Thursday, September 25, 2008

He's A Bird, Dog

This is a good area for birdlife. It would be virtually impossible to step out of a morning and not see lots of jays. They are very common. There are many smaller birds. I am not big on birds (although probably slightly better informed than a friend who refers to them as “flyey things” – Hello Mike) but we frequently have black redstarts in our yard and lots of tits in our conker tree. Various types of corvidae, including ravens, we hear these barking up in the sky.

It is rare to cast an eye heavenwards without seeing a buzzard, or hearing one or more, with their plaintive cries. Kites are very common. Increasingly regularly seen in this area are vultures which have been coming over the Pyrenees from Spain – we hear various explanations for that. Not far from the house every year now we see Egyptian vultures, black and white. I think they are migratory.

Carl and Diana, some Australian friends who used to live next door, were very keen on birds. They told us that on the Sault plateau, which rises to 1400 metres in the direction of Andorra, but again not far away, one day they saw scores of various types of raptor.

One spectacle we have missed so far is the roosting of the storks. I believe these storks live in northern Europe during the summer, building nests on top of chimneys and generally making themselves visually very prominent while they go about raising their young. They are big birds, which seem to be particularly fond of Germany. Every few years (possibly every year – we don’t see the press every day) the local newspapers carry reports and photographs of a visitation to the Aude by the storks on their way to Africa, or Lanzarote, or wherever they go to for their holidays). A couple of years ago it was EspĂ©raza which was blessed by a score or so of storks, roosting on roofs or chimneys while they gathered their strength for the next day’s flight. A couple of weeks ago we read, and saw the piccies, about the same size of group which had rested overnight in Quillan. There are more hotels in Quillan than Esperaza, which is probably what brought about the switch.

We always hear about the storks after they have visited, which is a shame. It would be a fine sight to see.

The point I was making earlier about the aroma of the haylage is that on foot you smell, see and hear things that you would never experience in a car, and on these quiet white D-roads, minutes can go by without seeing or hearing a vehicle. It just gives a completely different perspective on life to hear the sounds of life of all sorts, wild and domestic.

Speaking of domestic animals I have recently been re-reading several books about long distance walks, including some in France. I keep reading that dogs are a big problem for walkers in France. I must admit that I have never really had much trouble with dogs and I do tend to think that they go for people who they can sense are afraid of them. That’s not to say that I would not be cautious with a strange dog approaching.

I once had an article published in the magazine which is now called Runner’s World. It was about the danger of being attacked by dogs and my basic recommendation was that you should take another dog with you, as a decoy. I don’t have a dog now but something I discovered some time ago – I can’t remember whether I read this or discovered it myself – is that if dogs are running towards you, barking and snarling as they do, you should pick up a stone, or appear to pick up a stone, there doesn’t have to be one there. If you do this, dogs turn tail and run yelping as if they have been hit. It has always worked for me and I have done it numerous times. Until recently. On one of my walks from Limoux to home, two dogs came running towards me and I did the stone trick. They didn’t take any notice. Fortunately, they were not nasty, they just dashed around me a little. They were friendly, which I think most dogs are anyway, when it comes to the crunch.

I certainly wouldn’t rely on that trick if a Doberman or Rottweiler or Pit-bull came charging towards me. I don’t know what I would do. I am getting the impression, more and more, that it would be wise to carry a stick. This is not something I have ever done and it would be an encumbrance, but I am thinking about it.

Does anybody know what the legal position is with carrying a tazer or a pepper spray? I remember the aforementioned Carl once telling me that he had seen tazers for sale in Andorra. It’s an interesting idea, but I don’t know whether I would be allowed to carry one here in France or in Britain, where obviously part of my walk will take me.

I’ll be interested to hear if anybody knows.

In the meantime, it has not escaped my attention that my daughters have 5 dogs between them, so I am considering a temporary loan of a sacrificial dog or two.

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