When you are showing people your local patch, you want the place to perform. Especially if you happen to be managing the aforementioned patch. And even more especially if the people are not really wildlifers. Something esoteric and subtle won’t really cut it. You want to show them something amazing…
First there was a kestrel. Then a buzzard flew beneath it. And then a marsh harrier — a bird, as I told them, that had went extinct in this country in the 19th century, recovered and then in the 20th century was reduced to a single pair – entered the arena. I – and the birds – had their attention.
And it began. The kestrel vanished, but the buzzard, cruising on in that nonchalant buzzardy way, found itself under attack. The marsh harrier, presumably protecting a nest, a female and some eggs, began to dive-bomb the buzzard. Height is your edge in all forms of aerial combat: both birds knew that better than any spitfire pilot.
Again and again the harrier attacked. A second buzzard appeared: they too had a nest, in the trees not far away. But undaunted, the harrier continued to attack both, plunging and immediately, adroitly regaining the height he had lost. The buzzards were driven back. Victory.
But only a temporary one. One of the buzzards came back, thinking the coast was clear. Not with this harrier: it came wheeling back in a long, hard-flown semi-circle to launch a full attack once again, and the combat continued for another ten minutes across the coliseum of the sky until, at last, out-turned, out-manoeuvred and out-flown entirely, the buzzard retreated. And then –
And then another marsh harrier appeared, another male, another bird with a nest and a feeding territory to protect: perhaps the combat had carried the first male too far over the adjoining bit of hunting estate. The two males – each one silver, sable and chestnut – continued their combat until the demarcation question had been utterly settled in a great feat of wingmanship. What, as the first harrier must have said as he returned to his nest, a morning. Meanwhile my guests went back to Highbury Fields with new ideas of life’s possibilities.