It happened back in the 1970s. A late afternoon summer storm was building up towards us (up the mountain range) to the east. I was playing in a field near my home and as always was waiting to the last minute of danger before fleeing to safety. Thunder groaned and lightening flashed and crackled as golden sunlight beaming brilliantly from the flat horizon behind me collided with the surrounding trees and houses; highlighting everything against the dark greens, greys and purples of the stewing storm. Wind gusts struck my back and pushed over my shoulders as the growing giant began sucking air inwards. It was almost time to run when a “Little Falcon”, (Australian Hobby) appeared, low at first, then circling upwards towards the clouds. (I had seen them before being chased by Pied Currawongs; zigzagging swiftly around the trees at shoulder height). I stopped and watched as it went higher and eastwards towards the clouds. It looked too small and dainty to survive out in the middle of such a dangerous sky. The sky was so dark but the tiny bird remained visible as it glinted in the sunlight.
Watch or run? It was hundreds of metres up and I wanted to see if it vanished into the storm, but without warning the falcon suddenly dropped. Head first and incredibly fast! Like a shooting star. I was yet to breathe when it disappeared behind houses and trees, still moving straight down. I thought it must have crashed and I almost lifted my foot forward as it reappeared briefly to the right, skimming over roof-tops and out of sight. I bolted home.
(Above): Another stoop. An Australian Hobby in a vertical dive (stoop) at the St Kilda Botanical Gardens, (Melbourne) in a late afternoon of January 1991. I know it's abstract and lacking detail but I was very excited to get this photograph. I was using a Pentax K-1000 with Sigma 70-250mm 5.6f zoom lens. The camera was all manual so I didn't really have time to focus and I only had time for one shot. At 1/1000th of a second, (The fastest shutter speed.) The subject was gone by the time I wound the film on. It is slide film scanned back in 2002 and hasn't been edited apart from size reduction, hence dust spots etc.
Unfortunately, I haven’t always been ready with the camera. After spending a long day looking for birds to photograph at the Bunya Mountains National Park, Queensland, (again in the early 90s), I was at a lookout and heard a long “phhhfffffffffffffffffffffffttttu, fffffffffffffffttttu, kwkff, kwkff” somewhere overhead. Chills went up my spine and I looked around expecting to see a plane crashing near me but I couldn’t see anything. Seconds later and I realised a flock of Wonga Pigeons had just passed by me and I then saw a Peregrine Falcon struggling to carry one right over me. I’d been carrying a heavy camera all day and stood gaping without using it when it counted.
On another occasion I was again fortunate to witness another stoop but it was on a rainy day and the light was colourless and dull. Again at the Bunya Mountains NP (August 2007), I was lucky enough to see a Peregrine appear and swiftly circle a few times and then break into a dive. I was ready with the camera this time and the photos posted below show it gradually flattening its wings and folding them to its side. (Some photos have been brightened and all are cropped to some extent). It started its dive at about a 45 degree angle but by the time a passed me it was much steeper. The amazing thing was that it came almost towards me and passed over my left shoulder. The photos don’t look as if it was travelling steeply bcecause it was in line with the lens. (The camera was pointing steeply up). By the time it passed me its wings were completely closed and it looked very ‘bullet-shaped’. It disappeared behind a house and some trees.