Heads down, the jersey cattle feeding in a paddock were oblivious to the life and death struggle taking place about them.
A purple storm cloud gathered on the near horizon and I had decided to return to my car from the fields in the Huon Valley, where I had been out searching for a plover of open countryside, the banded lapwing.
It was the sort of dark and foreboding cloud that foretold lightning and I didn’t want to be caught out in the open.
So I hurried among the cattle, watching for a pedigree jersey bull that might be hidden among them, hurrying to the safety of my car.
And then I saw it, a little falcon on the wing, craftily using the cattle as cover in its merciless, relentless pursuit of birds of field and paddock.
The little falcon, or hobby to give it its other more popular name, had a house sparrow in its sights and for a moment there appeared no escape for the tiny, fluttering brown bird.
The sparrow had been flying on a straight course just above the cattle, moving from one side of the paddock to another in search of grass packed with seed, when it saw the hobby had locked on to it. The hobby swerved around and between the scattered bodies of the cattle, chasing the sparrow which banked madly, dipping between two of the browsing cows. The sparrow, too, was now using the cattle to its advantage, ducking and weaving between them and their relative safety.
Around and around the sparrow and hobby went, all the while the cattle nonchalantly munching, and pulling up tuffs of grass.
The sparrow on desperate splayed wings, jinking and climbing; the falcon a more streamlined shape, a bird built for swift flight in which it hunts prey on the wing.
Time and again the sparrow, lumbering and appearing strangely un-aerodynamic, narrowly evaded the talons outstretched to snatch it from the air.
The other members of the flock had fled to safety, leaving the lagging sparrow to its own devices; the presence of a falcon meant that everyone had to look out for themselves, in the interests of survival.
I’m happy to report the sparrow itself survived. It moved from the obscured sightline of one cow to another, before it could safely dash to a hedgerow and vanish within it, the hobby banking at the last moment as it reached the row of hawthorns, before moving on to find another potential victim.
Engrossed in the dogfight, I had forgotten about the looming storm and I had just reached my car before a streak of lightning stabbed an oak bordering the paddock not so very far from me, and thunder shook the ground.
Now the cattle raised their heads from their grazing, and rapidly moved towards the shelter of the high hawthorn hedge in which the sparrow was still counting its blessings.