People come here from all over the world to watch birds; I can do it from my bed. Yes, now I have moved in, yet not fully resolved the window situation, I can watch swallows swooping overhead from dawn. Without wishing to be anthropomorphic, I’d say their mood appears to be deeply indignant, after all, they were here first. I know this only too well having, having waited with great patience until each egg in each of the seven nests had hatched, and the chicks had grown and flown off, first around the room, and then then out of the big hole in the wall created by Ivan. At this point I had removed the nests – and the subsequent mud ball attempts at rebuilds, along with a lot of bird shit – with faint disgust, a heavy heart and a deep sense of guilt. (I wondered perhaps whether I could manage without the use of an upstairs floor, but was persuaded this was both impractical and excessively extravagant).
The nests in the chimney are also providing an ample opportunity for birdwatching. There is a lot of action at the top, and from time to time the muffled cheeping from deep in the recesses is replaced by an ear-splitting shrill, urgent, and ultimately mournful noise from just above the metal plate in the living room fireplace. A few days ago, a plucky yellow-beaked gorrión – house sparrow – squeezed through a small gap and dropped into the hearth from where it blinked at me balefully. I decided the best course of action would be to put it in a shoebox on top of the scaffolding in the hope that a parent might spot it and feed it. But nature can be cruel. I had to go out to buy silicon, screws, and timber, and on the way back, knocked a hole in the sump, and had to abandon the car and hitch a ride home via a bar. By then, the sun had moved round and, as a friend who climbed up to look put it, the bird did not look well at all.
When the next one fell through, I stuffed him back up the chimney, then felt so bad I spent four hours lying in the soot coaxing him towards the gap and got him out again. This bird was nice and feisty, drank some water off my finger. I put him in the shoebox with some soft straw, and the box was taken up to the roof and put on a ledge just inside the chimney. All I know is that a couple of days later there was nothing in the box.
A third bird was taken on the precarious journey across the shifting roof tiles to the chimney ledge and promptly flew away. I found a fourth, gulping up at me from inside my shoe just as I was about to shove my foot in.
For me, this is the most entertaining form of birdwatching but the area has the highest concentration of raptors in Europe and people also arrive throughout the year to squint up at them. Four species of eagle breed here, including large numbers of Bonelli’s eagles, and many more birds of prey migrate through. It’s a rare day I don’t stop and watch a kestrel or hawk riding the thermals. Giant griffon vultures cast shadows the size of planes, and nights are filled with the sound of wind ruffling feathers and low, soft woohoo-whoos of many owls. I am used to flashy tropical birds and aside from these few mentioned I only recognise the choughs, and the wood pigeons which perch making on telegraph lines making the sounds of an English country churchyard in the pine forest.