1999: Ravens, Cotswold Water Park

Raven Sculpture

Birds change throughout the year. They move around; they behave differently; they even alter their looks. Their surroundings change too. I’m collecting, possibly for a book, a series of personal vignettes to illustrate some of the key points in each month. This one, from September 15, looks fine for an autumn sketch (and it sort of cheats to bring me to my 100th post here):

“I have a fixed set of locations that I choose from at Cotswold Water Park: always pit 34 to check the log book in the hide; generally pit 68 for the waders; 44 for the wintering smew; and so on. I fancied a change and it was pitiful really to ignore vast areas of the park.

“So, I trotted off round the lakes opposite the nature reserve. Allegedly number 79, being worked to the north of them, held waders and sand martins. Well, not this time, although I was probably too late for the martins. No, the jaunt only provided the mini-excitement of hearing a tern when I thought they had left the area.

“However, I decided on the way back to return via the nature reserve. Finally I hit pay dirt. A couple of large birds circling a way off above the horizon could only be buzzards. I got the binoculars on to them but something did not seem quite right. Yes, they seemed to be riding thermals. Yes, they were big. Yes, the tips of their wings were fingered. But where was the dihedral — on either of them? They were both holding their wings pretty flat, which was odd.

“Of course, I started having absurd notions of honey buzzards but these birds were way too dark and I was about ready to settle for being fooled by a couple of outsized crows – again. Then one of them spread its tail into that diamond formation and I had the answer. Ravens. The obvious answer really but it was so unexpected for the extremities of Gloucestershire.

“I got some exciting confirmation of their size when a falcon started harrassing them. I could tell from the general shape that this was no kestrel, so I was left with peregrine. A peregrine would have been about the same size as a crow, but this bird was considerably smaller than the two corvids. In fact it looked rather foolhardy, which was the first time I had ever thought that about a peregrine.

“A quick visit to pit 68 rounded off my visit and provided me with an early golden plover. It also absurdly produced my first sparrowhawk for the park. I still find it odd that I can see some pretty unusual birds at locations before certain more common ones ever show themselves.”

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