Category Archives: Cragg Vale

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).

Two raptors

Spotted a little owl on a telegraph wire above Cragg Vale on my way into work this morning. I've seen it there several times before, but never seem to have my camera to hand.

Drinking tea with Dad in his garden in the late afternoon, I spotted a buzzard being mobbed by a pair of carrion crows. It flew right over us, very low. A fantastic spectacle.

Dad was worried for Molly, who was playing with her ball on the lawn. I think a cocker spaniel might be just a little too big for a buzzard, but you never know.

The one that got away

Crossing the moor above Cragg Vale at 06:15, I spotted a bird of prey perched on a roadside fence-post. A quick slam-on of brakes, and a 20-yard reverse, and I found myself making eye-contact with a male merlin: our smallest bird of prey, and quite gorgeous.

My spare binoculars were in the glove-box, so I dug them out and had a closer look. His yellow legs really were remarkably yellow. Then I realised that my camera was in the boot of my car, so I sneaked out to try to get a photo.

No luck, I'm afraid: the merlin took off immediately, and flew off down the valley, keeping very low. It was only then that I realised just how small the bird was.

As I had my camera to hand, I took this photo of Cragg Vale. Sorry about the absence of merlins.

Cragg Vale, early morning
Cragg Vale, early morning.

Lesson of the day: keep your camera bag inside the car, not in the boot!


Spotted at the bottom of Cragg Vale on my way to work this morning: three blackbirds attacking a magpie. Not just feigned attacks; real pecking was involved. I'm guessing the blackbirds were protecting nests—but the fact that there were three of them seemed odd.

I actually felt quite sorry for the magpie: he definitely ended up the worse from the encounter.

A minute later, I spotted two jays, corvid cousins of the magpie, flitting through the trees. A relatively rare sighting in this part of the world.

Little Owl

Spotted a little owl on some telegraph wires on the moors above Cragg Vale this morning, as I was heading to work. It was at pretty much the same spot as I spotted a little owl several times last year, so I'm hoping it will be the first of many such sightings this year.