The Goyt valley was very quiet this morning. Ray was out and about checking on his sheep, they are allowed back onto the hillside now that the landowners have decided that the heather won’t grow where sheep used to graze. There was a hint of rain in the air and a strong breeze. Lilly was on the long line. Yes its the end of the nesting season, but she has a habit of rounding sheep up, or chasing grouse across acres of moorland, and although she comes back it stresses me, so the long line makes both our lives easier. Anyway she is quite happy. It gives her a break from manic ball chasing, so instead she can sniff the different smells, occasionally looking back to me to say, come on, keep up. She gets frustrated by my habit of stopping to scan the skies for any sort of bird life. A couple of red grouse disturbed by both of us, flew lethargically from their cover and just made it across the path onto the bank. Then they scuttled into the grasses, giggling and clucking the way grouse do. A few swallows flew about. Stocking up on a few more insects before their long journey south. As we rounded the bend by the deep cutting where once trains would stop and refuel or take on water or do what ever they did, a kestrel appeared a hundred feet below. It was a male, and hung there, adjusting slightly its wings and tail feathers to enable it to stay there motionless.
Then another kestrel appeared, further up the valley, using the wind, reducing the effort required to stay airborne, wind hover is such a wonderful name. They both hunted, independently, but both were aware of the other. They worked the hillside, occasionally swooping low behind the brow of the hill of a slope to catch whatever they had seen scuttling in the undergrowth. Even Lilly sat next to me and watched, impressed almost by their skill and by their connection to their environment. These were the experts, the intelligentsia of the moors. Which meant of course that it wasn’t long before the local hooligans turn up. Three crows, breakfasted and bored seized the chance to mob one of the kestrels. She easily evaded their clumsy brutal attacks and after a couple of dives and swoops took refuge in one of the few trees to thrive on the wind swept hillside. The crows settled in the tree next door and shifted excitedly from branch to branch. One emboldened by the others jumped trees to sit on the branch below the female kestrel. Then the male appeared dashing around the trees, the crows distracted followed him, clumsily mobbing him, unaware that their previous target had now gracefully taken to the air again and was hunting the hillside.
The male after a few avoiding moves decided also that the trees were a good idea. Just when it looked as if the standoff was going to go on for a while there was an explosion of activity further down the valley and a pigeon, white and grey plumage standing out against the purple of the hillside dashed panic stricken, weaving this way and that with a peregrine inches from its tail. The trees were its salvation. It crashed into them, tumbled down through a couple of branches whilst the peregrine pulled effortlessly out of its dive and soared for a few minutes above the scene before gliding away to seek lunch elsewhere.
Lilly and I sat for a few minutes and took a breath. Then we carried on our way. As we walked up the track to the car park, the kestrels glided into view, unperturbed by the events earlier and noticeably free of crows.