Visitation from a sparrowhawk

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Image by Meneer Zjeroen

Image by Meneer Zjeroen

There is a tree right outside my office at work and someone in the office above me has bird feeders on their window ledge that drop feed down on to my window ledge. This means I usually have a lot of birds right outside my window (and inside it too if I leave it open too wide!). With all the birds around there’s usually a lot of twittering and cooing going on, which is why I looked up from my desk today, wondering why it was so quiet outside. Immediately I saw the reason for the silence – a sparrowhawk.

It was sat on a branch about two metres from my office window, its head turned to one side and its yellow eye staring at me. It had its front towards me and I could see the brown barring on its chest, turning to a clean white towards its legs, one of which I saw it tuck up inside the white, fluffy feathers.

Seeing it there, so close, was a startling experience. It seemed so strange and out of place. It wasn’t afraid of me either, it didn’t so much as flinch when I moved, and this only made its presence more unsettling.

With all the precision and good timing you’d expect from a bird of prey, the sparrowhawk showed up during my lunch hour so I was able to spend a bit of time observing it. Mostly it stood still, looking straight ahead or to one side. Occasionally a small bird would venture into the tree, perhaps unknowingly, and the sparrowhawk would follow its movements with its hawk eyes. It was able to turn and contort its neck in some interesting angles, including 180°. It would also occasionally stretch out its wings or legs. I suspect it may have just eaten and was digesting.

As I watched it I thought of J.A. Baker’s description of the sparrowhawk:

Sparrowhawks were always near me in the dusk, like something I meant to say but could never quite remember. Their narrow heads glared blindly through my sleep. I pursued them for many summers, but they were hard to find and harder to see … They lived a fugative, guerilla life … They were a banished race of beautiful barbarians, and when they died they could not be replaced.

Glaring, fugative, guerilla, banished, beautiful, barbarian, irreplaceable… All these words seem perfectly to capture the bird I saw today and yet it was more than that. There is something about the eye of an animal that seems to burn it into the brain. Seeing the sparrowhawk’s yellow eye has made an indelible tattoo of that bird in my mind. I have been unable to shake it off. The more I think about it now, the more mysterious and strange it seems. It was so very real and present. It pronounced its presence with absence and stood tall and proud on the branch of the tree. Yet it also seemed ghostly, unearthly and unreal.

A visitation is an official visit. The word seems perfectly to capture the sparrowhawk’s visit today. I felt like it was giving me a stamp of approval. After all, why else would a sparrowhawk show up unannounced in a spot where only I could see it?

Sadly I couldn’t get a picture of it, but I did do a quick sketch of it, which is so bad it’s worth sharing (there’s a reason I’m a writer and not an artist):

2013-08-08 13.17.22

Eventually hunger got the better of me and I went off to Boots to get a meal deal. I was as quick as I could be and I hoped it would still be there when I got back, but it was gone. Even its absence felt like a presence.

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