Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Magic in the air

How many wildlife documentaries have you watched where the programme faithfully follows the seasons, the ice of winter gradually melting over days and weeks as the sun's strengthening rays bring on the new spring, where streams bubble with life, birds sing, flowers bloom and young animals frolic? It's all tosh.

The weather is obviously controlled by fairies. Having spent the last six weeks in a Narnia-like state of permanent winter, we woke up on Sunday morning to discover that someone had clearly managed to locate the wicked witch responsible and smothered her with her own duvet cloak. In a matter of hours the Baltic weather had been replaced by balmy summer. It had to be magic.

The magic in the air has clearly stayed around. Yesterday evening we had a phone call from our quick-thinking, bird-savvy daughter, who was out in the River Field north of the village, to say an osprey had just flown over, heading our way. We had never seen an osprey over Ashfield before, and rushed out into the front garden to see if we could spot it. There it was, sailing round and up in a thermal, long, broad-fingered wings spread wide. Its cloud-white belly and forewings were sharp against the bluing evening sky, catching the sun as it tacked gradually west.

Ospreys have made a remarkable comeback in Scotland. Thought extinct in the UK in 1916,  a single pair was recorded in  the 1950s (though one or two more may have hung on unnoticed in the meantime). Now the figure for Scotland is approaching 200 pairs, with a number nesting just 15 miles west of here near the Lake of Menteith, a prime trout fishery. Persecuted in the nineteenth century for this taste in game fish, their chief enemies now are bad weather and electricity lines. I've no idea why this one was over the village, though there are trout ponds to the north of us.

But there was more to come. Panning up from the osprey my other half noticed another, smaller shape. Smaller because higher. It was another osprey. Then two darker shapes, one large, one small, joined the pile - red kite and sparrowhawk - moving in line with the other two like aircraft in a holding pattern. While the ospreys flapped and glided their way around the warm tower of air, the kite seemed to float, deftly tilting its tail and wings to adjust its orbit with hardly a wingbeat. The sparrowhawk was actually passing through, a dark, streamlined jet of a bird cutting a direct line through their airspace.

It was a sight I suspect few have ever been lucky enough to see - two ospreys, one red kite, one sparrowhawk in one small patch of warm sky. A perfect welcome for the coming summer.

And obviously magical.

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