The new Featured Writer is Bill Greenwell , the hugely popular tutor for Exeter Uni’s Lifelong Learning’s poetry clinic, a fantastic poet and performer among other things. Meanwhile, sparrowhawks quarter the August skies above the gardens, to snatch innocent sparrows like a gust of wind with claws. I met one only recently.
That morning when I woke I realised the cheeping pulse of the garden had stopped. Had the soundlessness woken me? Sunlight brightened the view of lawn, hedge and flowerbed. The quiet was almost unearthly. Normally the sounds of fledgling sparrows importuning their harassed parents flowed through every open window. But that morning there was an absence. A foreboding crept over me. From the bathroom window, as I brush my teeth, I usually spot the heads of ten or more fledgling house sparrows pop out of the top of the hedge. That morning: nothing, just twigs and leaves. When I went outside to put some bird seed on the feeder there was no flurry of feathers, no whirry wing-beats, no urgent cries of delight.
Over the summer we have watched the young goldfinches grow into their scarlet faces, the siskins turn yellow, the nuthatches grow long tails and learn to peck out the nuts and the woodpeckers grow their harlequin feathers. Until the trouble appeared out of nowhere.
An explosive burst of swallow-chittering in the sky made me look up to glimpse against the sky a mass of swallows ganging up on a grey-blue swathe of wing and tail. Sparrow-hawks may be very agile but I don’t think they catch swallows (although hobbies can).
A short while later, on the wall of our neighbour’s garden stood a sparrow hawk – looking like a highwayman wrapped in a blue cloak, his underparts speckled grey and white but tinged with chestnut fire, the black pupil in his orange eyes like a laser, his surprisingly long legs sheathed like weapons, his four toes tooled to grip. He was staring in at the kitchen window. Perhaps he was watching a reflection of himself in the pane but I felt he might just be sizing me up. Unusual to observe a sparrowhawk so close: they are mostly just disappearing from our field of vision. Gusts of wind ruffled his feathers, tried to lift him but his talons tightened on the stone. A sparrow-hawk grabs its prey, never hovering.( Its Latin name – Accipiter – comes from the verb accipere, to grasp.)
Later still, the magpies set up a ferocious chackling and made me look into the garden. The male sparrowhawk was crouched on the lawn, tearing the feathers out of a bird he must have nabbed from the bird-table, biding his time. You never know who is watching who out there in the garden.