We often spot this chap (or chapess) fishing around here. Reassuringly nonplussed by all the building work going on all around. There’s something magical about seeing wildlife getting on with living alongside us; whether it’s Herons, Red Kites or Kittiwakes.
I’m the IT technician at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art. I’ve been at BALTIC for nearly three years now and each summer I’ve taken the opportunity to wander out onto the Level 4 Viewing Terrace every now and then and spend a few minutes watching the Kittiwakes.
This year I decided to try and keep a photo log of the Kittiwake season. I’ve just finally sorted out the summer’s photos and if you’re interested you can view my photo collection of the BALTIC Kittiwake summer from arrival in April to departure at the end of August.
In 2005 when I lived in St Anne’s on Sea I heard an ungodly racket and glanced out the window. A sparrowhawk had flown in and attacked a starling. The sparrowhawk had the starling pinned to the ground and was mantling its prey as I watched with a fascinated horror, and a camera, from inside the house.
The next few minutes were pretty gruesome as the sparrowhawk carefully attended to its victim which continued to belt out a series of chilling screeches until eventually it had no life left. It was not, for me, comfortable viewing.
Today I heard the same noise again. This time, 7 years on, in Durham. A sparrowhawk had flown in to the bird table. This has happened before. But today was different. It stayed. Sparrowhawks are opportunists. Hit and Run. Boom and Zoom. They fly in, target, and then move on. But this one was hanging around, watching all the frantic sparrows and tits that were shouting out their alarm calls within the shrubbery.
I watched for a minute or two, and then, comfortable as I am nowadays with my anthropomorphism, grabbed the camera and headed out. The sparrowhawk only flew of, empty handed, as I approached, and the ‘nice’ birds heaved a sigh of relief.
I can see Chris Packham’s fascination with this raptor, and its large, mean, malevolent (there’s the anthropomorphism again) eye. My problem with the sparrowhawk, as it is with my three domestic pet cats, is their distressing lack of compassion in dispatching their prey. No neat bite behind the neck, just a functional, leisurely and sedate consumption of their dinner. And it dies when it dies. The efficiency of the biological imperative is understandable but that doesn’t make it any the less disquieting.
It’s always satisfying when you patiently stalk a subject for that elusive photograph. When the creature gets close you take as many photos as you can before it notices you, or flies off. But sometimes they just don’t care.
This batch is from the River Ness in Inverness. This heron (Ardea cinerea) got closer, and closer, and I was thrilled to get some photos, even if they poor evening light makes them it a bit grainy. Then it got so close I could have reached out and touched it. It knew I was there. It just didn’t seem to care. I was miffed.