An unusual but entertaining day at work

Earlier this week I was learning about a technique called ‘dynamic light scattering’ (DLS) which is used to determine the size of very small particles, even those as small as protein molecules. My teacher was a scientist called Ken who designs and builds DLS machines. It came up in conversation that he lives close to the southern end of the M40 corridor where I’ve seen lots of red kites and read stories of them stealing food from people, so I asked if he sees them in his neighbourhood.

Red kite (Milvus milvus, Dansk: rød glente), this one was at Hamerton in Cambridgeshire

Red kites are big, distinctive, birds of prey and they’re a conservation success story in the UK, having been almost driven to extinction but then reintroduced in the 1990’s since when their numbers have rocketed. And as it happens they are very common indeed in that part of the world and Ken kindly agreed to upload this video clip to You Tube so I could post a link to it here. This all happened in Ken’s garden and I think it’s highly entertaining stuff,  I think I’d struggle every morning to get out the front door to go to work if I had this kind of show going on in my garden!

Later on, at the end of the same day, a big flock of a few thousand starlings were murmurating over the Cambridge Science Park as I left work to come home. I was keeping one eye on the starlings and one eye on the road when I stopped at a red traffic light on the edge of the Science Park and the starlings were swirling and wheeling around the sky just in front of me. Then a sparrowhawk drifted by but the starlings carried on murmurating until the hawk suddenly accelerated up towards them. Then all of the flocks shrunk down into very tight groups and focussed on taking evasive action. It was a piece of natural theatre going on in the sky which was spectacular to watch. Then the traffic lights went green and I had to move on so I didn’t get to see the culmination of the chase, but it was a captivating end to the day.

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27 responses to “An unusual but entertaining day at work

  1. I would never have thought that such birds of prey would scoop into someone’s yard for bread…and how wonderful that he caught it on camera. Beautiful bird in your photo, too, Finn….

    • Hello Scott – those birds have a six foot wingspan too. The red kite is primarily a scavenger, they’re too lightweight to take sizeable live prey so I guess they all saw a free meal, and a dead one.

      So in they came like a squadron of Stuka’s!

      • I had no idea, Finn…such large creatures…and scavengers, too. They very much resembled a squadron of Stukas, too!

      • Hey Scott, yes they’re whoppers. But despite their size they’re still lightweight and struggle with live prey of any size. I thought the Stuka comparison was a good one 🙂

      • Yes, it was a fitting comparison, Finn…and it reminded me of my childhood and playing with airplane cards on the bus ride home from school…Stukas, Fokkers, Messerschmitts…etc…. 🙂

      • You just sent me on a trip back to my youth when I used to build models of all those planes. Along with spitfires, hurricanes, mustangs etc. Happy days 🙂

      • Yes, Finn…model-building, too, I had those spitfires, hurricanes, and mustangs, too!! Wonderful. 🙂

  2. What a great video. Thanks for sharing.

  3. And all because you were actually “aware” of what was going on around you…how many people were sitting in their cars at that light completely oblivious to natures wonderful theatre going on around them…the story of our modern lives. All I can say is that the chook that was predating those croissants was very lucky to run off when she did! I think I would have to take out shares in a croissant factory if I had that happening in my back yard. What an amazing sight! 🙂

    • I love the idea of ‘predating‘ croissants. Reminds me of my kids!

      I hope some more of the folk sitting in that traffic queue noticed and appreciated the natural spectacle unfolding just over their heads. If not, they missed a treat.

      • I am sharing your blog and this post with my dear constant readers in a future post. I loved that you were aware of the birds at all and not completely focussed on the inner machinations of your mind (or texting 😉 ). Most people just don’t stop and smell the roses and I used your post to make a point. I remember being in London back in 2005 and looking up at the amazing architecture and the fantastic embellishment on the buildings and standing looking up at them to admire them and having people stop and look up around us quizzically. No-one even sees these gorgeous buildings anymore…they are too busy going from A to B and missing out on the beauty that is all around them. Cheers for sharing this great post and I hope you don’t mind me sharing it with my dear constant readers 🙂

      • Hello Fran, not a problem, it’s a good point you’re trying to make and I’m rather pleased you want to use my post to illustrate it. Generally in life it’s good to take your time and appreciate what’s around and goes unnoticed by the majority. Maybe not when folk are driving though!

        I know what you mean about London architecture too. Just pausing and raising your eyes above street level can be extremely rewarding.

  4. That film clip deserve to become a classic.

  5. Natural world spectacles are so pleasing, in that you don’t have to make a payment to witness most of them. Who says a day at work has to be boring, more especially the trip back and forth. Well done Finn Holding for enlightening us once again.

  6. I can relate to your traffic lights story. I frequently see birds on the side of the road, sometimes they’re very close, but I can never stop to take a better look.

    • I was lucky to see as much of the action as I did, thanks to the red light. They have been doing this for the last couple of weeks so I’m hoping I may see it again.

  7. That’s an amazing little video, I would never have thought red kites would dive into such an enclosed space. Mind you, it was for croissants. How lovely to see the starlings, too.

    • The kites are becoming braver in that part of the world. I’ve read stories of them swooping down and trying to steal packed lunches from schoolkids. They’ve gone from being extinct to being a pest.

  8. Just watched the video clip – incredible… what big birds, and wonderful they way they swoop and dive like that…they actually reminded me of swallows swooping over the swimming pool just like that, grabbing gnats I assumed. The whole show, cats chickens and kites was delicious

  9. Those starling fights are amazing, aren’t they/ I’ve watched lots of them on Youtube and never fail to be gobsmacked….

  10. Beautiful shot of the kite, Finn!

    • Thanks Gary, it’s about the best one I have but I’m on a mission to capture some better ones in the near future. It’s a spectacular and iconic bird because of its conservation success.

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