Seen from the open peak of the hill, a female sparrowhawk rises above the massed trees of the common. She is slowly spiralling, riding the warm air coming off the sunlit pastures of Home Farm. The sky, balmy blue, carries streaks of cirrus which enable the leisure of her ascent to be gauged: two hundred feet, three, three hundred and fifty, four; and still she climbs.
This is one of the ways a sparrowhawk hunts. It’s a precise equation, the balance between altitude and acuity. The higher she goes, the more ground she can scan, but the harder it is to discern her prey. At five hundred feet, her eyes are still doing their job perfectly. Her vision is not quite as capable as that of the watcher a mile away, but he does have a pair of ten-power binoculars to mark her progress upwards.
Six hundred feet now. The hunter’s attitude subtly changes. She has at last found something possible below; and commits to the plunge. Her wings are brought in close, held clenched. She is making a brutal, racking fall, accelerating down from the sun at an angle of eighty-five degrees.
Fifty crazy feet above the pasture, maybe even lower, travelling at sixty or seventy miles an hour, she lurches out of her stoop. Her flailing wings are glimpsed; her talons stretch for the prey, a desperately speeding lark or thrush.
She has missed. The swerving pursuit continues across the field, becomes half-hearted.
Above the hedgerow the hawk gives up. Without seeming to slow, she enters the foliage of one of the trees at the edge of the common, and there abruptly vanishes.