Yesterday morning in the orchards the temperature felt fresher, thanks to a tramontane, so when I heard the burbling call of bee eaters coming from the far corner of the apricot plantation, I extended my dog's walk to try to see them. I'd forgotten that once fruit picking is well underway, as it is now, this area turns into the least pleasant part of the circuit. It's where all the reject apricots and nectarines are dumped.
In contrast, swallows and house martins were swooping and diving in all directions, sometimes skimming past, inches from the ground. I imagine they only had to fly with their beaks open, rather than chase anything down. Other species, including white wagtails (lots of those) and hoopoes, were picking insects off the heaps of blackening fruit. Even the male woodchat shrike and youngsters were cashing in on the buffet libre. Perfect for fattening up before their long journey to Africa. I just hoped none of them would overdose on drunken insects.
Although I had my camera, the birds weren't co-operative. The only things that flew anywhere near my dog and me were bluebottles. And I feared less welcome insects might soon follow. We were standing alongside a deep ditch, whose banks were overgrown with a mixture of purple, yellow and white wildflowers. There were even a few bulrushes, which I've never noticed there before. It was a pretty sight, but I suspected that at the bottom of that mass of vegetation there might still be stagnant water. The ideal breeding ground for tiger mosquitoes.
We didn't linger.
As we circled round, the resident pair of buzzards put in a brief appearance (I wonder if they have bred successfully again this year), and a few minutes later, through binos, I picked up the pale underside of a short-toed eagle. The tramontane was forcing it to fly lower than usual, giving me the best of few sightings that I've had this year. Gliding directly into the wind, wings bent, its profile was almost osprey-like. But the contrast between the whiteness of its body, tail and wings, and the dark "hood" over its throat and upper chest, made it unmistakable. In another six weeks or so, these eagles will be heading south again.
The bee eaters were the first I've seen since spring, which makes me think they might be in the vanguard of the autumn migration. They're usually off very early. The behaviour of other birds is turning more autumnal too. Most have stopped singing. Already a small flock of starlings has appeared in the vineyards; goldfinches are gathering in greater numbers ...
Change is in the air.