Extraordinary experiences with raptors make for deep thoughts.
I lie in a rowing boat, rod to one side, drifting across the lake in the Welsh mountains listening to brown trout rising. Gazing up, my eyes focus on two dark spots becoming larger by the second…they loom into view, a peregrine behind its prey – no cover in sight – a blur heads directly towards me…..splash! A falcon, ripping air, veers off as a racing pigeon emerges from the water to bob nervously onto the stern of the boat as I carry on fishing.
Squeezed, mobbed, bounced
Raptor moments are seared into memories. A sparrow hawk squeezing a song thrush to slow death in front of a transfixed office audience. Picking up a golden eagle pellet, still warm. 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 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 diverting our gaze from less interesting conservation issues with an undue reverence towards all raptors? How is nature operating in a far-from-perfect human-dominated habitat-scarce ecosystems?
The reintroduction of raptors is an attractive well-researched idea. Intraguild predation* of native smaller raptor is an unattractive under-researched idea.
It may not end in death. But the kestrel I observed, with the ‘ecology of fear’ in it, as it skirted in to stoop on a vole under the lazy group of red kites, was not the confident falcon I once knew. Anecdotal, sure. Pure correlation, yep. Red in tooth and claw, fine. A new assemblage of raptors, OK.
Siblicide in hen harrier nests (chick on chick) research 2018
Prof Ian Newton on Raptors and grouse moorlands – 2020
Sept 2020 – on site owl death in the afternoon – correlation suspected, causation unknown.