Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The Last Splash....

(Following on from CalCun Rock)

I’m still reeling from the direct hit of Knot dropping, I look around to see what has caused the panic, but I already know. I’m just after confirmation.
I have watched Knots long enough both at home and abroad to recognise this reaction from the flock.
It balloons up from the flats, it looks like someone has inflated the flock.
Scant seconds earlier it was flat on the floor. There it looked two dimensional, it only had depth and width. Now it is 3D, it rolls around the fjord like a tornado. The noise is breathtaking, wing beats and alarm calls mix to a cacophony.
I look away to find the predator, its first dive was unsuccessful so it has wheeled around for another go. I locate it as it winds itself up for another dive from above the flock.
It stoops into the flock, the Knot dive for the floor and twist into a long stringy flock a few feet from the rocks. The Peregrine is bearing down on them with all the intent of a starving migrant freshly arrived on its breeding grounds, it is feet from the terrified waders now.
Then it is on them, I lose it amongst the birds, their alarm calls getting shriller, their manoeuvres ever more desperate. (Looking back after the event I notice that the Peregrine is amongst the flock in the following picture, a third of the way in from the left and two thirds up the flock)
Again it misses, the flock comes around and flies towards then over me...
...before making a sharp right turn the Peregrine can’t follow. Instead it gains height, resets itself and goes again. This time it clatters into the heart of the flock and knocks four birds into the water below.
The main flock wheels off left but the Peregrine is only interested in the ones it has separated from the retreating mass. I can see them struggling in the shallow water. Two get airborne and sneak off low towards the head of the fjord. The Peregrine darts at one that is swimming in a blind panic but it won’t take it from the surface of the water, it obviously is concerned about getting its plumage wet.
It zooms up 50 feet above the 2 stricken Knots to consider its next move. I have lost sight of the remainder of the flock, I am transfixed by the struggle in front of me. Then the Knot on the right makes a fatal error, I can see it come to the wrong decision. A few feet in front of it there is a seaweed covered rock protruding several centimetres from the water. It starts to swim towards what it thinks is safety, it looks injured or perhaps waterlogged from the crash into the water. I’m looking at it thinking “not the rock, stay in the water” but I can see what it is going to do, its mind is made up and the inevitable is going to happen. The Peregrine anticipates this too and prepares to strike.
The Knot splashes its way to the rock and hauls itself out. Less than a second later there is its last splash as the falcon swoops and takes it. A swift twist of the neck and it is all over.
The Peregrine takes its meal off to the side of the fjord, out of sight. Silence descends across the mudflats. The atmosphere is strange, a little subdued. I stop and think about what has just happened. Fair enough the Peregrine has to eat, but I was struck by the palpable terror that I could sense from the flock. It was an amazing thing to witness at such close quarters. Eventually the Knots return to the flats and start to feed.
We collect a bit more data but it is tricky as the birds are very restless. We trudge back towards the bank, crossing a grassy plateau in the mud. Here we come across the place the Peregrine ate its dinner.
We all stand around in a circle, like mourners at a funeral. There isn’t much left. Both legs, some feathers and a breast bone is all we find. A few feathers and a leg are taken for DNA analysis then we wander off leaving the odd downy feather quivering in the breeze.
The more time I spend with these birds the more I love them.
Next time, a guest blogger on From the Muddy Banks of the Dee....

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