CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Somerset Life today CLICK HERE

Urbanite

PUBLISHED: 17:24 09 September 2011 | UPDATED: 19:58 20 February 2013

Urbanite

Urbanite

The RSPB's Matt Brierley implores all visitors to Bath, and the city's residents for that matter, to pay special attention to one of the city's unnoticed but most regal of predators.

The RSPBs Matt Brierley implores all visitors to Bath, and the citys residents for that matter, to pay special attention to one of the citys unnoticed but most regal of predators. Photos Mark Fisher.


It was there when I finished the half marathon, glowering at me as I lay on the pavement in pain. It was there as my fast train from London to Bristol rumbled past in summer sunshine; there when I strolled down the river with a pocket full of blackberries and only my shadow for company, in low autumnal light. When it snowed, it watched as I warmed up with a hot chocolate from the Christmas markets, bundles of gifts in my arms.


I want to stop commuters as they pour out of the railway station past the Georgian terraces. I want to cry out to them to glance upwards. I want to point at the spire of St Johns and holler Youre missing it, its there now, and it can dive at 242 miles an hour!


Above the streets of Bath, where faith punctuates the skyline, an apex predator scans the heavens. Im really excited about it. Metaphorically, I want to join it on the rooftops and then shout about it.


You see, when I was little, in the 1980s, you couldnt glimpse up from your nine to five and see a peregrine falcon. A peregrine was, for me, a pilgrimage. I lived in Manchester; our nearest peregrines were an adventure away, on a lonely windswept granite crag where the invariable Lancastrian dampness gave the nodding cotton grass a glossy sheen. I remember it all so vividly; my duffle coat, squinting down the RSPB scope, feeling pressured to see the bird so as not to disappoint my enthusiastic granny.


Pretending to see it, leaving, confessing, returning, really seeing it. Thirty years later, those first glimpses are still indelibly etched in my mind, and the euphoric excitement doesnt seem to have ebbed; it has intensified.
It was, inarguably, a pivotal moment. A spark that ignited something. From then on my childhood mind became an encyclopaedic collection of accumulated peregrine factoids.


Accumulation, as it turns out, is a topical word for birds of prey, with 8 July 1967 their red letter day. Decrease in Eggshell Weight in Certain Birds of Prey may not sound like the snappiest title, but in that article a chap called Ratcliffe pieced it all together; organic pesticides accumulating in the food chain, top predators getting the biggest dose, eggshells thinning, eggshells breaking.


The moustached falcon sits on the edge of his Hawk and Owl Trust nest box, in his stripy grey and white trousers, unaware his species took a global stoop towards extinction. Hes back now, and in Bath hes embracing city living in a life so peppered with controversy, that if birdwatchers wrote gossip mags hed be splashed all over the front cover. The British Trust for Ornithology exposed his incestuous lifestyle. Son boots dad out of nest to shack up with mum! was plastered all over the birding forums, the peregrines pair for life fact debunked, along with the conventional wisdom that nature avoids inbreeding.


Next came the surprise dissection of his celebrity eating plan, all his gory dietary details picked apart in public.
Wed be approving of feral pigeon. But woodcock? Water rail? Little grebe? And with these three all nocturnal migrants, the Bath peregrines brought hunting by streetlight to the UK. Can we extend this behaviour to the trendy set RSPB celebrate outside Londons Tate Modern? Are the peregrine urbanites in Taunton, Chichester, Worcester, Bournemouth and Manchester night owls too?


Up and down Britain peregrines are rubbing shoulders with people. So, the countryside must be full, right? Wrong. The reason peregrines are in cities is that peregrines are good at living there.


Its all in the vision. Being hawk-eyed isnt just about starting a hunt from a mile away, with visual acuity four times that of ours, and a retina twice the thickness. Its not just about a peregrines fighter pilot goggles, a third eyelid called the nictitating membrane that keeps out dust on a dive. The real wow factor and here is my favourite falcon factoid of them all is that a peregrines eye processes light about four times more quickly than ours. So, it sees things four times more slowly. If youre going to top a G-Force of 25 as you pull out of a dive (an F-16 fighter pilot experiences nine), its pretty handy if you can perceive the world around you as moving at a different speed. What I really like about this fact, though and I think youll like it too is that it means peregrines can fly in between raindrops!


So, what we perceive as a citys hustle and bustle, to a peregrine, thats easy street. And pigeons are fast food. Sort of. Yes, peregrines are back from the brink; the fastest animal on the planet, coming soon to suburbia near you.


0 comments

More from Out & About

Simone Stanbrook-Byrne explores two villages on the Mendip Hills and the tranquil paths that link them

Read more
Thursday, October 4, 2018

Whatever the season, we love exploring Portishead!

Read more
Monday, October 1, 2018

Given to the people of Bath as a gift from a local benefactor 80 years ago, the tranquil Alice Park is thriving, as Chrissy Harris discovers

Read more
Friday, September 28, 2018

When a town can boast having three community orchards offering free fruit for all, you know you’ve arrived somewhere special. Laurence McJannet marches to Wellington for some culinary surprises

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

As the colder months draw in, and golden and red hues fill the trees, there’s nothing quite like gathering the family for a stroll through the countryside. Embrace the fresh air, wrap up warm and soak in the beauty of Somerset on these 10 autumn walks

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Steve Roberts traces the trials and tribulations behind the construction of a famous Bristol landmark

Read more
Friday, September 14, 2018

This month Andrea Cowan visits Withypool

Read more
Thursday, September 13, 2018

Crunchy leaves under foot, bracing walks in beautiful countryside and along the coast, cream teas in cosy tea rooms and charming pubs with roaring fireplaces – what’s not to love about autumn in the Somerset?

Read more
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A wander through Somerton’s streets reveals a perfectly preserved rural Somerset town, discovers Laurence McJannet

Read more
Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Take a family walk in Watchet, exploring both town and countryside, with Simone Stanbrook-Byrne

Read more
Tuesday, September 4, 2018

From beautiful gardens to iconic attractions, fascinating museums to family-friendly theme parks, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to a family day out in Somerset

Read more
Tuesday, August 28, 2018

There’s nothing more appealing than a row of picture-perfect properties in some of Somerset’s most beautiful locations. Which street is your favourite in the county?

Read more
Monday, August 20, 2018

Steve Roberts steps back in time to see how the Monmouth Rebellion impacted on our county

Read more
Thursday, August 16, 2018

Stephen Roberts explores a Somerset manor house packed with centuries of history

Read more
 
A+ South & South West

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

subscription ad


Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search