THIS PAGE IS FOR THE BIRDS OF PREY, a slightly confusing category, so I shall follow my Collins Bird Guide (2001 pbk edition, page 70). Two families concern us: the Accipitridae, or hawks, buzzards, eagles, kites, vultures and harriers. These have broad wings ending in spread primaries, suitable for soaring and gliding. Second are the Falconidae, or falcons. These have narrower wings with pointy tips suitable for fast, agile flying. Birds of Prey does not include owls.

I am not good at these birds and have started a page for them mainly because we have a regularly visiting pair of Hobbies more or less in our back yard. However, there are certainly Kestrels around, and I suspect there's another, bulkier hawk-like bird in the area whose fleeting appearances have made identification difficult.

Another tantalising sighting in summer 2005 was of some large soaring bird. To give an idea how far and how large, I was actually looking at a distant small plane through binos (nothing better to do over a late morning coffee!). The plane was several miles off, probably at about 3,000 ft (they're not supposed to go higher) against a backdrop of brightly lit cumulus in an otherwise clear sky. Near the plane, and far too distant to be seen without binos, was this large soaring black bird shape, which I was able to follow for some time. All the time I watched it -- perhaps two minutes -- it did not beat its wings. I wish I had known at the time to look for the broad forked tail that would have identified it as a Red Kite.

Hobby -- Falco subbuteo

2004: When a pair of Hobbies with a single youngster took up residence in the wood behind the house at the beginning of July 2004, I spent a lot of time over the next weeks trying to get near enough to make good recordings. At the time I didn't have advanced equipment, just a pair of Visivox mics plugged into a jukebox music player and recorder. Eventually the birds got used to me being around and would even come to see what I was up to in their "bush". Here are a couple of shortish recordings which demonstrate the calls they make. I think all three birds were around in both excerpts -- they were wheeling around quite close to where I was in full view on a woodland track.

Hobbies 1 344 kb, 128 kb/s mp3, 21.5 s

Hobbies 2 340 kb, 128 kb/s mp3, 21.5 s

As far as I could make out their day followed a regular pattern, with one, presumably the mother, remaining to guard the patch and the other two away for most of the day until about 7 pm, when there'd be a reunion. It was only much later, I think some time in September, that I spotted the expeditionary pair high in the sky above the house, obviously hunting insects. Some of the aerial acrobatics were absolutely spectacular. To watch they're very like a large Swift, but at one point one did what appeared to be an abrupt 90 turn at full speed. I couldn't believe my eyes -- the g-forces on the bird must have been huge! Anyway, I took it as confirmation that this was the male out with the youngster teaching it how to hunt. At this stage part of the diet would have been dragonflies, which appear in our area in enormous numbers in late summer and may be why these hobbies visit us. But were these two finding dragonflies 300 feet up?

2005: The next year we found the Hobby parents back in early June, though we didn't hear them subsequently despite regular checks. Here's a clip of our one encounter with them as it contains a different call from those heard above. The series of sharp taks after the initial mews are probably warning calls as these are the calls I'd often hear when first going into their patch. This is recorded with the Telinga mic and dish.

Hobbies 9 June 2005 630 kb, 128 kb/s mp3, 40 s

2006: The Hobbies were back in August 2006, though taking up residence in a different part of the wood. We saw them regularly into the autumn. Unfortunately I never got round to recording them, so I still don't have really good material. Less inclined to fly off than when we first met them, it's nice to think they might now regard us as familiar visitors to their wood.

I have some quite good camcorder shots taken with a telephoto lens in 2004, so one day there may be some clips if I can only find out how to make a movie with acceptable compression!

2007: We heard the Hobbies early this year, some time in May. Since then we haven't heard or seen them apart from one sighting in the first week of July, when a single Hobby -- unmistakeable with its large swift-like appearance -- flew high over the house from the direction of the wood.

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