Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Something about Birds

Breakfast is, as often as not, a meal shared with lots of friends. Small, feathery ones called ‘sparrows’. Now, British readers may not be familiar with these creatures as apparently there aren’t any left in that great country as they have all succumbed to the fumes from lead-free petrol, rather like the dodo succumbing in its day to – apparently - lead. Poor British sparrows, what will the cats do?
Here in Spain, we have either been blessed by an entirely stronger version of this ubiquitous birdie or, more likely, the unleaded gas has as much lead in it as ever.
Proof of this apparently improbable claim came from my old luxury Mercedes 500 – which ran enthusiastically on leaded petrol and single-handedly kept the Arab States in Wellington boots and caviar. In the days of the ‘turn-over’ to unleaded from leaded – this latter having an extra extra tax on it to encourage us to switch – I was concerned because my car wouldn’t be able to run on the unleaded stuff and that I would eventually end up leaving it on the side of the road with the keys in the ignition and a sign in the window saying ‘do not under any circumstances steal this car’.
It turned out, on enquiry at the local petrol station, that it ran just fine on the green stuff, so that was alright, except, they could have told me before and saved me some lolly. Perhaps they were fooled by my apparent wealth, although the Old Girl actually cost relatively little and the 500 badge on the boot didn’t really have much to do with the 200 badge on the engine.
I’m down at the beach today, as always, sharing my little buns – two doughy things – sugared bread-balls for goodness sake, with a hoard of sparrows who don’t mind a little sugar in their lives. I have been told that the owner of the cafeteria in question, clearly a keen bird-lover, puts some insulin in his cakes, or at least he should. Otherwise the Spanish sparrow might follow the fate of its British cousin, killed by something we sometimes mix – for odd reasons – into our petrol.
As I watch the diabetic sparrows hopping erratically over to our table, my wife is telling me that you can’t throw rice at weddings any longer, as the pigeons eat it and it swells up in their stomachs giving them indigestion. It is indeed wonderful what concerns we humans have for our fellow beings, as long as they have either four legs or lots of feathers. Personally, I never feed pigeons anything, as they are little more than airborne rats in my opinion. I do however remember throwing bits of bread soaked in ouzo at the seagulls following the ferry around the Greek islands, and other bits of bread soaked in brandy crossing over to Tangiers. Seagulls enjoy the game and will, after a couple of mid-air catches, fly upside-down for you for a while. Until they crash into the side of the ship of course, or drown.
You had to have been there.
So, I was feeding some snowbirds a few days ago tapas and beer over at the campsite. I know them from other years and we were having a chat about this and that. They want to buy a winter-house here, they say, and then fly here instead. They have been driving down to the south in an enormous camper every winter and then they move north again in the summer, a bit like the swallows which should be arriving any day now. Our swallows – actually, I think they are really martins, but I’ll call them ours – spend the winters in Africa and migrate north to Spain in the springtime, returning to the area and even the nests they vacated the summer before. It will be interesting to see how many return to perch on the telephone line outside, as their departure last July coincided with the famous and horrible Mojácar/Turre brush-fire which killed so much of our local bird and animal-life, including all the tortoises. We let our visitors from Africa build their mud nests under our eaves.
We don’t get many birds that wander about on the ground near our porch, thanks to our bloodthirsty cat. The sparrows on our estate aren’t tame, like the ones outside my breakfast café, and other birds are careful not to land in our garden. Apart from Bertha our pet chicken, of course, who is built like a brick out-house. The cat keeps out of her way. Things are better at one of our neighbours whose garden is feline-free and often visited by doves. I was over there the other day and those pretty grey turtle-necked doves were wandering around pecking at this and that, even at our shoes. Who needs a cat, hey?
I saw a hoopoe today while sawing up some charred branches (from last summer’s fire). This is a kind of jay, I think, with a crest on its head that rises and falls at its owner’s whim. They are a pretty bird with a remarkable call, from which they get their name. No sugar buns for them – they like insects. This one had soot on his feet, from perching on one of our trees, I expect.
We have an aviary with a number of teetotal ‘love birds’ living there, little brightly coloured parrots. It gets so you don’t notice their singing after a while, despite the aviary being just outside the bedroom. I feed them a mixture of seed I get from the molino in Turre and they reward me by making me smile. It is strange to think that only a few dozens of millions of years ago they used to stomp about the land, tearing each other to shreds and considerately leaving their bones, as dinosaur fossils, for us to wonder about.
I wonder if these distant creatures would have liked those little buns, with sugar on them, which I have for breakfast with my coffee.
Or perhaps they would have preferred something a little stronger.

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