Close Encounter

Cycling into Bigtown yesterday I found myself trailing behind a bird of prey – I never got quite a good enough look at it to be sure but I think it was probably a sparrowhawk. It was flying low, low enough to skim the surface of the road, following each undulation as if it was tethered to its shadow. Every so often it would flick itself upwards and over the dyke, probably hoping to catch some small bird unawares, using the road as its secret passageway between the fields. It was fast – faster than I could pedal – and had it not paused every so often, perching up on a gate post almost as if it was waiting for me, I would never have caught it up. As it was I found myself cranking to keep up with it for well over a mile, caught up in the wonder of the moment, and hoping desperately that no car would come roaring along towards us.*

I was reminded of it again this morning, sweeping home from the papershop with the wind behind me. Some days when the wind takes you and the road turns downhill, you just fly – adjusting your weight a little here, tilting a knee out a little there, to keep the bike on course without resorting to the brakes. And I wondered whether somewhere deep in that bird’s brain as it scythed along the road there was something of the same satisfaction I was feeling, alive in that moment. Doing something and doing it well, perfectly in control, swift and silent and sure.


* I don’t know if this is a normal sparrowhawk tactic, but on a busier road (and by busier I mean one with more than one car an hour on it) it must surely be a risky one. I hope that its reflexes and eyesight are as good as they say they are – good enough that it can get out of the way of any oncoming cars. I really don’t want to come across a sad pile of feathers on the road, all that remains of a bird that had given me such a glorious show.


7 Responses to Close Encounter

  1. Andy in Germany says:

    You could be right. I’ve watched peregrines in the forest diving and looping for no apparent reason: it looks like they are doing it for the sheer fun of it.
    There’s a German word for this called “Funktionsfreude” (I think) which translates as ‘the joy felt by something or someone doing eactly what they were designed to do’.
    German is a much happier language than people think, although we make each word do a lot of work.

  2. disgruntled says:

    That’s a brilliant word

  3. commuterjohn says:

    I watched one once swooping in across the garden and it made one hell of a crash as it flew into the conservatory. It flew off with a few ruffled feathers and probably a headache but seemed ok.
    Not sure of its chances in avoiding a car windscreen though.

  4. Charles says:

    What a brilliant word. Precisely describes the feeling you experience when you do something well. Jackdaws play in high winds because they can, and I have seen seals surfing in Namibia. They line up in the waves, half a dozen or so, come streaking in then turn around and do it again. They were not fishing, just enjoying themselves.

  5. disgruntled says:

    @john – so much for their fabled eyesight
    @Charles – it is good, isn’t it?

  6. welshcyclist says:

    Sadly, I came upon two such piles of feathers on my commute home a week or so ago. They were on the opposite side of the road , so I turned around to have a closer look, it was a very sad sight indeed. The first was a peregrine falcon, and about three yards ahead of it was a hobby. I can only assume that the falcon was chasing the hobby along the road, close to the ground towards a fast bend, and in the line of oncoming traffic. These two beautiful birds of prey destroyed doing what birds of prey do. I know the corner well, they didn’t have a chance, we have maniacs on the road a plenty hereabouts these days. A corner I have to be careful on even on the right side of the road. I have to admit it upset me, I’ve seen both before, but only at distance. Unfortunately, the road I commute on shows the toll too often, dead badgers, foxes, rabbits, even the occasional otter, buzzards, owls, and all kinds of smaller birds. It’s bad enough we take away nature’s habitats, even worse that we can’t share the one we have created.

  7. disgruntled says:

    That is sad. It would have been an amazing sight to come across those birds had they been alive

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