The Sparrowhawk

Sparrowhawks have featured a few times on my blog. The first was a fleeting visit where I didn’t even have time to pick up my camera. The second visit, last year, was of a male sparrowhawk surveying the area.

The most recent visitation by this enigmatic bird arrived on a dreary August bank holiday Monday. David was just about to do the dishes when he exclaimed, ‘there’s a sparrowhawk on the wall!’

sparrowhawk female

Female Sparrowhawk

For the next half hour or so we both watched on amazed as a female sparrowhawk sat on the wall and devoured her prey, a poor little starling. We had never seen a sparrowhawk with its prey before. It was a bit gruesome and sad for the starling but you have to think with your head and not with your heart on these matters. If there were no small birds for the sparrowhawk to prey upon, then there would be no sparrowhawks either.

Due to their prey being primarily songbirds (they do eat small mammals too), sparrowhawks often come into conflict with birdwatchers. However there is no correlation between a dip in songbirds and predation by sparrowhawks. In the past there have been two studies on the influence of predation and songbird numbers. Both studies noted that there was in fact more of an increase in songbird numbers than an actual negative correlation when predated by sparrowhawks. Sparrowhawks are noted to prey on the old and infirm, creating a survival of the fittest gene pool for songbirds. Sparrowhawks feed mainly on sparrows, tits, finches and starlings, however female sparrowhawks can hunt birds as large as a pigeon. Recent research led me to discover that the sparrowhawk sometimes does not quickly dispatch of it’s prey. Anything bigger than a sparrow will face a lingering death while being eaten, if a vital organ/artery is not punctured. It made for a sobering read.

The sparrowhawk has in the past been subjected to persecution by trophy hunters and in the 1950’s their numbers crashed due to usage of pesticides such as DDT in farming. It was only after DDT was banned and the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 was passed protecting sparrowhawks, that their numbers increased.

The sparrowhawk is one of the UK’s smallest birds of prey. It is the perfect ambush predator, easily maneuvering in enclosed spaces such as woodland and gardens. However only 1 in 10 hunts result in a meal for the sparrowhawk. Females can be up to 25% larger than males. Sparrowhawks are relatively short lived, their maximum age is around 3 years, but some can live to around seven. They are found all over the UK apart from the Highlands of Scotland. Their eyes change colour with age, starting green and growing more yellow with maturity.

Sparrowhawks are seen as a top predator and their presence indicates that the bird population in an area is healthy. Though it was unpleasant to witness the sparrowhawk with its prey, I was amazed at seeing her in the yarden. Nature after all isn’t sunshine and flowers. I must be doing something right with the feeding of the little birds in order to bring the larger birds to the area.

Have you come close to a sparrowhawk? Seen one with it’s kill? What are your thoughts on UK raptors?

Thanks for reading,

Christine.


Further reading:

Some of the web resources I visited while compiling this blog were:

Springwatch.

Discover Wildlife.

British Bird Lovers.

RSPB.

Living with Birds.

Advertisements

Hello Dippy!

I’d recently read that 200,000 visitors had visited Dippy at Birmingham’s Museum and Art Gallery. That was before David and I ventured south to visit him. I don’t know what possessed me to book tickets to see Dippy on Tour for the August bank holiday! But (free) tickets I had anyway! So this Saturday we drove the two hours from Liverpool. Luckily, I had planned an hours leeway. On our journey south we hit miles of roadworks, due to the M6 being turned into a smart motorway, to be completed 2022! We also faced a junction closure. Junction 10 was closed, due to a police incident. Recent research discovered that the incident was of a man on the wrong side of a bridge! With the motorway swelled with bank holiday traffic and football supporters travelling to see Wolverhampton v Manchester City and Aston Villa v Reading matches, the delays were up to 90 minutes!

Thanks to motorway signs early informing us of the closure at junction 10, we managed to divert, (though heavily), away from the jam and navigated, thanks to the M6 toll (at £5.30 a car), back and around towards the centre of Birmingham. Adding 40 minutes to our journey.

Our meeting with Dippy was at 1pm, so you can imagine the pressure we were on to get to the museum on time. We parked up at the Bullring and with twenty minutes to spare, rushed towards Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, which can be found on Chamberlain Square. The entrance to Dippy was on the Gas Hall entrance on Edmund Street.

With time to spare we checked in and walked into the Gas Hall to come face to face with Dippy, a 100 year old cast of not one, but five Diplodocus skeletons. David commented that Dippy was smaller than he’d expected, but during the time we spent with Dippy we marveled at his size. This sauropod (lizard feet) stands some 26m long, is 4m wide and stands 4m tall. I particularly liked his little face with razor sharp teeth. He roamed the earth some 150 million years ago, during the late Jurassic age.

Dippy was undoubtedly the star of the attraction. The surrounding exhibit paled in comparison and sadly did not measure up to my expectation. It was a poorly comprised set of stuffed birds (with pigeons and magpies) alongside skeletons featuring a velociraptor and dodo to emphasise the link between dinosaurs and the evolution of birds. I think the Walking with Dinosaurs Arena show said it more eloquently.

‘We think of dinosaurs as…fierce creatures from a mythical world… they [were on this planet] for 170 million years. If you look closely, you’ll see, they’re not really gone, not completely…remember the raptors, the way their arms folded at the wrists?… The next time you are outside, have a look at a bird and try and imagine it 50 times bigger, with razor sharp teeth. So do not mourn the dinosaurs, they are with us still, their direct descendants are the birds.’

We spent 40 minutes with Dippy. Walked around him three times, and took lots of pictures. I was satisfied that we drove the two hours to see him. We did not linger in Birmingham, though we did casually look at the replica Typhoon, as Victoria Square held a 100 RAF event. We decided to return home, and make head way against the traffic and roadworks, which took three hours instead of two!

We got home to news that an injured pigeon was sitting outside our back door. As you know we have a long standing relationship with the descendants of dinosaurs. I found it rather fateful that this pigeon (a descendant of the T. rex) chose our step to rest upon. He was but a fledgling, his down still protruded from his adult feathers. However we could not save this particular soul. He had suffered a brain injury from what probably was a collision with a wall. His beak was all bloodied and he was labouring for breath. He passed away in our care not an hour later, wrapped him in a towel and placed in a carrier. At least he died safe and warm.

It was rather a mixed day. I’d say Dippy was worth the visit, even if we had to fight through roadworks, delays and road closures to get to him. Dippy will be touring the UK until 2020. If, like us, you hadn’t seen him when he was resident at the Natural History Museum, London, then you can catch him at these other locations:

If you have seen Dippy before, what were your recollections? Do dinosaurs interest you? If so what are your favourites and why?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

A Walk in the Clouds

The August bank holiday weekend arrived with the promise of warm sunny weather, (we have been starved of summer recently). My Saturday began at 5.30 am, when bleary eyed I got ready to go on another adventure to Wales. I had intended to join in with #Photo an Hour, but gave up half way as most of my day was spent in a car, travelling.

The previous night, we settled on visiting Cadair Idris and the glacial corrie Llyn Cau, (#1 on my bucket list). As we drove through North Wales with blue skies and golden light we could be forgiven into believing that the Met Office predictions were accurate.

20170826_105715

However, on arrival at the car park, the mountains were shrouded in low clouds that billowed like smoke, and a faint drizzle made us glad we had brought our waterproofs! We paid £5 for all day parking. We could have paid £2.50 for four hours but I wasn’t sure how long it would take us to walk to Llyn Cau. Snowdonia National Park gave an estimate of an hour but with my little legs that could mean two hours! In reality it did take David and I approx. one hour to walk to Llyn Cau.

cadair_walk_route

We followed the Minffordd path steeply through a relic 8000 year old oak wood, before we passed a gate towards the mountainside.

The term cadair can be translated as chair from the early Welsh language. Cadair Idris or chair of Idris in legend was where the giant warrior bard Idris sat to view the stars. It is said that if you stay a night on the mountain you will come down either mad or a poet! However Idris was shrouded in cloud the day we visited.

llyn cau

Llyn Cau

According to Welsh mythology Llyn Cau is said to be bottomless and home to the afanc. The afanc or crocodile/demonic beaver (!) once terrorised the villages near Llyn Barfog (bearded lake), before King Arthur reputedly caught the afanc and imprisoned it in Llyn Cau. Stories tell of the afanc dragging unsuspecting swimmers to their doom! I kept an eye out for the afanc as we approached the waters edge.

I had imagined visiting Llyn Cau and Cadair Idris in bright sunshine and blue skies. But on the day I would have to make do with moody clouds and rain. Warmed by the strenuous hike, I soon cooled as I walked into the clear, silky waters of the lake. Terence registered a cold 14°C. While swimming I felt the landscape was unforgiving. You either respect the land or risk your life. It was a perfect day for the Afanc to emerge from the waters. I noticed I swam a little faster! Mythical creatures aside, the only audience I had were curious walkers watching me swim! I felt rather self conscious!

I thoroughly enjoyed my swim in Llyn Cau. The entrance to the water, though looked rocky was actually easy underfoot and you quickly got swimming which was a god send as the waters were rather chilly! The only downside was that our feet were already wet due to the boggy nature of the land around the lake. It was hard to find a dry path towards the lakeside.

I totally underestimated how popular the Cadair Idris path would be. I had imagined Llyn Cau to be a secluded place to swim but as we turned to leave the lake I was surprised to see the path swell with walkers and families alike. It was even busier than Cat Bells!

A note of caution. The walk to Llyn Cau and further to Cadair Idris is a steep ascent. The lake itself stands at around 350m. The path rarely levels out. I have found that the next day my thighs are sore. Even walking the Watkin Path to Snowdon I did not feel like this. For shorter legs beware of aches the next day!

Have you walked to Llyn Cau? Conquered Cadair Idris? I would love to hear your stories.

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

Of Swallows and Shallows.

20160829_104552 (2)

Wast Water

It was August Bank Holiday here in the UK, and once again David and I headed up to the Lake District. The weather, unusual for a bank holiday turned out to be pretty impressive. Blue skies, hot sun, we couldn’t ask for a better day!

We were up before sunrise (again) and headed out at 6am for our three hour drive! Our destination was the lakeshore of Wast Water, touted in a 2007 ITV poll as Britain’s Favourite View. The scenery is indeed inspirational. To the north, Wasdale Head features the giants Yewbarrow, Great Gable, Lingmell and Scafell Pike. Along the eastern side, Whin Rigg and Illgill Head form the Screes. To the south is a leisurely lakeside walk towards Low Wood and Lund Bridge. It was this path that David and I took on our arrival.

A cool breeze that blew across the lake, created the perfect opportunity to try out my new fleece in preparation for autumn and winter walks.

At the southern point, under the shade of trees I noticed roses scattered along the lake-shore. It got me thinking how many have faced a watery death at Wast Water. After an online search I found that in 1976 a woman had been murdered and her body was dumped at Wast Water, only to be found eight years later still preserved.

In 1945, three airmen lost their lives during a nighttime navigational exercise which saw their Gruman Avenger crash into the Screes. And again in 1973 a Piper Cherokee G-AZYP also crashed into the Screes with no survivors!

Wast Water is the deepest lake in England at 258 feet (79 m) and is a divers haven. Yet even as recent as 2013 the body of a diver, in search of the infamous gnome garden was found. So nothing for me to be worried about then as I planned on doing a swim!

David and I found a nice stony beach on the western side of the lake, where later we would enjoy a scenic picnic with coffee. The choice of location to swim was actually a poor one as the water was very shallow. (No sign of the deepest lake here!) I found I had to wade quite some distance, slipping over mossy rocks before managing to swim. You may be questioning my type of swimwear, especially for a lake that is renowned to be the coldest. I had plans to do not just one swim but two!!
DSC_0440 (2)

The water wasn’t as cold as I was lead to believe. Indeed I stayed in the water for my longest swim at around 20 minutes. I breast-stroked with mountainous giants before me and floated looking up at the blue sky as swallows and grey wagtails flittered past. It was indeed a magical experience. I stumbled back onto land giddy and blissfully happy! I could have stayed at Wast Water all day but I had plans of swimming another tarn!

20160829_122344From Google images and maps, Greendale Tarn looked like it had everything going for it. It was isolated, surrounded by mountains and didn’t look like too much of a walk. However with my rudimentary walking skills at best, a two hour walk there and back ended up being three! There is free parking for about 10 cars next to the cottages at Greendale. The start of the walk overlooks the Screes of Wast Water. The going was steep to start off with as the path wound around ferns and bracken. We past Herdwick Sheep who made walking over the boulder filled path look easy. I stumbled and tripped my way upwards, while to our left was the fast flowing Greendale Gill.

Two hours later and we were standing beside a tarn with disappointment on our faces. Instead of finding a peaceful idyll, we gazed upon a body of water that looked reedy. A pond-like smell emanated from the surface. If there were any trout in the water they were well hidden. I could not find an entry point that didn’t have reeds lacing the banks. It was very off putting and I decided (sensibly?) to forego a second swim, much to my consternation! However, looking at the positives from the day, we had enjoyed the walk, even if I did crawl most of the way up and slipped on the way down! The picture of Greendale Tarn makes it look so much more appetising than it really was!

20160829_131627

Greendale Tarn

Wast Water maybe my final swim of the year, what with September and autumn around the corner. I do hope not. Maybe I can squeeze in another swim before it gets too cold?

What do you think?

Christine x