The Sparrowhawk of Dodd Wood3 minute read

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For my latest piece of nature writing, I took out my trusted Pocket Mountains Lake District walking guide and opted for a hike up Dodd where I spot a sparrowhawk on the move.

The Sparrowhawk of Dodd Wood

As I start the ascent of the forested fell-side of Dodd, my spirits are at once raised by the earthy and resinous scents that suffuse the forest.

The air is moist, the humidity approaching 100 per cent, and although it does not rain, the footpath on which I walk is effectively a stream, a stream that unites with the nearby beck.

Evergreens are not the only trees to call this place home. As my altitude increases, a good number of beech trees add to the scene, their wet, russet leaves, now long cast by the wind, carpet the now-broader footpath as far as my eye can see.

Sure enough, cold, colourless droplets start descending through the air, their coolness, at this stage, more than welcome, for despite it being now winter, the weather is, although grey and wet, rather mild.

I soon find myself in a gulley ambling along a narrow, shaded trail, a trail heavily enfolded by young coniferous trees. Their branches criss-cross the airspace above the path so that I must incorporate the occasional duck and side-step on my merry way. This is, however, far from an annoyance; on the contrary, getting up close to these needle-covered marvels makes me feel more intimately connected to the environment that surrounds me.

Each spruce is heavily spangled, lustrous, liquid pearls clinging to an uncountable number of leaves—Nature certainly knows how to decorate a Christmas tree.

I soon reach the end of this fairyland setting, exiting the gulley into scenery more exposed.

Hiking higher and higher, the hum of the beck grows ever quieter and the views extend ever farther.

Suddenly, from nowhere, I see a silhouetted, streamlined form gliding steadily but speedily across the treescape before me. Everything about it screams ‘Predator!’—its shape, velocity, manner of flight.

I feel myself attracted to the creature’s behaviour, so much so that I really don’t want to lose her; I must do everything I can to keep her in sight!

My eyes follow her ever so keenly, all the way to a branch on which she chooses to alight.

Perched high up close to the top of the tree, she ruffles her feathers in order to shake off the rain. Then, her body dead still, she turns her head again and again.

Her oh-so sensitive eyes—so sharp, they are—thoroughly inform her of the world she is a part of—the potential threat of a soaring buzzard, to me just a speck in the big, grey sky; and the raven sitting quietly on a boulder a whole half mile yonder she will, I dare say, just about spy. And, of course, a sparrowhawk being a sparrowhawk, she’ll certainly discern the songbirds that forage way down under, for there is nothing of which she could possibly be even a fraction fonder.

Without warning, she takes off, disappearing from sight, and so I, too, keep on moving. Very soon I arrive at a largely treeless peak where wind and rain rush down on me as I look out into a landscape dulled by the cloud-lined vault of the heavens above.

Derwent Water in the distance, several of its islands perceptible, and the full four-mile length of Bassenthwaite are encompassed within a panorama spectacularly representative of the Lake District’s beauty.

I um and ah about whether or not to wait for a forecasted spot of sunshine. I hang about for a few more minutes and then, just as I’m about to leave, a cluster of crepuscular rays bursts down through gaps in the clouds, transforming, in an instant, the lakes’ colours and radiance, and highlighting layer behind layer of distant fells, each one fainter and hazier than the next. To top it all off, a rainbow magically materialises to add a splash of colour to this otherwise almost grey-scale vista.

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