Friday, July 30, 2010

Of Aerial Things

Between the mountains scrub (monte bajo, I don’t think it has an exact name in English. Hill scrub would be another try) the arable land and the lakes we get a lot of different birds here. Apart from the ubiquitous sparrows, a detail of whose life was discussed about three posts back, we also have, just in the garden, magpies and a kind of coloured jay, both of which are considered vermin and treated as such, which doesn’t stop them coming back, hoopoes, which like to strut up and down the path, pigeons, which have a loft in an unused part of the building and are put in the pot from time to time, a type of owl which sits on the chimney pots and twos at night, and the partridges which drop in from the hills. The place is full of partridges, because they are what bring in the money from the hunters. They like to nest at the base of trees in the thick stuff that grows there, or among the corn, which isn’t a good idea because their breeding season coincides with the harvest, and in the scrub. They move about a surprising amount during the day, but take fright easily and head for the dark patches away from the sown fields. They only fly when they absolutely have to, so they run in a rather ungainly fashion while they still think they can get away with it. In fact it’s quite a good idea because they don’t get shot unless they’re in the air, but I doubt they’ve actually worked it all out.

Eagles are common in the mountains. You often hear a pinging noise and look up to see a pair circling high above you, on the lookout for anything small that’s moving on the ground. From time to time they dive down to look more closely, and sometimes reappear with a mouse or some such in their beak. Their circles take them slowly across the country, almost imperceptibly drifting towards the higher hills or the more open land.

As well as eagles sensu strictu there are kites, occasionally seen in great clouds but usually in pairs, and hawks of different types, kestrels, buzzards, hobbies etc. They tend to avoid human company, but sometimes you come upon one rising from a low branch of a tree, or even on the ground under a bush as you walk past, and they lazily spread their wings and take to the air.

At the lakes it’s more waterfowl. Ducks of various kinds, including diving ducks of the thin-headed kind that look like small herons (in other circumstances I’d do some proper research and be a bit more precise, and I’d post photos, too, but hey, it’s summer; this is all about how it feels to lie back and watch them, it’s not a zoology class). Talking of herons there are several types that nest in the rushes all around the borders of the quieter lakes in particular, and some are big and thin and long of wing and neck and body, like grey storks. Languid and spare, they fly with efficient parsimony and reach down into the water at intervals to casually pick up a careless fish.

The air is full of creatures and the sounds they make. To sit back and enjoy the show is too easy and too enjoyable not to do.

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