August 12th, 2011

A Haunting Evening Song

At this period of the summer, each night we come home late at night, we are greeted by families of stone curlews who nest in our olive orchard next to the mourvedre.  With their long thin legs, their disproportionately big head and their huge yellow reptilian eyes, they are like no other bird.  The only strictly land based waders in Europe, they are nocturnal (thus the yellow eyes) and feed on insects and small reptiles.  During the day it’s hard to pick them out because they nest (and sleep) on the bare stony garrigue, and their plumage is a perfect camouflage.

These birds are monogamous and eggs are laid from late April through August, so one pair can produce four clutches of two or three eggs.  Both parents tend to their young and most of their young return close to where they were born.  So over the years we have seen our colony of stone curlews thrive, and we encounter more and more of them scurring about around our home and in our vineyards.

But what marks my spirit most about these birds is their song that resonates in the early evening hours.  Their calls are haunting and can go on intermittently throughout the night.  When I think about our landscape, the stone curlew’s cries echo in my mind, evoking the feel of the mistral, the light of a full moon reflecting off the land, and the smells of our golden pebbles, shrub oaks, thyme and rosemary.

I know this isn’t the best photo.  But you get an idea of what these birds looks like. And for your listening pleasure, I’ve included in this post a snippet of their song.

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