more nests more bones

We found two more sparrowhawk nests since my last post!

The first one we discovered accidentally by following a sparrowhawk who flew across a woodland track in front of our bicycles. The woods there are absolutely stunning – nicely spaced sitka spruce, moss, and wood sorrel everywhere.

We called this Sorrel Woods.

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We heard sparrowhawks calling almost immediately after entering the woods and also it didn’t take long to find several plucking posts.

Some contained fresh fathers.

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The Sorrel Woods Spars liked rodents too! Sparrowhawks do not frequently eat ground mammals, but in this woodland we found a plucked vole and even its fresh guts on a mossy stump. Very exciting indeed.

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We found woodcock bones and feathers which were clearly broken or pulled off. Perhaps it was a fox, or perhaps it was a female sparrowhawk?

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And of course we found multiple old tiny skulls and bones – possibly a blue tit?

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The nest itself is nicely built, perhaps you can spot it on this photo. Draw a straight line down from X towards the middle of the photograph. You will see a small round mass to the right of the line and almost in the middle of the photo.

      X

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It’s is a little higher than the nest in The Garden and will require climbing gear, which will be an adventure! We have not seen any activity there, but we are planning to revisit this spot early in the morning soon. Females will be laying eggs in May and we might see a tail sticking out of the nest or a male flying in with food.

The other nest is located in the Mossy Woods – everything here is padded with greenest moss.

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A few weeks ago we found feathers of a tree creeper.

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Then we were told that a sparrowhawk was heard calling and so we revisited and this time we found a foot of a freshly killed blackbird.

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And most amazingly we found a half-plucked and eaten thrush! Something must have spooked the sparrowhawk to leave so much meat behind.

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We also found an old egg shell belonging to a medium size bird. A sparrohawk perhaps?

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I didn’t take a photo of this last nest but it’s a solid platform made of small sticks two-thirds way up a tall pine, close to the trunk, and partially hidden by ivy – similar kind of structure as the other two nests we found.

We will revisit The Garden, Sorrel Woods, and Mossy Woods soon and will hopefully spot a female on eggs!

x.

 

 

 

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new beginnings

 

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This time two years ago we packed our belongings, our books, and our tools and moved to the west of Ireland in search of a new life. There were no concrete plans, no connections, no jobs, just a sense of adventure and hopes, and a feeling that we might be just lucky. And we were. We were cradled with warmth and showered with love, we found our dream jobs, met fantastic people and created community around us. In short, Ireland has become our home.

I feel that by applying for a license to take a sparrowhawk from the wild we have committed ourselves to this land. Searching for this illusive raptor has given me reasons to roam around places where I would have not ventured otherwise. When I walk around the woods, I am not just strolling, not just passing by, I am really looking. Looking at each tree, the moss, the bumps and the ivy on the tree trunk, the ground and the rocks around it for signs and clues… I become a wild raptor, I think like a sparrowhawk.

Landscapes become meaningful when you are searching for something. A falconer standing on a remote bog watching her falcon above is intimately connected to the landscape. The bog becomes alive. She can read its signs, the place has a meaning. And beauty.

So to celebrate our connection to Ireland, we’ve started a podcast about falconry called Wild Take. It’ll be mostly about our adventures in falconry and, if we get a license to take a wild sparrowhawk, about us training it and hunting with the bird this summer. This is our first attempt in the podcast world and we are really excited which you’ll probably detect if you listen to the trailer here. You can subscribe to future episodes on iTunes and on Podcast addict.

Meanwhile here is me with my new toy —  a wool winder! This wool is being turned into a Warriston jumper. Yes, a sturdy wooly item is absolutely a must for our cold and wet summers here.

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x!

signs and clues

On my way to work today I saw a sparrowhawk. It flew low in front of my bicycle from the hedges, but at the last moment it swiftly turned around and disappeared among the conifers into the mist. And what a misty morning it was! A perfect kind of day to see them hunt. A few wingbeats and I could tell it was a musket, or a male sparrowhawk — much smaller than a female. He was only tiny, perhaps just over 100 grams, with perfect tail feathers, and of good colour.

To see a healthy bird of prey this time of year is to know that despite all the bad weather and the lack of food it has made it through the toughest times. It’s been through the natural selection and succeeded, and will most likely survive to see the spring, and perhaps even some loving and cuddling in the nest.

This week we had a phone call from our local ranger with the news that he had no objections to our Wild Take. This means that we have a good chance of getting a license, but it does not guarantee it.

But it didn’t stop us searching our local woods for a wild sparrowhawk’s nest.

Spars love mature conifers. They like water and seclusion. But like any bird of prey they leave signs around the area where they hunt and live. Plucking posts, feathers of prey they killed and ate, pellets, and around this time of year they also leave vocal clues as they prepare to mate. Looking for actual nests is a bit too early, so we searched for a plucking post – a place where spars regularly pluck and eat prey. There might be mutes (poop), feathers of birds they ate, and pellets around the site. Generally, it can also indicate that a nest is not too far, especially if there is a big mature conifer nearby. They are particularly fond of conifers with dense ivy, I heard.

We wondered and looked for hours but we found no signs of spar activity.

The woodland is really alive with birdsong though and one can’t escape the fact that spring is on its way.

So if you live near a woodland, get your boots on and go explore! Have a look around, stop and listen, look under your feet for clues and signs and you might be rewarded with something interesting and unexpected.

We’ve had a few days of absolutely fabulous weather here in the West of Ireland. So we took our Pal to water for a bit of a paddle. And it was just perfect.

Photo courtesy of Joe.

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