Monday, 29 August 2011

Watching the sparrowhawk

It was an evening before the rain came last week. In the wood I had been lying down watching a thyme bush and its visitors. Bumble bees mainly. The thick black flies were out in force but not unkind. No sting. It was the end of a long day. I had been at work and then retreated to my base here in the wood. And in the open. This was before the rain.

I had got so still and small that birds had started clamouring about in the edge of an old hedge that backed into the enclosure where I lay. Early blackbirds on the rowan territorial but no doubt in movement themselves as soon as the berries would be torn from the tree.

Then the sparrowhawk came.

Not for them mind you but the blackbirds left quickly. Its attention was focussed on the outgrown stump of hedge. Perhaps an old gate had once been here and the hedge, small trees by now, was growing out, where the tractor couldn't trim down for the pole.

The sparrowhawk missed that first time. But it sat on top of the lollipop shape of hawthorn. Its sinewy feet gripping the twisted much sheared branches of the hawthorn. It did that thing reaching down into the bush where several small birds were. The birds were out of reach. I breathed out. But those claw toes, long and seemingly to grow longer reached into the net of hawthorn where the birds were entrapped.

The sparrowhawk probed gently like a surgeon. It was not aware of me in my low greenery. Its glance was clear and straight. It reached into the cavity but this time found nothing.

The sparrowhawk changed the weather.

Scrambling down and around the face of the overgrown hawthorn head, not committing itself into the greenery because the birds it craved would fly but simply running and shaking its surface. The birds inside could be glimpsed tossed and turned by its agile runs and feints. A blue tit briefly visible, chaffinches mostly they rode out the storm.

Adult male Eurasian Sparrowhawk perching on branch

The sparrowhawk sat. And levitated. A quick dart to where the birds were. Dark and canny, in their vessel of hawthorn they moved from side to side refusing to fly. Flight meant no escape. They knew.

The sparrowhawk sat. And I sat as trapped as the birds. How long could this go on? Before a bird broke for a brief freedom. The sparrowhawk appearing now like the ghost of itself at all sides of the bush at once, the thin talons wraiths and longer than ever reaching.

And then a dog barked from the farm a long way down the hill. The sparrowhawk flew. A short time later the small birds fed again.

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