Wednesday, 5 November 2014


It is on these rocky western coasts that the peregrine seems most at home. Over the past few days, one or more different birds have become a totem for this wild landscape of granite and short, salt-sprayed turf. I have developed an eye for their presence; the distant sea stack with a telltale blip in an otherwise rounded profile that reveals a peregrine perched and scanning his domain.

The bird that I have spent the most time with is an adult male, whose favourite perch I pass on the way to my own favourite ‘perch’ from where I watch the sea for passing skuas, shearwaters and cetaceans. He seems tolerant of my presence, secure in the knowledge that his perch, located a few dozen metres off the cliff, is surrounded by an uncrossable sea that beats an ever present rhythm against the shore.

The particular perch provides a panoramic view of three fields that slope down towards the granite boulder beaches. Each of the fields delivers rough grazing for the small group of hardy cattle that supply the island with milk and butter. The cattle attract meadow and rock pipits, together with passing redwings and resident blackbirds, all potential prey for a hunting peregrine.

One afternoon I am treated to a hunt. The peregrine seems restless and more alert than usual, leaning forward as if to peer at something that has caught his eye in one of the fields. He bobs his head and lowers the foot that has been tucked within his belly feathers. The foot is retracted – a false alarm? Then more head bobbing and the foot is placed firmly down onto the rock. A ripple pulses through the bird as it shakes out its plumage; the male defecates and then he is airborne. A sweeping glide low over the sea brings him at speed into the field and out of my view behind a headland. Suddenly he appears above the headland in a vertical stall, wings outstretched, before turning and dropping back down into the field. He must have killed something. A few moments later and the kill is confirmed, the bulk of a female blackbird in his talons as he flies to another of his favoured perches with his prize.

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