A Peregrine for a Knave

Written by FoTV committee member – Mike Flaherty

“As he left Scott’s hand and flew deeper into the wooded valley, it then dawned on me, I’d remember this moment for the rest of my life”.

This story begins with an out of the blue phone call on a mundane Tuesday afternoon on a warm August day. The caller was local wildlife photographer and good friend, Dave Gibson. Straight away I thought something was up, as when Dave and I ever want to talk, we just send each other WhatsApp messages, like mostly everyone nowadays. I answered the phone with the usual “Hiya, bud. What’s up?”

After the hurried pleasantries, I could tell by the panicky, but somewhat excited tone in Dave’s voice that it was something wildlife related, and even from this short exchange, I knew then that this call was going to take the rest of my day up and I didn’t care. I was hooked and I was all ears.

He started to explain how JP Lynn, an old mate of his, had found an injured bird of prey in Tawd Valley Park. From what I thought I knew about the valley, I assumed Dave’s mate had found a kestrel or a buzzard, at a push – a tawny owl. Well, it shows you how much I know, the incapacitated avian discovered was in fact a PEREGRINE FALCON!!!

Dave went on to say that he was told that the peggy looked weak and was unable to fly. He added that JP had very carefully picked the bird up using towels, watching out for the massive talons, placed it into a small pet crate and safely transported it back to his house. And, that’s when JP contacted Dave.

At the time of JP’s call, Dave was stuck at Carr Mill Dam in St. Helens, a good twenty to thirty minutes away, depending on traffic. That’s when he phoned me to explain the situation.

It was at this point that Dave and I were very conscious of the time, as it was quickly approaching 5pm and that meant closing time for many veterinary surgeries in the area. Dave asked if I could make my way to JP’s house to collect the peggy and prep it ready for transport to the local vet, and then when he got back, we could shoot off straight way.

Fortunately, Dave made good time and we ended up meeting each other at JP’s house anyway. JP told us how he’s always down in the Tawd, but he’s never come across anything quite like this before. He also mentioned how tame the Peregrine seemed to be and how unnerved it was by human presence, which Dave and I immediately noticed, too. The three of us discussed whether it could possibly be captive bred or it was possibly acting this way through shock.

We thanked JP for keeping the peggy safe and for getting into contact with us. He then thanked us for taking it off his hands and getting it the help it needed.

Dave and I then shot off, bird-Ith hand in the car to the nearest vets. Now, this is where the adventure starts to lose its pace and very nearly comes to a stop. I don’t know if you remember way back in December, last year, when I unfortunately hit a buzzard whilst driving towards Bone Island. I took said buzzard to Skelmersdale Veterinary Surgery on Sandy Lane. And even though the buzzard sadly died before I arrived, the girls that worked there were absolutely amazing and they couldn’t have been more helpful.

So, it was a no-brainer. I said to Dave, “We’ll definitely make this vets our first port of call”. Disappointedly, when we pulled up to the front, all the shutters were down, bearing in mind, it was now past 5pm.

Our next closest option was Barnes Road Veterinary Surgery. So, off we headed, but upon seeing no lights on inside and trying the door we realised that this too was also closed.

Dave and I started to make a few phone calls. Dave called, but couldn’t get in touch with a falconer he knew, whilst I rang around other local vets, trying to find one that was still open.

At this point, we started to get a little disheartened. It was then that a lightbulb went off in Dave’s head. “What about the Pets at Home in Burscough, they have an instore vets?” I quickly doubled checked on Google that they were still open… THEY WERE!!! LET’S GO!!!

As all this was going on, the poor peregrine was quietly waiting in the back seat of the car, unphased by all the commotion it was causing. Oh well, it was worth it.

It was an uneventful trip to Burscough, not that I’m complaining. After Dave and I handed the peggy over to the Pets at Home veterinary team, we sat in the waiting room and chatted about the events that had just unfolded.

Fifteen or so minutes past, before a staff member called us over to the desk. She reinforced what Dave and I already assumed – The Peregrine was underweight and it had a injury to its foot. She did go on to say though, that the wings don’t seem to be damaged (fantastic news) and that it was a male bird. Cool. She then finished by saying that her team will feed and water him, keep him over night and then get in touch with their specialist contacts and arrange for him to picked up in the morning. Dave then filled out some forms and we left.

That evening, Scott, the falconer that Dave had tried calling earlier, returned Dave’s phone call. Dave gave Scott a rundown of what had transpired that day. Scott thought that the peggys best chance of its release back into the wild is if he took it under his wing and rehabilitated it, to which we all agreed. So, the next morning Dave collected the bird and handed it over to Scott.

Over the eight weeks that Scott had “Pegasus” (obviously, we named him), Dave and I were receiving regular updates on his progress. Pegasus was eating well, he was gaining weight, he was strengthening his hunting abilities through Scotts training, he was even getting regular checkups from Scott’s go to vet. Pegasus was one well looked after falcon.

Anyway, last Saturday was finally the day for Pegasus’ release back into the wild. Scott, JP, Dave and I all made our way to the site were he was found all them weeks ago. I had only seen Pegasus’ recovery updates through photos and videos, so when I saw him in real-life again, I was amazed at how healthy he looked. And, even though he was only small for his species, he had definitely grown since I had last saw him.

As the other lads chatted, I silently took in the moment. I watched Pegasus as he posed on Scott’s falconry gauntlet. I was in awe. He was so handsome, powerful and majestic. I quietly pondered what the future held for him – Will he find a mate? Will he rear offspring? Will he live a long life and will he remember us? As I snapped out of the daydream, I re-joined the conversation and began to take some photos.

The moment had come. It was time for Pegasus to fend for himself and go out once again into the big wide world – Alone.

Scott unclipped the anklets that kept Pegasus connected to him. He then began to raise his arm that Pegasus was perched upon. Pegasus surveyed his surroundings and seemed to hesitate for a second, did he not want to go? There was an electric in the air. The four of us all watched in anticipation and with a slight forward motion of Scott’s arm, Pegasus took to the air. A flood of emotions swirled through my mind. The one emotion that stood out was the sense of pride that I felt. It was the kind of pride that a father feels towards his children’s achievements and accomplishments. In a weird way, Pegasus felt like a son to me. Speaking to Dave shortly after, funnily enough, he said he experienced the exact same emotions.

This whole experience has given me an even bigger appreciation for the natural environment and how we all have a responsibility to look after it. The connection I felt with Pegasus will stick with me forever and one I’ll never forget. Stay safe, my little lad.

A big thank you to Dave, JP, Scott and the Pets at Home team for making this story a successful one.

Clip courtesy of Dave Gibson Wildlife Photography