Murder at Nosterfield

A comfortable hide at Nosterfield: sheepskin covered seats, and lots of birdbooks to refer to come as standard
A comfortable hide at Nosterfield: sheepskin covered seats, and lots of birdbooks to refer to come as standard

We spent yesterday at Nosterfield Nature Reserve , a mere couple of miles from here.  There’s no point in having a bird reserve almost in your back garden if you don’t know a wigeon from a pochard, or if you confuse a rail with a dunlin.  It’s even worse if you’ve heard of none of the above.  We signed up to ‘Start Birding’, and birding’s what we did, for the whole of a bright and sunny Friday.

Wigeon feeding
Wigeon feeding

Linda, our teacher, was infectiously enthusiastic.  She lent out decent pairs of binoculars, and made sure we knew how to use them.  She helped us observe birds for their silhouettes, colouring, flight patterns, so we could begin to identify the hundreds of birds who regard Nosterfield as home, a holiday resort, or a stop-over on a long voyage from the Arctic to – who knows? Southern Europe or even Africa.

And we hadn’t been there long before she saw drama begin to unfold.  We saw no drama.  Oh yes, we could see that birds who had been feeding in scrubland, and waterfowl who’d been serenely gliding in the shallows all flew skywards, all started wheeling and turning, circling the area they’d come from time and time again, in some agitation.  But, well, birds do that, don’t they?

Bird panic
Bird panic

Linda knew better.  She knew they’d all spotted something we couldn’t see.  We all used our binoculars and her super-powerful telescope to scan the sky.  It was more than 5 minutes before she saw, high above, a peregrine falcon.  He rose high on the thermals, looking down on all his possible prey, all flying close together for their mutual protection.

And suddenly, talons extended, he dropped.  Only Linda and Dianne spotted the moment when he scooped up a lapwing, and plummeted swiftly  to earth to despatch the bird and inspect his catch.  He didn’t get much chance.  A small gang of carrion crows moved in.  They wanted the falcon to open his prey up, then they planned to steal it.

Peregrine falcon feeding
Peregrine falcon feeding

The peregrine wasn’t having that.  He grabbed his lapwing, flew off, and came down again, this time where Linda was able to train her telescope so we could get grandstand views of what happened next.  The crows reappeared too, but knew there was no food for them while the lapwing’s corpse remained intact: their beaks are not designed to pierce outer skin.  By determined, measured stabbing, the falcon started to open his prey up.  White downy chest feathers flew, as he discarded these in search of the flesh beneath.  The crows pranced round.  They snapped at the falcon’s tail, they tried to provoke and hustle him into abandoning his catch.  They even ventured to pluck at the lapwing feathers themselves.  But though irritated, the falcon carried on, ripping away at the flesh with his super-strong beak.  As the crows took occasional chances to dart close and grab a mouthful, they were rebuffed by the falcon’s impressive skills as a sentry: and no doubt from the fear of that beak too.

Little by little, the falcon ingested his meal.  That may be his diet sorted for the next day or two.  He even left the carrion crows the bones to pick clean.  They too wouldn’t have gone away entirely hungry.

Those are lapwings in the foreground.  Behind are golden plovers.
Those are lapwings in the foreground. Behind are golden plovers.

And after that, we had a day of lapwings and golden plovers, and cormorants, and rails and wigeons and pochards and shovellers and Barnacle geese and Canada geese, a kestrel or two, and goldfinch and twites and great tits, and many many more.  We can confidently identify many of them, and now have the tools to gain in confidence and knowledge every time we go out with our eyes wide open and our senses tuned in.  Even without the blockbuster tale of savage death at the lakeside, Friday would have been a fantastic day.

If you live in Yorkshire, within reach of Leeds, and would like to know more about birds, do follow the link to the ‘Start Birding’ site and see what’s on offer.  This is an unsolicited testimonial to Linda Jenkinson, Top Twitcher!

Linda focussing one just one of those birds.
Linda focussing one just one of those birds.

I was too busy on Friday to take many photos, so the ‘bird portraits’ are courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. 

8 thoughts on “Murder at Nosterfield”

  1. nice post – what a wonderful way to spend an afternoon… watching the birds. Like you I don’t know one from another an just watch to see what they do.. there is an owl who hoots at night in the neighborhood. I only know that it is there because of the hoot, never seen it. I am certain it’s responsible for several ‘murders’ in the neighborhood as well. It;s nature’s cycle. Have a wonderful week,

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    1. Afternoon? We were at it 7 hours non-stop I’ll have you know! One thing I learned on Friday is that we must have several Little Owls near our house. I described the noise they make and the location, and that was the diagnosis. Perhaps, like English schools, you are all having a break this coming week? If so, have a good few days off.

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  2. What an amazing migration of birds you were able to observe… Makes me wonder what takes place all around us all the time that we don’t properly notice. Sounds like a great day with a little survival of the fittest thrown in for good measure!

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  3. What a fascinating day – I just don’t have a visual or sound memory for bird recognition and can only do the basics. I do have an interest in them though and have to look them up – even if I forget what they are an hour later! We were lucky enough to see a red kite a few weeks ago on a trip back from Milton Keynes. I had to check on Google that there were some there – and yes there are. I look forward to more bird photographs in the future. But please don’t forget the sheep… I like your sheep photographs.

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    1. We feel so lucky that red kites, only re-introduced within the last few years, have now become common up here. But not as common as sheep! I won’t forget your orders…..

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