I haven’t been to Bodenham Lake for a few years. Last time, I sat with my little girl in a bird hide on a cold wintry day, with Bendog at my knee, bewitched by barnacle geese feeding and preening. Today, Gracie started sixth form college, so I decided to mark it with a wilder walk on my own.
My intention was for a quiet moment of reflection. But, ah, to wander the old quarry lake worked hard by the Wildlife Trust for the benefit of gentle waders, with their stick-thin legs and crackable eggs. With internal combustion engines at full blast, and the other crushing, whiny sounds of bulldozers and chainsaws travelling loud across an expanse of flat, steely grey, there were no water birds to be seen. In fact, there were hardly any birds at all. So I headed south to the River Lugg.
And to an extraordinary encounter!
I walked through an open field squeezed between lake and river, pocked with a few lazy sheep. About halfway along the riverbank was gnarly, old Hawthorn, laden with Mistletoe. Her trunk had split open sending branches north, west, south and east, such was the weight of her hemiparasites (Herefordshire’s county flower). I stopped to point the camera and took a few shots, to continue on for about 10 metres.
From fiddling with my camera’s on-off switch, I lifted my eyes to find Goshawk coming at me full-speed, silent, like a thick and deadly arrow.
It was too late to duck, but there was no need. I felt the air displaced just above my head. This lethal beauty, wings tucked to his sides, speared onwards, swift into Mistletoe behind me. I heard a rustle of leaves, and spun around as fast as I could to see he’d struck his prey squarely against Hawthorn’s bark. A ball of ruffled feathers slipped slowly down into the undergrowth, and I lost sight. I heard a tweet, then nothing. Even the bulldozers and chainsaws hushed.
I waited for another sign. Those seconds passed ridiculously slowly, and my pulse throbbed in my neck.
Suddenly, Goshawk lifted up, his prey gripped tightly in his claws. He swooped from the bank to fly low, and westwards over the rushing water until way out of sight somewhere upstream.
The return to serenity was uncanny. I looked across to the other side of the field, and to the tree where Goshawk must have been spying with his sharp eyes and intellect – Tall Willow above the lake. From some distance, he’d spotted his target bird hiding from me in Mistletoe, and then watched me walking away. I had been triangulated, my speed of walk gauged to perfection. The little passerine ~ I have no idea which species ~ was distracted by me, and had scant chance to escape. I was Goshawk’s perfect cover, and at the exact moment required.
Not only had I been witness, but structural to this lethal and lightning hunt; a first for me in a life of wandering the wilds. So I’m compelled to share it.
And I won’t forget it anytime soon.
For more on the difference between a goshawk and a sparrowhawk in flight, do read this useful summary by Devon Birds.