Thursday, August 8, 2013

Otis tarda

It could be the name of death metal band (perhaps it is), but I'm referring here to the great bustard, a large bird which has traditionally nested in the south of Spain, and over the last few years is back in increasing numbers. As I cover a lot of ground on my travels, I have seen a few of them this year. They seem to like some of the farmland near the lakes. They nest on the ground, and they congregate near the centres of large fields (fields are large here because the land is poor and you need a lot of it to grow a worthwhile crop). They avoid the paths where people and vehicles might go. I don’t imagine they can conceive the purpose of paths, of course, but by constantly moving away from any people they do see, they will end up with a preference for a spot in the centre, where they will only be bothered at ploughing, sowing and harvest time (or by the occasional lost wanderer who, having given up hope of finding a path that actually goes somewhere near his goal, and wondering vaguely whether he will be missed at lunchtime, or they’ll have kept his beer on ice, decides to walk straight across on the off-chance that on the other side of the field there is something that is of use to him). There are rather beautiful birds. Light earth brown on the wings, bordered and finished below in white, they look at first sight a little like emus. They vary greatly in size. Some are like turkeys, but I came across a small group the other day that were around four feet tall. They were only 50 yards when they too flight, and for a moment when I saw them I genuinely couldn’t work out what they were, so impressive was there size. They fly little, but with an elegant, efficient grace which is a pleasure to watch. They are, it is said, the biggest flying things on Earth, and yet they have none of the clumsiness of many ground-nesting birds (watching a partridge fly you wonder if the chap in the workshop in Switzerland who put it together had lunched rather too well). Whole families stay together until the chicks are hard to tell apart from the adults, so you might suddenly see a dozen of them rise from the corn in front of you are argue briefly about the best direction to take before splitting up and reuniting somewhere beyond the next copse. It is a remarkable sight to see them fly, and they give a different scale to the skies. They make the eagle owls look small and clumsy.

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