For the last few months the sparrow hawk nest has become progressively noisier. When the two young began to sit out on the branches they would call out for their mother, who always seemed to be on the hunt. As their breakfast thrush became a distant memory around noon, the two would become desperately hungry and call out incessantly. Then mother would arrive, low over the hedgerows, with an attendant ball of fluff in her undercarriage.
More recently, as the chicks became fully fledged and difficult to tell apart from mother in anything but colour and of course airborne alacrity, she would feed them by calling to them as she approached. Their fledging wood stands on the far side of the valley from home, they would wake us each morning. By listening out for her it would be possible to witness many of these ariel handovers. They took place over the hay meadow, her swooping right up in the sky, them coming out to meet her. When they were nearly upon her she would cast the dead bird, allowing it to tumble to the earth, unless either young would be quick enough to catch it. Win or lose the young were always disciplined to return to the sycamore canopy to wait for the next chance.
This morning she arrived as normal but without a talonful of feathers and warm meat that meant another dead starling. Her call was instantly recognisable but very different in tone. This family nest here every year but I have never been lucky enough to see this moment before. She was calling them to come out hunting with her and I knew the valley would become quiet for another year. With these three now on the wing, no small bird is safe.