Last weekend I revisited one of the haunts of my youth – a place called Steart or Stert. And I’m going with Stert as I’ve always known it as ‘Sturt’ rather than ‘Steert’.
As spotty teenagers at Bristol Grammar School we would, under the guardianship of masters Derek Lucas and Tony Warren, make two autumn high-tide early-morning visits to this location to see the wader roost. Being the Severn Estuary, it was not quite as spectacular as The Wash or the Ribble or The Humber but we saw lots of waders and learned to identify them and enjoyed it immensely. And there were a few rarities too – I saw my first buff-breasted sandpiper and my first pomarine skua on such trips.
Last weekend, I walked down the lane through the fields with their hawthorn bushes and calling chiffchaffs. A few curlews were in the fields too. Instead of shuggling along the ground to creep up behind the shingle bank I now had to sit in a hide – not a brilliantly positioned hide, and not with brilliantly positioned windows. But as I sat there the memories came back of looking over a very similar scene on many distant mornings. The large numbers of shelducks were similar and looking across the River Parrett, Burnham-on-Sea looked little changed in the distance. The common but not very numerous waders were still dunlin, ringed plover and curlew with a large flock of distant oystercatchers, a few lapwings and some bar-tailed godwits.
A peregrine, which would have been a rarer sight 40 years ago, cruised up and down the shore occasionally having a half-hearted stoop at a passing gull but then it clearly saw something that really took its fancy and it was off. Moving quickly with a few powerful wingbeats it hit a bar-tailed godwit and grasped it in its talons. I’ve never seen a peregrine catch anything before, this was a first for me.
But as the peregrine’s flight took it over the estuary, the godwit was not firmly held and it fell into the water. I couldn’t see the godwit anymore and the peregrine circled overhead. I wondered what would happen next – would the peregrine have to give up? was there some way of retrieving its prey? But after a few moments the godwit flew from the water and tried to make its escape. The peregrine was off in pursuit.
The two birds climbed in the air, with Steep Holm behind them, and Brean Down – how glad I am that there will be no barrage built between the two! Given that it had been grabbed by the falcon and then spent some time in the sea, the godwit seemed in fine form – it out-climbed the peregrine several times and eventually, perhaps sensing some lack of commitment or perhaps ability in its foe, it sped off towards Hinkley Point nuclear power station unpursued.
It was a thrilling interlude for me to watch and I wondered what had been going through the peregrine’s mind and that of its intended prey? Something, surely, must have approached a feeling of irritation or disappointment in the mind of the falcon, and something of relief and terror in that of the godwit? Or was this scene played out by two automata and my thoughts were the only ones really engaged by the battle for life above the muddy Stert sands?
Who knows? And who can tell? Certainly not the immature Sabine’s gull which fed along the shoreline throughout my visit of recaptured memories and a first peregrine deathless kill.[registration_form]