Wildlife Column: The Windhover on the sea breeze

Up in Northumbria for a few days gave me chance to watch the seabirds but also to observe how all species adapt to the circumstances and opportunities with many birds scavenging on ten twice-daily pickings of the strandline and others benefiting from the ubiquitous sea breezes.

Thursday, 17th June 2021, 6:00 am
Kestrel at Low Newton taken by Prof Ian Rotherham.

One beneficiary of the Northumbrian sea breeze is the kestrel as it drifts over cliff-tops and along the dune-fringed shorelines in its patient search for small mammals such as field mouse and short-tailed vole. For a predator there is always tight interplay between the energy expended in trying to catch prey and the calories consumed after a successful hunt. Essentially, if the predator uses up too much energy then even a successful catch is problematic. However with coastal breezes ‘on-shore’ during the day and ‘off-shore’ in the evening, the kestrel and sometimes joined by common buzzards too, can free-load for its lunch. Over the course of a season this can mean the difference between life and death.

The dunes and the sandy grasslands behind them are rich hunting grounds for small mammals and hold plenty of birds too. Hovering almost invisible high in the blue sky are numerous skylarks all singing virtually incessantly until they parachute back ground to earth and their carefully hidden nests. The larks and pipits share their aerial territories with kestrels but the latter, whilst sometimes taking small birds, are mammal-feeding specialists. The gulls and crows along these coastal wildlife haunts are largely opportunists and take whatever happens to be available. Adaptable, intelligent, and competitive these birds are invariably successful wherever they chance their luck.

Farther along the beach there is a wonderful colony of little terms, arctic terns, and the larger sandwich terns all watched over by the National Trust wardens. But if a carrion crow flies in too close to the colony then as one the birds rise up calling loudly and anxiously until the moment and danger have passed. The carrion crow is ever on the lookout for an unguarded clutch of eggs or perhaps a stray youngster but today departs unrewarded.