Notes from the Back Garden Naturalist

Written by Graham Wellstead in Darkest Surrey

Simon King urges us all to become armchair naturalists during these rather frightening times. However, if I sit down, I fall asleep. I, therefore, spend most of my waking hours outside in my relatively small suburban garden. Not, you might think, much of an opportunity to observe nature. However, I do have assistance, in the form of two birds. A twenty-seven-year-old American Red-tailed Hawk “Sabre’, bred by me, and a two year European Buzzard “Eric”. Both are members of the buzzard family and, as birds of prey, they see everything which moves in their ken. 

Red-tailed Hawk ‘Sabre’.

Yesterday was the perfect spring day, sun shining, clear blue sky. And it is to the sky that Sabre gives most of his attention. I stop what I am doing, alerted by the long drawn-out scream of defiance, which is his alarm and territorial defence threat. Overhead, floating on invisible supports is a male Red Kite who drifts in closer to observe our activities. Sabre continues to scream until the kite is carried away in lazy circles.  

I am not sure what my neighbours think, as a Red-tail scream is quite piercing.

Shortly after, we are alerted to a buzzard passing over at a great height, and mine ignores it, too busy contemplating the pair of wood pigeons who have come to drink from his bath. Moments later I am persuaded to look up at one of our local peregrine falcons, which nest on a tower block in the town. I feared they would leave when five huge blocks were built around them, but they are obviously seriously site-faithful. I was thirty-five, in 1972, before I first saw a live Peregrine; what a comeback!

Peregrine Falcon passing over last week.

Busy sorting empty flower pots in a quiet corner, I disturbed a family of field mice, all eyes and ears. Do I really want mice? They have a charm of their own, but I might prefer it if they were Bank Voles.

Written by Graham Wellstead in Darkest Surrey

Me with my very smart Harris Hawk ‘Burlington Bertie (Bert) not only immaculate but also very clever.

About Graham: “I have lived most of my life in Surrey, a passionate naturalist since the age of five, following the great names of the day, Maxwell Knight, Bramwell Evans and my particular guru Ludwig Koch the premier natural sounds recordist. My particular interest, which began in 1948 and continues, is birds of prey both wild and as a professional falconer since 1990. I write articles on birds and bird keeping, for Cage & Aviary Magazine. I have kept most of the mustalid group, including the domestic ferret, and the European Polecat, which I bred 134 animals, released into suitable places over a period of 6 years. I also bred and released Barn Owls, was a consultant on the introduction of a licence scheme for releasing the species, and continued to do so until captive releases were eventually banned.”

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