This morning, I was gently woken from my slumbers by the tell-tale sound of a mug of tea being placed on my bedside table. Our lass had braved the chill air and beaten me to the kettle.
As she opened the bedroom curtains, the first thing to greet my wife was a dusting of snow. Not a blanket, as some parts of the country had seen, but a lacy white veil, softening some features and highlighting others. The second thing to greet her as she stood gazing out into the wintry scene, was a flurry of activity as a Sparrowhawk flew into the garden, hurtling with undiminished speed into the Hawthorn tree and falling out of the other side into a Kerria bush.
Our lass's initial exclamation was sufficient to bring me to a full state of awareness and I struggled from my horizontal position in my own flurry of duvet and pillows. To the accompaniment of shrill and strident alarm calls from the local bird population, the hawk fluttered through the bush to the ground and landed behind the Hawthorn. In the low light, it was difficult to make out what was going on, but it seemed that the raptor had made a successful kill and was now hiding its victim beneath spread wings. A Magpie sat in a nearby Willow, firing out its staccato bursts of alarm, but the finches and tits were keeping well out of the way.
The Sparrowhawk continued to struggle, turning this way and that, tumbling out onto the lawn, as it sought to despatch its prey. A pair of binoculars had miraculously turned up in my wife's hands and she was able to make out a very distressed Starling, bill raised defiantly at the hawk. Then, bizarrely, dozens of Black-headed Gulls appeared from nowhere, flocking above the garden, presumably drawn in by the possibility of some easy scavenging. The hawk now had a better grip on the Starling, minimising the threat of that stabbing bill, and was busy plucking the unfortunate bird, irrespective of its life signs.
A few Blue Tits emerged from their hiding places and bravely flew to the Hawthorn, presumably safe in the knowledge that they wouldn't be on the hawk's radar for a while. Meanwhile, the hawk was now satisfied that it had subdued its breakfast and sat, wings still spread, considering the options. It was out in the open, but near cover and the focus of a great deal of attention, so when a cat suddenly appeared on the fence close by, it took to the air and, with a few wing beats, disappeared from view.
We clambered back into bed, musing upon what we had just seen and contentedly slurping tea. Our lass was still holding the binoculars (i.e. in bed, which is a bit disappointing for a bloke's ego!), and from a warm comfortable position, she was able to peruse the flocks of finches in the tops of nearby trees. We pondered whether a successful kill was more likely to mean that the Sparrowhawk would return, but with the number of bird feeders in the surrounding gardens, I didn't think this was likely.
However, whilst cooking breakfast, another shout brought me rushing into the lounge, to see what was occurring. My wife had spotted the hawk again, as it sat on the fence at the rear of the garden. With a slight increase in daylight, this was a better view and we were able to identify her as a female. She looked about keenly, turning her head this way and that, as she scanned the hedges and bushes for prey, giving me enough time to rush for the camera and capture a few images. She flew a short distance to perch on a Honeysuckle, somewhat unsubtly directly behind our feeders! The diagnostic pale stripe above her eye and the grey barring on her chest were now obvious and we enjoyed a few more seconds of quality Sparrowhawk time, before she took off once more and was gone. Much to the relief of our more usual garden visitors.