The Day of the Tramontane.

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Crag Martin Nest.

Crag Martin Nest.

Crag Martins seeking shelter in the entrance to Notre Dame de L'Assomption, Quillan.

Crag Martins seeking shelter in the entrance to Notre Dame de L’Assomption, Quillan.

House Martin (Ltd Screen-print) by Mark Greco

House Martin (Ltd Screen-print) by Mark Greco

I had first spotted the Martins the previous day but had not had such a good sighting to be able to identify what type of Martin I had seen. I had my suspicions but today I was determined to nail it!

The day promised to be a gusty one. La Meteo had given an orange warning for wind in our region and the Tramontane made itself known here in Quillan. Strong gusts of a dry cold northerly wind buffeted us as we headed into town and I was sorry that I had left both my hat and gloves back in the gite. On our way in I tentatively looked around for any signs of a flashing dart in the skies which might signify that the presence of the Martins were still here but, looking at how the wind was driving the clouds, I quietly thought that the conditions may have been too much for them or indeed they may have left overnight to continue their migration.

Approaching Notre Dame de L’Assumption (the church where, I had spotted 20+ of them joyfully hawking by the clock tower the day before) I felt that my fears could have been justified as, on first glance, there was nothing to be seen. The sky was blue but seemed void of any birds. But wait! I caught sight of three Martins hawking and then another. It seemed that they were indeed still in the neighbourhood and not only that when we inspected the nest hidden on a ledge in the the church entrance there they were- five Crag Martins (Ptyonoprogne rupestris) huddled together as if to keep out of the cold wind that still whistled around the church and narrow streets of Quillan.

Unfortunately I had no camera and on a visit back to the church later the same morning there was no sign of any of the Martins- neither swooping around the tower or in the safe confinement of the nest. Had they moved on? I hoped not.

It’s funny how when given a little patience and time to view the natural world around you how often it comes to find you rather than you find it. Not really expecting to see much more of the Crag Martins that day I headed back home and was ready to get on with the day’s work at hand. We had arranged to do some redecorating for the landlord and today was the day we would make a start. When I arrived my partner was still talking on the phone to an old friend so I decided that both myself and the dog should make our escape and head for The Hide.

Not searching for anything in particular I sat back on one of the faded plastic chairs and suddenly my eyes caught a swift flash of one thing, then another and yet another. Small dart like birds were busy hawking- some over the river and others over the Perpignan Road that runs by the side if the Mill. These small brown, swallow like birds with flashes of white on the tail were indeed Crag Martins and there was at least twenty – all searching for food on the wing with a deftifying dexterity and speed that made me feel queasy just watching them.

Anyone who has had the luck to experience either Martins or Swallows hawk at close hand will understand what an amazing and privileged experience this is. To my mind it is one of the rare occasions when you are able to watch birds so unselfconsciously interact with their environment. Sitting on the bank in open sight I felt almost invisible as wave after wave of Crag Martins flew just a few metres past my nose swooping close to the bank towards the water’s surface and the small pebble island that forms in the middle of the river whenever it’s low. Their undulating lines of flight was amazing to watch and I was delighted to spot that a couple of house martins (Delichon urbica) , birds which are very close to my heart, had joined the party.

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