Sparrowhawk nesting…

I’ve had a suspicion that we had a pair of sparrowhawks nesting in a particular area of woodland nearby.  Mainly because I’d had several sightings in this one particular area.  A week ago I spent a couple of hours watching the area but, though I saw an adult bird I couldn’t spot a nest.  There we a number of possibilities but I couldn’t tell if they were old grey squirrel dreys or a sparrow hawk nest and I couldn’t see any birds (or squirrels) to confirm.  

Yesterday, I saw another sparrowhawk dart out from the same area.  Time for another go.  Wellies on (it’s more or less an impassable bog) I spent a further couple of hours very quietly quartering the area looking for signs.  Eventually, under one particularly scrappy nest on a very tall but spindly scots pine I found quite a lot of white droppings but no signs of uneaten food or pellets.  There looked to be something in the nest so I retreated about 100m.  Some time later I spotted a single downy head but no sign of adults.  Further substantial time passed and I heard then saw an adult bird - brilliant fierce yellow eyes.  But it it was obvious that I’d been spotted. Even though I wear very inconspicuous clothes, gloves and head / face cover, if I can see it, it definitely can see me.  Especially any movement I make.  I retreated quietly but obviously back a further 200m, well beyond sight in the woodland and then carefully circled round 180 degrees.  

When I returned back some good time later the adult had left but there were now two chicks in the nest.  Gradually two more appeared; I could see four chicks in the nest. All were looking good and well developed. The four chicks were ranged in size as is normal with raptors.  Quite special to see such a good brood, especially given the damp cool weather we have had of late.  

Now, unfortunately, though the brood is doing well, the nest is really high (10-12m up - that’s about 1.5 houses high) in the tree and its not got the best visibility to it.  The nest is actually difficult to see as there are a lot of branches and twigs above and around it.  I could move 10 paces and completely loose the tree and nest in clutter.  Lighting is near atrocious.  The ground is boggy and strewn with logs and hidden mini gullies; a real recipe for twisting an ankle but a perfect spot for a nest if you are an acrobatic flier.  

Nevertheless, early this morning I returned with a small hide and camera and I installed myself in just about the only spot that gets a moderately clear view with morning light kissing the nest.  This time I was properly hidden and the adults were not concerned and I managed to get a few photos as a record.  Unfortunately, none are of of the four chicks together as many times they were scattered about or hunkered down.   But it’s stunning and a privilege to be able to watch these birds.  In the several hours I was there, the adults brought in three or four birds for the chicks.  They seen to be well fed as there was no clamouring or fighting for food.      

I’m not going to put these in the portfolio - they aren’t quite good enough but I thought them interesting enough to share.  Taking these was right at the limit of practicality for me.  They are taken on a Nikon D500 with a Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 plus a 1.4 teleconverter at f/8 and ISO3200.  Tripod mounted (Gitzo GT3532LS and Uniqball head).  Lighting is poor, lots of shade, high contrast and some bright backlit areas of sky thrown in.  Plus the angle up from the ground is about 40 degrees (btw that’s really uncomfortable inside a small hide remaining very still for a few hours concentrating of focus and exposure).  It’s very hard to get critically sharp focus at the best of times with this combination in low light of a small target but it was also gently swaying about in a light breeze.  In the end I manually focussed as it was impossible to know if the camera would pick up a twig as the tree swayed.    

I’ll be back to enjoy watching but I doubt to photograph as this spot is never going to provide the right conditions for a really good image.