sparrowhawks have hatched

The big news is that sparrowhawk’s nest in the Sorrel Woods has chicks in it!

The reason we know this is because we’ve been watching the nest every day for the past weeks. We found a hiding spot behind a large sitka spruce far enough from the nest not to disturb the mother and yet with a good view of the nest.

IMG_20160617_182946

Every evening after work we revisited the “hide” and waited for ours looking through binoculars. The midges were always horrendous, but we saw some amazing stuff. We saw the female leave the nest, we’ve seen food passes, we’ve heard the musket call, but most importantly we’ve seen the female feed her young in the nest. The last time we could just make out two little fluffy white chick heads peaking from the depth of the nest.

There are also droppings, or mutes, under the tree. Chicks even when young back out towards the edge of the nest to defecate. Their tiny bums produce tiny white drops on the ground and leaves below and they look like whitewash.

IMG_20160616_193640

IMG_20160616_193614

We think that chicks are under ten days old, but we are not certain. Everywhere in the woods sparrowhawks are having their young. Parents time the arrival of the young with availability of fledgling birds such as blue tits. I found this feather on the plucking post possibly belonging to a blue tit.

IMG_20160617_193336

And this is a paper-thin skull of a blue tit I found under an old nest nearby. And of course more bones.

IMG_20160616_191918.jpg

Sparrowhawks are really amazing. The more I watch them the more I realise how complex their lives are. For example they are very vocal and they talk to each other a lot. In fact every interaction is accompanied by much calling, screaming, and fuss. When male comes back with food, he does’t just drop it in the nest. He calls and flies around for a while attracting the female’s attention. When he lands in a tree nearby he makes loud calls to the female. And the female then shifts in the nest and calls back gently. She might fly straight out of the nest and pick up the food left by the male on a plucking post but we’ve also seen long flights away to a food pick up spot. Nothing is straightforward.

The other day after feeding her young the female left the nest carrying a carcass of a large bird in her feet. Perhaps she was trying to dispose of it somewhere where it is unlikely to attract predators to the nest, maybe she was just taking it as a snack to her mate? Who knows?

I’ve done a few practice tree climbs.

IMG_20160616_135956

IMG_20160616_135925

Can you see Ed below?

It’s scary – sitkas are tall, they move around in the wind, I need to saw off branches or negotiate my way over them as I climb… Also I cannot fail. I cannot panic or get a vertigo, I have to move fast, I have to be efficient. When I get up there I have to be alert and identify the female among tiny fluffy chicks by the size of their legs. Females have larger feet and thicker legs. Then I have to put it gently in a bag and lower it down slowly. Then I have to descend the tree in one piece. This is all rather overwhelming, but I feel more confident now that I’ve done a few climbs.

And we think we might be getting a chick in the next few days. Yes, this soon. It’s all happening and I can’t believe it. I have so many worries like what if there are only two chicks in the nest? The wild take license allows us to take a chick only if there is a minimum of three chicks in the nest. And what if they are too young? Or too old to take?

So much uncertainties and worries just to hang out with this beauty.

SAMSUNG

Stay tuned.

x.

walking up a tree

The sparrowhawk nest we found a few weeks ago is about fifteen meters off the ground. It is a tightly woven conical shape structure made of sticks close to the trunk of a typical sitka spruce – the kind a tree surgeon friend calls a “pole”. The tree is so straight, so tall, and so covered in thin dead branches sticking out in all directions from the main trunk, that I just can’t get my head around how on earth I am going to climb it?

This is a rather blurry photo of me pointing my binoculars at the nest in horror.

IMG_20160511_184659

And this is what I can see through my binoculars – you can see clearly the nest is surrounded by lots and lots of sharp branches!

IMG_20160511_185121

Tree climbing isn’t on the list of my hobbies as I am terrified of heights to the point of panic, but for some reason we decided earlier on that it will be me climbing the tree to take a spar chick from the nest. I think we both thought it’ll be hilarious and will make good tape. Yes, I can just picture the drama – me hugging the tree paralysed with fear, unable to move up or down, in tears, terrified and begging to be rescued, and yet having to complete the mission.

But also deep inside I want to be the one climbing the tree and taking the chick. This is a good opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and face my phobia.

So yesterday I did a trial climb of a sitka spruce but in a different location to avoid disturbing the nesting spar. Our colleague and friend is a professional tree climber and has all the gear. He tried to talk me through the technical names but somehow it didn’t stick and all I can say is there is a harness, a rope, carabiners, and spikes for shoes.. But it is really amazing how few things one actually needs to climb a tree!

The idea is simple – you have spikes on your shoes and they help you grip to the tree but if you slip you won’t fall because you have a rope that wraps around the trunk and keeps you secure. You move the rope higher with your hands, then make small steps up the trunk with your feet and then move the rope higher again and so on.

Essentially you are slowly walking up a tree.

IMG_20160519_181343

So as I watched in slight panic and anticipation I had many disaster related thoughts, like what if a squirrel suddenly jumps out and startles me? What if I need to pee as I am half-way up?

But I’ve reached the point of no return, and unless I was prepared to face the shame of being another scared weakling, I just had to get on with it.

So here I was all geared up ready for that tree.

IMG_20160519_175629

Something amazing happened when I started my ascent – very quickly I fell in love with the process. It’s hard to describe how it feels to be so high off the ground, to be close to the mossy trunk, smelling resin in the moist folds of the tree. To be able to see the land and people below and to get that one long uninterrupted view from the height is just so precious. And I can see how tree climbing can become addictive.

My progress was slow, I didn’t climb very high, maybe only six meters. And I did have a few moments of doubt and fear, but they were quickly gone because I had to focus my thoughts on the immediate task of putting each foot higher and moving the rope.

IMG_20160519_192011

A very blurry photo of me smiling.

IMG_20160519_191907

In a few days I will try climbing higher and hopefully will take better photos of how magical Irish woodland looks from above.

x