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NATURE A sparrow hawk and a pine marten visit

Outdoor Living
Distinguished (if a little messy) guests


Country sights and sounds
John Shelley


Now, I am not averse to sharing my boat with others, although I do feel the need to be a little discerning as to who I share it with. Over the last week I have had two distinguished guests. Both have left their mark.
The first individual has paused to rest upon the gunnels just long enough to eat his lunch. I haven’t met up with him yet, but I know he has visited a number of times, for he has the unpleasant habit of leaving his empty wrappers behind. It is not crisp packets or half-eaten sandwiches that adorn the wooden seats; there are no empty cola tins here. No, my visitor is none other than Mr Sparrow Hawk, who evidently feels that out of all the boats along the bank it is mine that suits him the most.
That there are finer ones there can be no doubt, even some given a new coat of paint in the near past. No others, perhaps, quite bear the resemblance to an old log as mine does. And so it is my boat that serves as a picnic table, upon which have been left the remains of small birds, each no more than a skeleton wrapped within an untidy pile of soft feathers, together with a pair of wingtips, a pair of legs, and half a head from which the brain has been plucked.
The remains are those of young starlings snatched from their kindergarten roost nearby. Last night there were only a dozen or so of these gregarious birds in the reeds; the thousands that were there only days ago having departed for an area of greater safety further around the lake shore. With each day that passes more and more starlings are leaving their nests and joining the communal roost. These inexperienced fledglings make easy pickings for the predators.
The scent of bloodied boat boards has proved attractive to another of our local residents, one who doesn’t bring his lunch with him but who prefers to clear up the scraps left behind by others. I haven’t yet made the acquaintance of this fellow either, although I have learned enough of his habits to be quite sure (although not certain) of his identity.
He leaves clues behind him in the form of droppings, which I find deposited at the site of each bird kill. He is marking his territory, as well he might. After all, it is not every day that one finds a free feed. As long as the sparrowhawk keeps coming to the same place this predator turned scavenger will want no competition for the snacks that are available.
And so he defecates, leaving with his faeces a complicated scent message that others of his kind will easily interpret. There are within details of health and strength that would be reflected in his determination to defend his territory.
He is a pine marten; the purple-stained droppings contain a lot of seeds and have a mild, sweetish smell about them. Another pine marten would be wise to keep travelling. There can be no profit in fighting over a plot of ground at this time of year. Well armed with sharp teeth and claws, a marten will put up a stout defence of his adopted home. A fight will inevitably result in bodily injury and there are countless acres of available territory with good hunting and no trouble involved.
I took a trout from the lake last night, not the big fellow I have been looking for, but a respectable fish nonetheless. He took a dry fly in the moonlight and was filleted past midnight. The bones will go back to the waterside where my marten will find them. If I feed him well he will grow in confidence. Eventually he will provide an interesting spectacle for my other guests, invited ones, some of whom spend the better part of their lives moving along sterile streets, going from apartment to office block at one end of the day and in a reverse direction when their day is done, finding their own peace somehow.
‘Lucky you’ they say, when they watch the sun set over the water. I point out that there is a house for rent up the road and another for sale around the corner. It is a hard call. There may be security in those city streets. At least here we know our neighbours: Hawk and Marten, Predators and Scavengers.