This article first appeared in the January 2021 Edition of Birdwatching Magazine
You will not be surprised to see me called a grumpy old birder. Indeed, I have been called a miserable old git ever since I was in a miserable young one. The way the world is, it seems appropriate to rail and grouse against agri-business, unhampered mega corporations and governments who form committees to think about what inaction they can spread over the longest possible period. When local councils appoint a tree warden (and will soon be obliged to come up with a tree planting programme) I am not even slightly dumbfounded when they happily chop down mature native trees wholesale and plant a few non-native saplings. Local politics seems founded on dumb!
I am too scared of litigation to ever accuse a local council of taking kickbacks when they build houses that locals can’t afford; too far to commute from on a floodplain. They have rooms so small even a two-piece suite is impossible to house; beds have to be built in situ as the stairs are too narrow to carry up anything bigger than your mortgage bill and the only good thing is there isn’t room to swing a cat.
I cannot offer you the comfort this month of my normal irascibility. Of course, plenty drew steam from my ears as Palm Oil Armageddon came ever closer and the edge of the rain forest ever further away. I could bemoan the lack of brain that champions a new rail track for the sake of the environment and pushes it through parliament with the same ease that it will be pushed through numerous ancient woodlands! This month I won’t raise your blood pressure attacking pet owners, plastic purveyors or pesticide sprayers.
Instead let me share a little warmth and wonder. Enjoy it while it lasts as I did, safe in the knowledge that normal service will shortly be resumed.
Glancing from my bedroom window I was surprised by the absence of avian distraction and was about to open the window to peer down at my tiny pond to see if any frogs were in evidence when movement stayed my hand. There is a large red-leafed bush between the pond and the feeders. Being in the soft southeast it usually keeps its leaves all year and blossoms at least twice. However, this year we have had more than our usual two frosts and a succession of storms that blew the leaves into the channel or the next county. Nevertheless, its twigs are dense enough to hide a long-eared owl (not that it ever has) so still much loved by house sparrows, dunnocks and blue tits.
As I gazed at it an odd thing happened. Suddenly a dozen sparrows swooped to the top of the bush… nothing new there. Then, as one, they all dropped two feet deeper into the bush. It was like watching a highspeed lift descend!
The reason followed – with deadly grace a sparrow hawk swept below me clipping the top twigs where the sparrows had been, then flying a foot off the garage roof, over the road and down into the local park three hundred yards away, almost without a wing-beat. An immature male or female the view from above was of that warm, plain olive brown back almost the colour of a song thrush.
It wasn’t a garden first, but it typified for me the magic of birds and birding. Birds that predate other birds can be marvellous and majestic while being cold-blooded killers. Nature equipped them to be red in beak and claw but has wrapped their steel in beauty.