Extraordinary experiences with raptors make for deep thoughts.
Too bright for fishing on a warm summer afternoon high in the Cambrian Mountains, I lie in a rowing boat drifting across the lake listening to the ‘plop’ of brown trout rising. Gazing up to distant clouds, my eyes start to focus on two dark spots getting larger and larger…within seconds they loom into clear view, the arrow of peregrine behind its whirling prey, no cover in sight, seeking to escape. An object heads directly towards me…..splash! The peregrine veers away over my head, ripping air, as a racing pigeon emerges from the water next to my boat. It appears seconds later, bobbing nervously on the stern of the boat and stays with me as I take up the rod to carry on fishing.
Raptor moments are seared into my memory. A peregrine repeatedly stooping onto a blackbird, bouncing it like a football in front of fascinated children; close up to Langholm moor’s hen harriers; a sparrow hawk squeezing a song thrush to slow death in front of a transfixed office audience; picking up a fresh warm golden eagle pellet; being chivvied away from a secret osprey nest by a protective landowner; mobbed by hobbies while swimming illegally in a reservoir; a barn owl hovering feet from my face while out early dawn wildfowling.
But I check myself. Do we risk disengaging from complex nature by an overly simple reverence towards raptors? Start to forget other equally important, though less iconic, emotion-stirring species, skew our preconceptions of a ‘natural order’ that is far from perfect in our human-dominated ecosystems?
It may not end in death but the pressured kestrel I watched daringly, operating under ‘an ecology of fear‘ take a vole from under watchful gaze of two well fed red kites near Milton Keynes, was not the confident falcon I remember from my younger days. Anecdotal, sure; red in tooth and claw, fine; but perhaps we owe the lesser raptors a little more research before they start dropping below our conservation concern radar.