Category Archives: Kestrels

Stoodley Pike walk, and an unidentified raptor

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:

Unidentified raptor
Unidentified raptor (note the kill in its talons).


Unidentified raptor
Unidentified raptor moments 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!

More photos from my walk» | Slideshow»

Postscript (25-Mar-2013): I stand corrected. The bird was a male merlin (see comments below).

Lizard? In Yorkshire?

Went on the Moor Walk for the first time in several months. Glorious weather. So glorious that I wore my shorts! And not a single other soul on the moor—I had it all to myself.

At the gate at the start of the moor, I spotted a magnificent male linnet: as red as I have ever seen.

Male linnet
Male linnet.

No sign of any red grouse today, but there were loads of meadow pipits, a kestrel, a couple of rabbits, and quite possibly a lizard!

I can't be 100% sure about the lizard, as I only spotted it fleetingly out of the corner of my eye, as it ran across the track two feet in front of me and disappeared into the heather. But I can't think what else it might have been: it definitely had a saurian jizz about it. And, last Saturday evening, I heard at the farm that someone else had seen a lizard on the moor last week.

Lizards in Yorkshire. Who'd have thought it?

Meadow pipit
Meadow pipit.

More photos »

No kestrels

A (nearly) 200-mile motorway journey from Yorkshire to darkest Hertfordshire, and not a single kestrel spotted en route. We did, however, spot a couple of dozen buzzards.


Twenty years ago, these figures would have been reversed: buzzards were a relative rarity, and kestrels were a common sight hovering above motorway verges.

It's strange how different birds' fortunes change over time. Darwinian Natural Selection is still at work alongside the highways of Blighty—as it is everywhere else. I wonder what's happened to all the kestrels.

Perhaps the buzzards have eaten them.

Burton Point

An evening walk to Burton Point along the road through the firing range! I'd never been down there before, thinking it was a military no-go area. But there was a sign saying it was OK if I stuck to the track.

Not many warblers this evening, but lots and lots of little egrets. To think I never saw one in the UK until two years ago! I'm also pretty sure I briefly spotted a raven before it disappeared behind the headland.

Little egret
Little egret.

There were masses of bullrushes going to seed, and lots of yellow flag irises.

There was also a kestrel being mobbed by a single crow. If, indeed, it is possible to have a 'mob' of one!

Crown mobbing kestrel
A kestrel pursued by a mob of one.

A very enjoyable walk. I will return!

More photos | slideshow

Three new species

To Carolyn's for a quick walk around 'her' field. The cow parsley is out in force at the moment. It looks magnificent.

Last weekend, I finally took the trouble to look up the name of the plant with the characteristic leaves and brown stem which grows in abundance in the field behind the house (and in our lawn!). To my surprise, it turned out to be sorrel. So I searched some out in Carolyn's field and got her to try a couple of leaves. Bitter, but surprisingly refreshing. Apparently, farm-workers used to chew on sorrel leaves to slake their thirst when working in the fields.

Cow parsley
Cow parsley at Burton Marshes.

Then down to Burton Marshes for 20 minutes nature waiting. I hadn't been down there for years, and couldn't believe my luck: reed warblers, sedge warblers, and grasshopper warblers—three new species for me. I must have seen them there before as a child, but warblers are buggers to identify. Now, thanks to my digital camera and iPhone British birds app (which even plays the birds' songs for you—a great way to identify warblers), I was able to work out which little brown jobs were which. The grasshopper warbler's call was amazing: I kept wondering what the loud, grasshopper-like noise was, and then the penny dropped!

Sedge warbler
Sedge warbler.

I also saw whitethroats, little egrets (both firsts for me on the Wirral), and a kestrel put in an appearance.

Good things come to those who wait 20 minutes.

Slideshow of photos from this evening »