It was over in seconds. As I was leaving the park the other day, I saw a Blackbird fly overhead with another, larger bird chasing after it. They went into a tree, then emerged and flew over the path into a bush – from which only the Blackbird emerged. Its pursuer was brown with yellow legs; the first two words that flashed through my mind were: ‘female Sparrowhawk’.
I have, to the best of my knowledge, only ever seen a Sparrowhawk once before, and that was eighteen years ago in Derby when I was walking through a park on my way to a lecture. The one back then was after a Blue Tit if memory serves, and the show (such as it was) was over in seconds; had I been walking in that particular park a minute earlier or a minute later, I’d’ve missed it.
So much of birdwatching is about being in the right place at the right time. Earlier this week I was down at the London Wetland Centre in Barnes, hoping that I might be able to spot some winter-visiting ducks. My eyes lit up when I noticed that one of the wardens had written ‘Goldeneye’ on the sightings-board for the day. I ended up in the Peacock tower (the three-storey hide with a 360° view of much of the reserve) with a couple of the site volunteers trying to get a sighting of said duck, but to no avail (the closest we got was one that we couldn’t initially identify that turned out to be a female Pochard, and another that was presumed to be some sort of domestic duck that had escaped into the wild), although we were able to see a lone Shelduck, a couple of Pintails and the odd Gadwall and Shoveler among the many Mallards, Teals, Wigeons and Tufted Ducks. Rumour had it that a Jack Snipe had been seen in the reeds, but I didn’t see that (although I did spot a regular Snipe); I was certainly in the right place, but at the wrong time.
Closer to home I’ve clocked up Jays, Nuthatches, Goldfinches and a surprising number of Goldcrests; as that last one is Britain’s smallest bird I’m always happy to be able to spot and identify one as I feel it makes up for not quite being able to identify the various small brown birds that are too quick to be identified. The Sparrowhawk sighting was quite by chance, and not at one of my usual local birdwatching venues. After wandering round Coldfall Wood I decided, on a whim, to cycle up to Alexandra Palace and have a look around the park there; the boating lake is frequented by many ducks and I reckoned there would be no harm in taking a look. In the event, of course, it wasn’t a duck that turned out to be the sighting of the day. Even if the location wasn’t somewhere I’d intended to be when I set out earlier that morning, I’d still managed, quite by chance, to end up in the right place at the right time.