A couple of days ago I saw my first Sparrowhawk. I’ve been looking out for Sparrowhawks for a while now. I know they’re found in my area, and I know the habitat around our village is perfect for them. I’ve got friends who regard them almost as pests as they prey on the birds attracted to their bird tables. I’m not a twitcher by any means – I don’t have list of birds to tick off – but I’ve got a thing about birds of prey and I’ve wanted to see a sparrowhawk.
The irony is, that after countless hours spent in the fields and woods, I saw my first Sparrowhawk sitting on the top of a lamppost on the outskirts of our local town, Bletchley.
In a way it was a little disappointing, but it’s got me thinking about urban wildlife in general and how resilient nature is. After all, many species are adapting and living alongside man. When I lived in London I had dozens of urban foxes in my garden, but here in the country I’ve only seen a handful. There are urban badgers in some places, and even reports of urban otters. And what about the pigeons? How many people have seen a proper wild Rock Dove, compared to the millions who see urban pigeons every day? Not to mention the colonies of wild budgies living in South London.
I suppose it is all rather encouraging. Although the urban landscape is spreading, the wildlife is adapting. Sure, there are probably as many losers as winners, but it is adapting nonetheless. The first Red Kite I ever saw was on a bleak mountain in a spectacularly remote part of Wales, four or five hours walk from the nearest road or house. The last Red Kite I saw was over a dual carriageway off the Oxford ring road. Perhaps you can’t compare the two experiences, but I’m glad to see the Red Kites flourishing in all areas.
Hopefully I’ll now see more Sparrowhawks, in more aesthetically pleasing surroundings. I’ve noticed that once you’ve seen one example of a particular bird, or animal, or plant, you tend to see more. Take Buzzards for example. When we moved to the village I was convinced that it was the right environment for Buzzards. I spent hours staring distractedly at the sky hoping to see one, yet it took me two years before I finally got my first sighting. Now, of course, I see and hear them all the time. I can take you to four or five spots that each have their own local Buzzard, all within walking distance of my house.
Did my village suddenly get overrun with Buzzards two years ago? Of course not. I think what happened was that I became more tuned in to the Buzzards. Once my ‘Buzzard-sense’ had developed it allowed me to see them much more easily. The same thing is happening now as I learn to track mammals. I am seeing vole runs and badger latrines that I must have walked past a hundred times without realising, but now I’m tuned in they stand out clearly.
If there is a meaning to this story, I guess it’s that you should be aware of your local environment. It’s fine to dash around to new places looking for new wildlife, but spending time getting tuned in pays dividends in the long run.
Here’s to more Sparrowhawks, whether they be urban or rural!