A HOBBY falcon was cruising overhead. He swung this way, then to the other wide. He was watching something below. He reminded me of a kestrel which might hang about for minutes having spotted a vole or shrew far below.
Why was the hobby ‘waiting on’ so persistently? No, he isn’t a kestrel I kept hearing myself saying at the back of my mind.
Just look how sharp and finely pointed those wings are. So are the wings of a kestrel. But look how swept back, like a peregrine.
The wings of the hobby resemble an Arabian knife, a dirk. They seem to split the air open as though it was a cushion. But why is he hanging about over this glade in the downland woods? I just kept quiet and watched.
It is the only way to see anything. Just watch and wait. Something is sure to happen, something that always surprises you.
The sunlight lit patches of leaves but there were deep shadows between. Something kept flickering in the corner of my eye.
At these moments you always know that if you take your eye off the main chance to see something else, you will lose both.
Then all at once, the hobby shut his wings and fell like a brick. Straight down into my glade.
One second he had looked as small as a high up swift, the next he was as big as a pigeon falling to your gun possibly to land on your head.
Just at the moment he should have struck the ground, his hundred mile an hour U turn twenty yards away was almost unbelievable, except that I had seen it performed before.
That had been in 1965 when a hobby snatched a meadow brown butterfly off the tops of the grass stems in Kingley Vale. Today the target had been that flicker in the sun in the corner of my eye. A broad-bodied chaser.
I confirmed the identification seconds later as I watched the hobby return on the upswing to his pitch high above. His head curled under his body to the yellow legs and the prize was gripped tight in his claws.
Riding the wind in a steady glide, swinging slightly from side to side, this little falcon which had come all the way from Africa- perhaps a partner of one of the six pairs known to breed in Sussex each year - he plucked his catch as he would a small bird.
I saw the small tinsel wings of the broad-bodied chaser flutter back down on to the other side of the glade.
There was no breeze, no air-drift, one of the latticed wings landed on the grass.
The male dragonfly, a common insect on the garden ponds, had been searching for any pool, or even cattle trough where he might attract down the female with her brown body.
He had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. I, on the other hand, had been in the right place at the right time.