The first to catch sight of the falcon was Noah Wood, a teacher at Oundle School. “I saw it mobbing a buzzard in the air over the Gascoigne car park. It then flew out of sight but I could hear it calling and tracked it to the church spire, knowing that it favours high, precipitous vantage points to roost on and hunt from.”
Over a period of many days, bird-watchers stationed themselves in the churchyard with long lens cameras, powerful telescopes and binoculars to get a close-up view.
Peregrines can often be found above rocky sea cliffs and upland areas throughout the UK in the breeding season. In winter, they are often seen hunting above East Coast marshland. Their features include long, broad, pointed wings and a relatively short tail. They are blue-grey coloured with a blackish top to the head and an obvious black ‘moustache’ that contrasts with the white face.
As an apex predator, it is swift and agile in flight; its phenomenal speed makes it an awesome aerial hunter that dives onto birds on the wing, killing them in flight. The dive is called a stoop and can generate speeds of around 200mph, making it the fastest-moving creature on earth.
Pigeons seem to be its favourite prey. Oundle’s falcon has been seen eating them on platforms of the church spire, where it plucks and devours them. Mr Wood said there has been some debate as to whether it is a male or female, as they are hard to tell apart.
Peregrines are no longer uncommon in Northamptonshire, but have never been recorded in Oundle. Records from the Oundle School Natural History Society in the last century report six sightings in Titchmarsh, Decoy Wood, Lilford and Cotterstock of single birds between 1928 and 1945. It is known that the population of the species crashed in the 1960s with the use of DDT in pesticides, which caused contamination through the food chain. This made their eggshells fragile and they were unable to breed successfully. Now that DDT has been banned, they have made a come-back, but had not been found in northeast Northamptonshire.
Since early November the falcon has flown off for days and then returned. “It is a stunning bird,” said Mr Wood. “Here’s hoping it will stay through the winter and maybe even find a mate for next spring!”
Photo by Barny Dillarstone