Where Falcons Dare by Richard Smyth

Richard Smyth

Where Falcons Dare

 

I find myself telling my children: ‘Daddy’s doing his peregrines.’

It was one of Charles Darwin’s small sons who, on learning that there was no study in his school friend’s house, asked in puzzlement: ‘Where does your father do his barnacles?’ Darwin spent eight years poring over cirripedes (‘I hate a Barnacle as no man ever did before,’ he wrote bitterly in 1852); my peregrines have only been with us since the spring of 2020 and they impinge on our family life hardly at all. Like the peregrines described by the poet Kathleen Jamie in Findings, these are birds glimpsed only when time allows, through the kitchen window, once the kids’ cereal has been poured out and the dishwasher has been emptied. (‘“Mum, can we have our breakfast?” “Just a minute…” Dammit. I’d glanced away for a moment, and when I looked back the peregrine had quit fidgeting and flown.’)

Still, I was doing my peregrines.

Our terraced house is overlooked by the towering chimney of Salts Mill, once – when it was built, in 1853 – the world’s largest industrial property and the rattling, clattering hub of Saltaire, Sir Titus Salt’s model mill town on the Aire. It’s the chimney on my doorstep, rather than any ability or knowhow, that saw me recruited this week into an informal network of local peregrine watchers. Between us we’re trying to keep tabs on our Bradford-Airedale peregrines, to see whether they’re likely to breed and figure out if we can do anything to help them.

There’s a pair that likes to come and sit on the chimney top, sixty-eight metres up, to scour the lower sky for prey. So I check the chimney top a few times a day. ‘Can you put Octonauts on, Daddy? Can we play, Daddy?’ ‘Just a sec, pet. I’m

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