by: Mark Cocker
Monday March 27, 2006
As I trained my telescope on a great crested grebe, the recently acquired corolla of chestnut feathers around the bird's crown suddenly slicked down and the whole body was pressed to the water as if it were smothering its own shadow. What had its brilliant red eyes spotted that I couldn't?
It was an hour before I got my answer. Marsh harriers are often easy to pick out even at range, because it's about the only local bird that flies without a flap for long periods. A lingering airborne stillness suddenly drew my eye high overhead to the speck centred in a vast dark cavern of rain cloud. There were two marsh harriers circling at huge range - perhaps a kilometre high - but the third bird with them was a peregrine. Its distinctive anchor silhouette twisted in tight spirals close to one of the harriers and it was obvious that there was some electric pulse of emotion between them. Suddenly the game of aerial tag spilled into something far more dramatic. Briefly the two birds locked talons and fell earthwards before swooping away and resuming their parallel manoeuvres. They then cruised across the heavens, dust motes tracking west, until they were momentarily fixed against the flaring whiteness of sunlit cloud.As the three remarkable birds patrolled those deep canyons of cold air I began to wonder above which unlikely places are such scenes played out that go undetected by their terrestrial neighbours? How often do we plod the earth oblivious of the drama lost overhead in that vast pale eye of secrecy.