A fabulous, five-hour walk up Stoodley Pike, then down into Hebden Bridge and back home.
Jen was going away on business, so she dropped me in Cragg Vale at 06:15. I immediately saw a pair of dippers in the river near the Hinchcliffe Arms, then, heading up to Withens Clough reservoir, I had a good view of a jay, and heard but didn't see a shonechat in the nearby bracken.
I knew the reservoir was closed for improvement work, but didn't realise that the footpath alongside it was also closed. Good job I had an OS map with me! I worked out a convoluted new route up to Stoodley Pike, which took me up to Stony Royd, down a short stretch of Cragg Road (which is actually a green lane), then down and through the fir wood at Sunderland Pasture, across Dick's Lane (another green lane), and up to the Pike. Then it was down via Dick's Lane, Rake Head, and Crow's Nest Wood into Hebden Bridge.
Standing admiring the view from Stoodley Pike Monumnent, I heard a raptoresque call behind me and spotted a bird of prey flying low across the moor. It was about the size of a kestrel, but it clearly wasn't a kestrel. It was too far away to spot any distinguishing marks, but I fired off a couple of photos, in the hope of being able to identify the bird by zooming in on them later:
Having spent far more time than is reasonable poring over my two grainy photos, and through every bird book I own, trying to decide what the unidentified raptor was, I am plumping, rather surprisingly, for a hobby. My reasoning is as follows:
- the tops of the wings are slate-grey;
- the bird was too big to be a male merlin;
- the bird appears to have a moustache;
- (by this stage, I am thinking peregrine. Peregrines have certainly been reported in the area. But…)
- the underside of the bird appears to have a brownish/russet tinge;
- (so, I am now thinking juvenile peregrine, but…)
- the first photo clearly shows a white collar at the back of the neck…
The only bird which seems to fit all of these criteria is a hobby. Even though the South Pennines is apparently close to the northern limit of the hobby's range. What swung it for me was a description in one (buy only one) of my bird books, which said that the hobby has an "almost complete white 'neck ring'. Neck ring is most prominent field mark". As far as I can tell, peregrines don't have almost complete neck rings.
Almost as an afterthought, I listened to recordings of the various raptors' calls on the RSPB website. I am pretty sure that the call I heard was indeed that of a hobby, but I didn't hear the recording until several hours after I had heard the bird.
So, a hobby, then!
But I'm still not 100% convinced. (Please let me know, if you know better.)
Identifying birds can be a real pain in the backside at times!
Postscript (25-Mar-2013): I stand corrected. The bird was a male merlin (see comments below).