Extraordinary experiences with raptors make for deep thoughts.
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, my eyes focus on two dark spots getting larger and larger…within seconds they loom into view, a peregrine behind its whirling prey, no cover in sight, seeking to escape. It, a blur, heads directly towards me…..splash! the falcon veers away, ripping air, as a racing pigeon emerges from the water, bobs up nervously onto the stern of my boat as I carry on fishing.
Seared, mobbed, bouncing
Raptor moments are seared into magical memories. 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, 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; being chivied 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 wildfowling on an early dawn.
But I check myself. Do we risk disengaging from complex nature with an undue reverence towards raptors? Start to forget other equally important, though less iconic, species, skew our preconceptions of a ‘natural order’ that is far from perfect in human-dominated, habitat-poor ecosystems?
Reintroduction of big raptors is an attractive well-researched idea. Intraguild predation of smaller raptors is an unattractive under-researched idea.
It may not end in death, but the hassled kestrel, under “ecology of fear” pressure, I watched stoop on a vole under watchful gaze of two well fed red kites, was not the confident falcon I once knew. Anecdotal, sure; red in tooth and claw, fine; but perhaps we owe bantamweight and lesser raptors a little more research before they start dropping below our conservation concern radar.
Sept 2020 – death in the afternoon – correlation suspected, cause unknown