the bank voles that come out to clean up on the seed rejected or simply dropped by the birds. I set up the gear but with a sense of foreboding, there’s was a melancholy air about the place, mild despair and potential hopelessness. I waited no more than five minutes for the voles to appear. Not very long but I knew, I just knew, that they weren’t going to show up. They’re either running around over your toes or they’re not, and they weren’t.

I know when it’s time cut your losses and quit so I started to pack up, when there was a sort of bang on the roof of the hide. I startled me a little, what with the despondency and edginess about, but as it was quite breezy I dismissed it as a falling branch.

I finished packing up and stepped outside. Immediately, from two feet in front of my nose, something flapped and flopped away, awkwardly, like an albatross trying to fly in a shed. It was a small sparrowhawk, carrying prey a little bigger than it could handle, blackbird maybe. It was getting pretty dark by now, and I could only just make it out, having flopped and flapped a couple of trees away, sitting on a low branch with its prize, wings held out at half mast, mantling its prey. I’ve seen sparrowhawks take prey three or four times before, and they can be really tame once they’ve claimed their trophy. I once approached a female with a starling to just three feet away, and watched her for ten minutes slowly tearing it to bits, until I backed off and left her to it.

I started to creep towards the hawk, I could see him watching me, just had to get round the other side of this hazel. I kept my eyes on him. His eyes on me. My eyes traversed three inches of hazel stem, and he was gone. Didn’t see him go. He just wasn’t there, without a sound but with his prize, like a trick edit in a film.

I didn’t get a picture, but do have a couple I prepared earlier. This one was a female that took a collared dove off the bird bath. She went at such a pace that she continued careering straight into a bucket by the back door, with something of a crash. The commotion surprised our brave and fearless (ha!) German Shepherd Dog so much, that she wee’d herself.

sparrowhawk with collared dove / Neil Fletcher

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