This weekend, thank goodness, the weather bucked the trend and we experienced luminous sunshine and improbably blue skies from dawn till dusk. We sat outside to eat lunch on both days – a rare event this year – and attacked the garden tasks we have been saving up till now. We were not the only ones to profit from the uncommon warmth.
Tuning up for spring
For the past few days we have noticed greater activity among the small bird population in our garden. The fact that we have noticed it could be attributed to our being outside, which has not happened often since New Year. But there is a definite sense of spring in the air and the birdsong is starting to reinforce it.
Ivy covers a couple of our older plum trees. The blackbirds adore the profusion of ivy berries and we have enjoyed hearing their signature chuckling sound as they strip the fruit. We are looking forward to the male blackbird occupying his spring perch right on top of our pigeonnier and serenading his mate (or warning off his rivals) at dawn.
Buzzards take to the skies
A sure sign of anticyclone weather, however, is the appearance of buzzards (buses in French) high in the sky, taking advantage of the thermals to cruise above the fields before gliding down to catch their prey. Before we moved here, I had never seen a buzzard. Here, they are part of the landscape.
The most common species here is – not surprisingly – the Common Buzzard (buse variable; buteo buteo in Latin), which attains up to 56 cm and 1.3 kilos, with a wingspan of more than a metre. They are normally a darkish brown with mottled chest and underside of the wings but they can be lighter in colour and sometimes almost white.
They feed on small mammals, chicks and reptiles but I have also seen one swooping down and grabbing a couleuvre (grass snake) in its talons and flying off with it twisting and writhing in its grasp. In fact, the SF informs me that in Swedish buzzards are called ormvråk, where orm means snake.
For such large birds they are remarkably manoeuvrable. We have seen them threading between closely-spaced trees in the woods down our lane. More often, they are sailing high up while prospecting for prey down below. Once, while driving along the Villefranche-de-Rouergue bypass, I saw a column of at least 20 buzzards soaring upwards as they caught the updrafts. They barely need to move their wings – just make the occasional navigational adjustment. You hear them before you see them since they utter a haunting, raucous cry.
When they are not wheeling around in the sky – usually if the weather is bad – they occupy whatever perch they can find. You often see them hunched singly in trees by the roadside, like ghostly sentinels. They particularly like the round hay bales that the farmers produce in late spring. They offer perfect perches for buzzards to survey the newly-cut fields at close quarters – only a short hop to get their talons into a mouse.
Not everyone loves them…
Naturally, other members of the bird world don’t like them. Crows, in particular, are averse to buzzards, perhaps because they are afraid the buzzards will raid their nests. Around here, it’s a common sight to see crows mobbing a buzzard. But, taking advantage of their extraordinary manoeuvrability, buzzards can turn upside down in full flight and slash at the crows with their talons. We have seen this on several occasions. Nonetheless, they don’t hang around when they are outnumbered.
We are glad that the local rodent population meets demand. We have also noticed buzzards hovering over the chicken farm down the road, so they are presumably partial to a bit of poulet au chasseur as well.
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