Monday, April 2, 2007

Three-way dogfight

Production editor Matt Merritt writes:
My native county of Leicestershire probably doesn't conjure up an image of wild, windswept places for you, and for the most part you'd be right. Don't get me wrong - I love the rolling countryside, dotted with copses and fox coverts, and it offers plenty of good birding for a stay-at-home patch-watcher like me, but it does lack a certain drama a lot of the time.
Except, that is, for a little triangular area just north-west of Leicester itself - Charnwood Forest. There are wooded areas, both deciduous and conifer, but its name is down to it being an old medieval hunting forest, so the landscape is mainly sheep pastures interspersed with bracken-covered heath or moorland and outcrops of granite, some of the oldest rocks in Britain. These long-extinct volcanoes have in effect created a mini-Dartmoor, and the birdlife of the area is accordingly distinctive.
The granite is also much in demand for road-building, and so the area is dotted with quarries, some disused, others huge and very much up and running. To be fair they're mostly (with one notable exception), as discreet as quarries can be, and for birdwatchers they've had a couple of welcome side-effects.
That was very much in evidence on Saturday, when I stopped at a regular haunt, the dam at Swithland Reservoir. It offers a good view, not just over the water, but of Buddon Wood, behind which is the enormous Mountsorrel Quarry. You can very often see Peregrines in the most prominent tree on the wood's skyline, but this time (it was clear and sunny, but very windy), the resident pair were displaying to each other, stooping, tumbling and making close passes.
Their courtship was soon interrupted, however, by the biggest Raven I've ever seen. A full-scale battle ensued, with some quite breathtaking aerobatics but no actual contact, before the Raven in turn came in for a mobbing from a pair of irate Crows.
I've heard it said that each of the area's quarries contains a pair of Peregrines, and Ravens now seem to be spreading in a similar fashion. I see them regularly at Charnwood Lodge, close to my house, and they're always a pleasure, despite the mixed reputation they enjoy. They combine power and menace with intelligence and even playfulness (so much of the time they seem to be flying purely because they can, and superbly well). You can immediately see why they inspired such a mixture of fear and veneration in cultures such as the Vikings.
It's a good example of how natural and man-made environments can sometimes collide with spectacular results. Quarries, gravel pits, sewage works - watch them carefully and they might just turn up some real treasures.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We noticed two dunnocks today on the patio. One was flicking its wings and the othe which was behind it appeared to be pecking the others rump. Is this part of the mating ritual of the dunnock?