David Thorpe Photography

Professional Pix

Pictures for Money

Back in the late 60s, early 70s, urban wild life was much less common than today. Foxes were a novelty in town. These days, I often encounter a fox or two when coming home late and they do no more than keep a wary eye on you as you pass. Once, they would bolt for cover. As far as I know, there still aren't many urban kestrels.

The deputy picture editor at the London Evening News, Alan Reid, took a call from a man in a council block off the Old Kent Road. He had a pair of kestrels nesting in his window box, he said. Alan sent me down to take a look and - yes it was true. Taking pictures would be hard. It was important not to spook the birds but you needed to be able to see them and the camera needed to be close.

I spoke to someone at the RSPB and outlined the lie of the land to them. They were very interested in the birds and told me that if the camera were inside the flat and the pictures taken through the glass, there shouldn't be any problem.

I rented some radio remote control equipment and set up my motor driven camera, with wide angle lens, on a tripod. I set the equipment up quietly while pa kestrel was out foraging and the mum and her chicks didn't see me at all. I cleaned the inside of the window as best I could and sat on the other side of the room, chatting to the flat's occupant, all the time keeping an eye on the nest goings on.

I sat there for three days for all the daylight hours - it was June and the longest days! I got plenty of stuff but then, without warning, pa kestrel returned with a large mouse in his mouth. It was the shot I dreamed of. Pa kestrel had stood in exactly the right position, the mouse dangled and you could see ma kestrel sitting in the window box. Behind, the urban sprawl. It's the picture that tells the story in one frame, the perfect press picture. I was so excited...and the office were so delighted.

Next day, they ran this pic on the front page and a page of pix inside. The story and pix went around the world, front pages in Australia and the USA, all over.

It seemed such a hopeful thing, the cities forever expanding, noisier, dirtier. And yet, in the middle, wild creatures treating them as an extension to the natural environment. Kestrels like to nest on rocky ledges and I suppose to a kestrel, that is what this south London window box is, providing they are not disturbed.

I got a few nasty letters from people telling me that I had disturbed and harmed the birds. I felt that, having taken advice from the RSPB and taken great care not to make any noise or approach them, I had not done any harm. And they came back next year, too. I popped in to take a look but like any newspaper story, one bite at the cherry is enough and I left them alone.