Country diary: there’s a buzzard in the air

Look up, we’re told. When confined by walls, fences, buildings, when confounded by civilisation, look up and feel your heart lift.

The other day I looked up and saw an air ambulance in descent overhead, sunlit and cowslip-yellow, its downdrafts hammering the roofs of our mill town. I held my binoculars on it for a while – then noticed, beyond it, like a tiny smut on the lens, a buzzard, working a wide curve on the brink of sight.

Our house has no garden, but it came with a lot of sky. Usually the regulars have it to themselves – black-headed gulls elbow languidly along, pigeons perform cryptic soap operas of flight, antsy jackdaws always seem to need to be somewhere else – but every now and then we have sparrowhawks, too. Kestrels nest at the foot of the disused mill chimney. Once or twice, a peregrine has sailed in, all burly charisma, show-offy strut. And buzzards – more than ever, this spring.

Today’s buzzard is as low in the sky as I’ve seen one here. I’m out on my walk. I wasn’t looking up until it drifted into my periphery; now I am. I can make out its long-fingered wings and tightly ruddering tail, its maculate underside. As common as anything, these days, buzzards – there’s nowhere they’re not in Britain – but a big raptor, up close, will always stop you in the street. This one rides its winding thermal across the double-track of a plane’s contrail.

Most of the buzzards I see here come drifting in from the north, over the brink of the great gritstone hummock that separates us from the Wharfe valley. They nose their way warily into our airspace, mentally mapping out the cricket fields, football pitches, wooded parkland below. They are insistently territorial, so I suppose they reckon that in, too – this is mine now, this is mine now, and this, and this…

Today’s seems quite at home just a cherrypicker’s height above our sandstone gables. It’s silly, but at this time of human withdrawal I can’t help wondering if the birds are growing bolder. Later, I watch a magpie stroll slowly across a neighbour’s shed roof. Not a worry in the world.


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