Forest Raptors

Golden light filled the evening, bathing the tops of the trees before disappearing into shadows. The cars drove slowly along the farm track following the hedges along the edge of the field. The recent prolonged dry weather meant the sandy track was bone dry and the cars kicked up great plumes of dust that swirled in the air. Eventually they came to a stop at the edge of a wood. Beyond the tall trees crowded close together creating shade and shadows of brown and green.

The rest of the small team goes on ahead as I followed slowly behind with two little ones. We made our way through the cool shade of the trees along tracks deeply rutted with huge tyre tracks before giving way to grassy paths. Beyond, the forest floor is a mix of crumbly wooden branches, twigs, pine needles and cones, deep green bracken, pale greens lichens and tall fox gloves that added a splash of purple. The dark bodies of the trees stand tall and straight, the bark scaly and rough.

By the time my little party arrived the tree climber had already scaled a 40ft tree to a tangled mass of branches at its summit. Next thing a bag attached to a long rope comes slowly down to waiting hands below. The bag is brought over to the small team and from it two very fluffy chicks are removed. From a bundle of fluffy greyish white feathers the chicks have two darkish eyes, a well defined hooked yellow bill and two very well developed yellow scaly legs with curved, sharp, black talons. These two beauties are Goshawks.

While maintaining social distance the chicks were ringed with a metal ring and a blue and white colour ring.

Goshawk chicks

The Goshawk is a larger version of the more frequently encountered Sparrowhawk, reaching almost to the size of a Buzzard especially the females which are much larger than the males. Known as the ‘Noble Hawk’ since in the Middle Ages only nobles were allowed to use them. Goshawks have come back from the brink of extinction, down to habitat loss and persecution. Recovery is slow progress with persecution still a huge issue. The species is listed as a Schedule 1 which means you need a licence to approach the nest.

Once ringed and weighed the chicks were placed back in the bag which was reattached to the rope and returned to the nest at the top of the tree.

With the sun closing in on the horizon but with the evening still warm we headed for another wood on the edge of an arable field. This time the forest floor was covered in tall stinging nettles, beneath which there were crunchy brown leaves and short green grasses. The trees were still straight but there was more undergrowth surrounding the trunks giving the wood a greener hue. And there were mozzies. Hundreds buzzing around us and biting.

The tree to climb this time looked much the same as the previous one with the Goshawk nest in, only a deceptive curve meant the nest was in fact 60ft up! With the tree swaying, it was definitely a case of rather you than me as the climber made relatively short work of climbing to the nest. He was soon once again sending down the bag with two more raptor chicks inside. Taking them from the bag these two were much more developed than the Goshawk chicks. They predominantly had the russet, reddish brown adult feathers with only tufts of wispy white down poking through. Again their eyes are bright and dark, they have a rather fierce looking hooked bill and very well developed legs and talons! But these two are not Goshawks, they are Red Kites. A common sight now across western parts, in Wales, the south east of England, Yorkshire and the East Midlands and up into Scotland. Sightings are now increasing in Norfolk as more pairs begin to breed and the species spreads out. In order to monitor this dispersal and the movement of birds these two have been given wing tags as well as a metal ring. As with the colour ring the wing tags allows people to identify individual birds without having to recapture them.

BJ and BK

The birds were then returned to the nest via the rope and bag system, and with the mozzies now becoming almost unbearable we made a swift exit and headed for home.

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