Three Shires Head, Peak District: Red kite, peregrine and buzzard, playing together in the sky above – it’s a joyous sight
This is an intriguing landscape, not just because it’s a rare point of union for three counties: Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire. As much as it’s a real place, it exists as a powerful meme on social media, and come the bank holiday, the double stream through arched bridges, with its modest white-water fall of about 3 metres, is thronged with people.
I’m not sure exactly why they come or what exists between the ears of some of those motivated to visit. Recently I was stopped by a carful of five arriving from Cambridge, who asked for directions. When I told them that they would have to park half a mile away and walk, they drove off, never to return. However, I then went on to have an experience at Three Shires Head that suggested there is something magical at play here.
Three birds of prey – red kite, peregrine and buzzard – were all playing together in the sky over the River Dane. Had you seen such a constellation at Three Shires Head when I was a child you would have been overcome with shock and disbelief. Now the trio is less exceptional, but raptors at play in this manner are never less than pure joy.
It began with a duet between kite and female falcon, the two long-winged, lithe birds each taking turns to shadow the other’s motion, rising and falling and spiralling in pursuit.
The kite, its russet plumage bright even in that dull cold sky, was the more dynamic. Every wing beat was slow and deep. The long tail – brightest of all its parts – closed and flared as it jinked and shifted.
No one will convince me that these jousts aren’t fun for their makers. Then the kite, with devilish intention, sallied through a bare oak and tipped a previously unseen buzzard off its perch. The peregrine called and circled away. The kite, wings half-closed and rudder flashing red, looks so loose and fluid compared with the solemn, grudging, unflapping response of the buzzard.
Then all three rose and ringed around me overhead in a brief, air-uplifted circuit.
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