Posts Tagged ‘Living in the Alentejo’

Cheshire Cats

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

As I sit here it’s just started to rain outside and I’m smiling fit to bust.
No, I’m no masochist, and I know that it sounds truly funny for an English/Irishman to be smiling at the rain, (especially for those who know me well and who know I’d rather be on two wheels than two legs), but for those of us lucky enough to be living here the rain is something very special.
It last rained here three weeks ago and before that it was a clear four months, and, though having the sun every day is gorgeous, one hankers after the rain after a long dry period, so you may understand better now why I’m looking like a Cheshire Cat. The garden gets watered, the dust on the track settles down, the plants just spring into action, (especially at this time of year when the earth’s still so warm), insects hatch and emerge all over the place and every living organism takes advantage of the bonus …. in short there’s suddenly a huge increase in Life in general. There’s more food for everything right the way up the food chain and it’s all made the most of as quickly as possible, stocking up for winter.
But the Cheshireness of my appearance right now is not only to do with the rain; it runs deeper than that ….
I remember a few years ago leading a birdwatching trip out to the Plains the day after the first big rain of the year; everything was very fresh, the summer’s layer of dust had been washed from the leaves of all the trees and overnight the first new grass was sprouting through the earth, dusting the countryside with a patina of green.
It was marvelous to see the difference from the previous week and to feel Nature bursting at the seams, but the truly amazing sight was all the raptors feeding on the flying ants.
The latter emerge at the first sign of a chance to make a new nest, and that’s invariably when the rain has made the ground easier to burrow and food more plentiful, but they were so many in numbers that day, (recourse was made to the windscreen wipers more than once), that the birds were gorging themselves on them far and wide. Everywhere one looked there were Kestrels, Buzzards, Kites and Eagles, as well as the Shrikes and other insect eaters that one would expect.
I’ve never seen so many raptors in the sky at the same time - no, I lie, that accolade goes to the day last year when I lucked into a stream of Booted Eagles on their way south, (over 200 over our heads at the same time) - but that day on the Plains came a very close second and in some ways was more magnificent.
After all, everyone’s heard of The Migration, but I’ve never heard of The Frenzy of the Ants, so I reckon I’ll be taking a quick trip out there tomorrow just to see if I can catch the repeat; beats watching one on the telly, doesn’t it just?!