Recently, on three consecutive evenings, there was on the television a programme encouraging us to do a bit of plane spotting. I have always found it difficult to recognise the various passenger planes that fly over my home which is directly under the flightpath to London Stansted and Luton. I see ‘stuff’ flying in and out at all times of the day. The TV programme tried to help me spot up to three dozen species of metal birds. The presenters were awful and seemed to know little more than I did about the subject. I am sure that if these planes were coated with feathers, I would have no problem with identifying them. However, whilst gazing up into the clear blue sky, I did see species other than the metal ones. Common buzzards are fairly regularly seen overhead and occasionally I see a red kite or a peregrine but I did not expect to see a goshawk gliding in a thermal. A great spot. Now was that made by Boeing, Douglas or us Europeans?
I have always been wary of goshawks. When I was an Inspector for DEFRA’s Bird of Prey unit, I had to check the rings on all Schedule 1 birds kept in captivity. Goshawks always presented problems. Birds of prey bred in captivity have a close ring on their leg with a special number which, more or less, proves that the bird in question was not taken from the wild. I well remember visiting a keeper who specialised in breeding goshawks. This particular bird that I was inspecting was a female, a large, evil-looking brute of a bird. It was the keeper’s responsibility to collect the hawk and show me the ring on its leg so that I| could check its number. My heart sank when the keeper said that it was in a large aviary and had not been handled for over a year. Nevertheless, he agreed to catch this monster of a bird. He disappeared into his kitchen and emerged wearing boots, a thick full-length coat, massive gloves, goggles and a crash helmet! He also carried a dustbin lid. Of dear! He entered the cage, the bird went mad and screamed abuse at him followed by an almighty scuffle and then calmly he invited me into the aviary. The keeper had his delinquent bird pinned against the back wall by the dustbin lid. “It’s okay”, he said, “the ‘gos’ won’t move, it’s got my thumb.” Indeed, one of the bird’s large talons was sticking out from his thick glove. I wiped the blood from the ring (and thumb) and checked its number. I was then requested to prise (with pliers) the large black talon from his thumb. The keeper must have been in excruciating pain but he remained calm. Not so the goshawk, its glaring eyes putting the fear of God into me. I was advised to leave the aviary and the keeper released his bird. The bird was frantic, flying up and down the aviary at great speed with his keeper defending himself skilfully with a metal shield. With the bird at the far end of the aviary, he nipped out (how can you ‘nip out’ dressed like that?) I dressed his throbbing thumb, shared a cup of tea with him, thanked him for the entertainment and left.
In the last jottings, I mentioned painted lady butterflies and of my hope that some would appear in this area. I am delighted that several critics of my scribblings have reported seeing this very beautiful butterfly. Two people have in fact had a painted lady, the butterfly variety of course, enter into their home. Luckily, ace butterfly expert, Richard Stewart, for whom I am always indebted has recorded painted ladies in our park on several occasions recently with ten on the 30th – magnificent! There was a mass arrival of these super insects at Felixstowe, so yes it is one of those exceptional years.