We were sitting on the terrace with a glass of wine (what else?) our first October here when there was a honking and squawking high above us. That, our neighbour told us, was the start of the autumn migration of the cranes (les grues) on their way from Scandinavia to Spain or north Africa. Even so high up you can tell that they are big birds, among the largest in Europe apparently with a wingspan of 2 metres.
It’s now December and still they come as they have for six weeks, trumpeting their way towards the Pyrenees; not in hundreds or thousands but tens of thousands. Their route over our house is not the only one but some 150,000 must cross during the migration.
Those who know about aerodynamics tell us that they fly in a V formation for a good reason, but not directly behind each other. It’s to do with the ‘lift’ and less turbulence that they get from the bird in front. That’s tough on the leader who gets no assistance and tires before the others, so they change every so often. It took the invention of the aeroplane for man to discover what the birds have known for as long as migration has taken place.
Our house seems to act as a beacon on this particular flight path. We could not understand why the formation broke up over us and they started flying around in circles. Naively we thought that they were lost. These birds have flown from Scandinavia without GPS and know precisely where they are going. A friend patiently told us that they were searching for thermals to help lift them up over the mountains.
Life can be hazardous for the grues. Over the border in Spain deforestation has deprived them of acorns. The use of chemicals in farming can poison the birds or cause infertility and drainage of their nesting areas tells its own story. One year a few spent the night in the field below us which slopes down to the river. Ideal damp conditions.
We found this one when out for a walk; presumably it just fell out of the sky as it hadn’t been shot (it would have been illegal if it had). Maybe it had been poisoned. For whatever reason this magnificent bird had had its journey cut short.
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