I’ve been doing quite a lot of research recently on how to enhance my website and blog and while doing this I revisited the Botanics Sparrowhawk blog I used to write when I worked there. I really enjoyed doing this especially as it meant I was able to spend time observing the sparrowhawks that live in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. They are particularly notable because they are probably the most studied urban sparrowhawks with lots of research writings produced about them. I was personally very proud of the blog as well which I kept going for about two years and it even got the attention of the researchers at the One Show.
The main picture I have used for this post is of some of the sparrowhawk moults I found which legally you are not meant to touch however I was with Hugh Coventry at the time who has a special license for handling raptor materials. Hugh and his sister Laura were regular visitors to the garden and part of the wider raptor monitoring community in the Lothians. There is a lot more info in the blog which you can find on Botanic Stories.
Quite a few years after I had left the Botanics I wrote a poem which was primarily about a sparrowhawk that was inspired by the Climate Strike movement that I witnessed in Edinburgh next to the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood. It is included below.
A Watcher on Salisbury Crags
In the glint of that gold-circleted eye,
Like laser-licht, the rocks fall,
Cleaved away over centuries, millenia,
Where the sparrowhawk has come to nest.
Brood after brood she made while watching Holyrood
And hungered after the pigeon’s flesh.
Doocots now replaced by railway bridges
A short flight beyond the Abbey ruins
And the ancient tower where Rizzio’s steps were stayed
By a thirst for blood, not of hooked beak but of blade.
The Queen was then heard to shriek in shock and tears,
Her own body bearing a bold boy unrevealed.
The speireag looks in her power and knows
That a tragedy has befallen, even though unseen.
Silently observing, from age to age.
Power undiminished. A people established.
Children of men and children of the air,
Proximal though impersonal,
Barely acknowledging each others existence.
Perched on high or airborne, the hawk is one with sky,
Body well-formed, muscular, agile, lethal,
Plenipotentiary, sinuous, pluviatile le cumhachd gu leòr.
For since the day that man first walked the Earth
The hawk-watcher observed with searing-sight
The tribes of men grow in fecundity
And grow too in folly and arrogance.
None of the deeds of man escaped the aureate eye
Nor now the vision of youth nor of Mothers
Nor precious daughters, our future.
For in the generation arising the excellence of perception
Will be renewed as our old, tired eyes grow dim,
Taking heart from Hawk or Crow of inscrutable intelligence
And the atmospheric knowledge of their birthright,
Custodians of the great wild winds encircling the world.
We may speak of climate or environment
But they know her as boundless home,
One of the elements along with Earth and Water
Regulated by Rìgh nan Dùl.
licht – light (Scots)
doocots – dovecots (Scots)
speireag – sparrowhawk (Gaelic)
le cumhachd gu leòr – with power galore (Gaelic)
Rìgh nan Dùl – King of the Elements (a traditional Gaelic epithet for God)
I hope you enjoyed the poem and the Botanics Sparrowhawk blog and if you would like to read some of my other ecopoetry you are more than welcome.