The almond and cherry blossom is long over, nectarine and apricot aren't far behind; in the vineyards the first leaves are bursting open, and trees are beginning to show green. The blackthorn is in flower and, after the recent wet spell, everything's growing like crazy - especially the weeds in my garden.
As the cycle of life begins all over again, this is a time to savour and celebrate. Dandelions in our grass are reflecting the sun, our red robin hedge is living up to its name; animals and birds are pairing up.
Some blackbirds might already be incubating eggs, and one pair of collared doves has been nesting in our palm tree for some time. Unsuccessfully. They tried late last year too, but haven't managed to raise a chick so far as I know. After the last storm and gales, I found the soggy remains of what might have been a young chick on the paving beneath the nest. Our dog has been very interested, sniffing around, or barking at one or both birds that like to sit on our neighbour's chimney, checking it's safe, before returning to the nest.
At least, that was the routine until yesterday evening.
I was in the living room, watching television, when a kerfuffle caught my eye in the far corner of our garden. Those doves, I thought, getting frisky again. They often like to cuddle up and preen each other on our pergola, prior to mating. At first glance, I presumed they were at it again, except on the ground this time, which was unusual. And then it dawned on me that I was watching something far more violent. The bird on top was a hawk.
Sparrowhawk, I assumed.
I was surprised when it didn't fly off immediately but gave me time to not only get the binos on it, but also to film it. It was nervous, but seemed not to see me approach the window. After a few minutes it flew off, prey in talons, to dine somewhere more private.
Only when I looked back at the clip did I begin to wonder if, in fact, it was a sparrowhawk. Clearly not a male (they don't have that distinctive white stripe above the eye, and their faces and chests are orange), but I always thought the larger females were brown-backed. This one looked totally grey to me - with a very pale front, finely barred. And two white patches on the back of its head. Were those identifiers, or peculiar to that particular bird? Evidently, I don't know my sparrowhawks well enough. This is the longest I've probably ever watched a hawk at close quarters. Identification of so many birds is often made primarily via silhouettes, flight patterns and behaviour (kestrels hover and drop onto prey on the ground, sparrowhawks will dash into a thicket in a high speed chase...).
But it's so easy to convince yourself you're seeing what you want to see.
In the end I reluctantly concluded it was a female sparrowhawk after all. What swung it was the size (I think even a male goshawk - smaller than females - would have looked bigger in comparison to the size of the dove), and also the behaviour (sparrowhawks typically take prey in gardens, whereas this would be extremely unusual for the shy goshawk). In addition, her eye was very bright yellow (goshawks' are more orange), and it seems female sparrowhawks can be grey-brown.
Something of an anti-climax? Yes and no. It was still wonderful, in a rather macabre way, to have been able to capture her on film at such a dramatic moment (albeit through a grubby window, with inferior equipment).
I can't help but feel sorry for the poor dove, and her mate who must now find another partner to preen. But at least this was nature at work, and the death of one bird has helped the life of another. The cycle continues.