Death Stalks The Marsh

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The hushwing, the silent ghostly killer, the barn owl. One of my very favourite creatures and a candidate for National Bird (results out tomorrow! see: http://www.votenationalbird.com/)

Numerous enough to be widespread yet rare enough to always be a pleasant surprise, the barn owl manages to conceal a serious arsenal of lethal tools beneath one of the cutest exteriors in the natural world. From a strictly selfish point of view, I wish my local beauty wasn’t quite so determinedly crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk) – it’s hard to get a properly sharp shot in the gloom of the evening.

No such problem when this handsome kestrel dropped by for a snack. He clearly wasn’t bothered by the 11,000 volts whizzing past his head:

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He was, however, a bit shy about being watched while he ate, so off he went:

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And it was only when I looked back at the photos later that I realised what he was eating. Not the expected small mammal, a shrew, a mouse or a vole for example, but a frog. Not regular kestrel food but, I suppose, a local marsh speciality. Undoubtedly hard cheese for the frog but always a delight to see a kestrel and happily now becoming a much more regular occurrence as their numbers begin to return to the levels of my childhood, when no journey on a dual carriageway was complete without the sight of a windhover over the verge.

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While the presence of these stealthy predators may make life a trifle nerve-wracking for some of the inhabitants of the marsh, they are at least to be expected as part of the natural way of things. Also, they’re supremely quiet and unobtrusive.

The same couldn’t really be said about the other predator in evidence recently. Invisible, in the wood the other side of the marsh, but certainly not inaudible, was someone with a gun. I know he (if it was a he) had a gun because I heard it twice every few minutes, almost constantly between about 7.30 in the morning and 10.00 at night for at least a couple of weeks. It seems to have died down in the last few days – maybe he’s run out of cartridges or maybe he’s finished whatever he was trying to do. I can’t imagine what on earth he was trying to do. A friend who knows about these things suggested it was probably someone shooting pigeons. Seems likely. The timing and the relentlessness, although not the early starts, suggested a teenager home early from uni and already bored. And I suppose pigeons have the advantage of being numerous and legal. I did wonder what else it might be though. Those woods are pheasant territory. Surely no supposed “pests” could be so numerous as to require that level of extermination. Either way, I trust whoever it was has cleared up all the spent cartridges and as much of the stray shot as can be located. I wouldn’t want my patch and its very special wildlife getting poisoned. I did also wonder whether such extensive shooting in the vicinity of a (probably nesting) barn owl would count as “reckless disturbance”; maybe someone with an opinion could write in.

In other news, great to see that two of the three peregrine chicks have left their nest on Norwich Cathedral spire this morning. The third is currently “thinking about it”… Watch the drama unfold at http://upp.hawkandowl.org/norwich-peregrines/norwich-cathedral-peregrine-live-web-cam-2015/

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