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There is a goshawk in the wood above the cattle. I have seen her three times in the last week, and now she is all I can think about.

I first knew these birds on the open hill, flying as far-sown flecks above heather and white grass. I learned about them from the wreckage of their hunting; the question-mark tails of blackgame stirred like chaff into owl down and pigeon quills. Goshawks occupied the furthest limits of my experience, recognised only by rumour and autograph. It’s a niche these hunters have long occupied, like sparks in the distance.

But this bird hunts on the edge of broad-leafed woodland. She patrols over wrinkled grazing scored with whinns and green knowes, rushing between beechwoods and oaks on the near horizon. I find her face to face, pedalling strongly between the trees like a giant. Now I can see details and plumage, and a glint of coloured eyes.

I stood open mouthed in the yard and watched this bird coursing a corvid above me. I had reckoned that a goshawk could easily break a solo crow, but her prey would not lie down and die. It flew high in rocketing panic, and they dived and turned and flared all around without death or escape. Both birds seemed black against a heavy sky, but I could hear their wings rasping and the coarse rattle of laboured breath. Perhaps the hawk was merely playing, but every twist and stall dried my mouth and made my hackles rise. At last the crow began to wriggle and moan, and two others came to rescue it. A raven came in from below and flared his beard until the hawk broke off and dived away through the arms of a dripping oak tree. And now I wonder if crows are hard to kill, or whether I was watching a bully.

The hawk returned today and coasted between the red stems of tall scots pine trees. I recalled the long neck and trailing tail like a crucifix in the wet light and put a name to her again beyond question. But this proximity is misleading because it makes me think it is possible to know these birds. I may be close, but there are still chasms between us.


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