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Wildlife Diary: March 2011- Peregrine sees off Buzzard

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Hawk-eyed artist spots a fast moving fracas

Hawk-eyed artist spots a fast moving fracas

Wildlife artist Robert Fuller casts his eyes skyward to watch a battle of the peregrines and buzzard as featured in Malton Gazette & Herald March 2, 2011. Click here to see article on the Gazette and Herald website

I WAS in my studio painting one bright sunny day last week when I looked up and saw a female peregrine soaring above. As it flew down the valley towards Thixendale I was reminded of a snowy morning in December. I had been out photographing hares and had spotted a female peregrine falcon circling overheard. She was calling out in distress and her raucous screech shattered the stillness of the morning. She then began swooping across the fields in a very unusual way.

After a minute or so I spotted what all the fuss was about. There was another peregrine on the ground about 100 yards into the field. I got out my binoculars and saw that it was a male. It is very unusual to see a peregrine on the ground, especially in snow and so I knew it must have a kill.Peregrines often hunt together, even in winter, and it seems that she was warning her mate that I was about - she had spotted me despite the cunning white camouflage disguise I was wearing.

I watched for a while as her calls got more and more desperate. But it wasn't until she skimmed above him for the third time that he finally took flight, struggling to take off with his prey in his talons.Through the binoculars I could just make out that it was a pigeon. Peregrine falcons are a remarkable success story in this country. They faced extinction in the 1960s, but now almost every quarry in the country has peregrines nesting there. They can also be found on sea cliffs and even in cities, on tall buildings or under bridges - in fact anywhere that there is a plentiful supply of feral pigeons.

As I watched this pair set off together across the bright, clear-blue sky, suddenly, apparently from nowhere, a buzzard flew in from behind and made a grab for the pigeon. The male peregrine and buzzard locked talons and began tumbling alarmingly through the sky. As they did so they both lost hold of the pigeon. The male peregrine was unperturbed and simply broke away to follow the pigeon as it fell like a stone back to the deep snow on the ground.

He folded back his wings and dove into a full stoop, only pulling away at the last moment. He was going so fast as he pitched up back up into the sky that when he turned back to reclaim the pigeon he tumbled to the ground and landed in the snow, almost disappearing out of sight. A peregrine can reach speeds of 200km an hour when in a full, wind-whistling stoop. If you are close enough you can hear its wings ripping through the air.

This one shook the snow off his feathers, grabbed his pigeon and then set off smartly in the opposite direction. The fracas had not gone unnoticed by the female, who, being the larger of the two birds took care of the buzzard by setting on him in a series of spectacular stoops. The buzzard must have been hungry to have taken on the fastest bird in the world. But he was clearly out of his depth. As the female peregrine stooped in for a final attack, the buzzard turned upside down and put his talons out in the hope of stopping the onslaught.

It was a futile defence. As soon as he could, he took off. The female peregrine, pleased with herself, followed the male to take her share of the meal. After all that excitement I got back to the job of photographing hares. As I headed out onto the field I watched pigeon feathers blowing like tumbleweed across the snow.

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