Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Red in beak and claw

It's easy to be impressed by what you see in television wildlife documentaries on. Whether it's extravagant displays of birds of paradise, the migration of whales or a cheetah bringing down a gazelle, it's exotic and exciting and different from anything you'd see in the UK.

However, if you keep your eyes and ears open at home, you could have your own wildlife experience without even leaving the house. OK, I can't promise wildebeests, zebras or big cat action, but it was pretty thrilling all the same.

What happened?

The first clues that something was up were the Greenfinches fleeing from their usual positions on the bird feeder. Next, a brown shape whizzed through the buddleia bush and came to a sharp stop on top of the garden fence, a few metres below the window I was watching from.

Peering down, there were chocolate-brown wings, fringed with chestnut - the hallmarks of a young Sparrowhawk. Its head whipped round as it tried to see what it had been after, and revealed fierce, intense pupils ringed with lemon yellow.

I didn't get long to admire what was a beautiful bird, as it was off again across next-door's garden, scattering small birds in its path. The Sparrowhawk wasted no time in plunging into a buddleia bush. The wings spread out as it 'mantled' its catch - showing that it had caught something and was prepared to defend it against would-be thieves.

For a moment, it lost all its grace as it hung upside-down, disentangling its long toes (ideal for grabbing things) from the twigs. In a swoop, it took its prey - probably a Blue Tit - underneath a low-hanging apple tree and disappeared from view.