Yesterday was a thoroughly unpleasant day: cold (very cold), wet (very wet) and dark (very dark). There's a wonderful French word, much loved by weather forecasters: maussade. It means dull and dismal; it also means sullen. (Don't you just love the idea of the weather being sullen? Perfect word.) And the fact that I was putting the seven hundredth and fifty-ninth coat of paint on yet another of our panelled glazed doors did nothing to assuage my mood.
But there was a silver lining: cranes. Halfway through the afternoon a strange and loud trumpeting noise drew my attention. Wah! Geese! yelled the ex-Norfolk me to anyone who'd listen, before realising that the only geese you're likely to see in Ariège are on your dinner table. Flocks of hundreds, even thousands, of flying geese - we'd get them over the house almost daily in the wnter - are about the only thing I miss from the Norfolk days, especially the Brents with their growly 'rruckk' call. I racked my paint-befuddled brain and realised that they must be cranes.
And cranes they were. Huge V shapes of them, common cranes (grues cendrées) on their way across the Pyrénées to spend their winter in warmer climes. Ariège is not on the main crane route, which is much farther west, but birding friends here have told me that we can expect to see them every so often. To see a big flock flying over our house was a huge treat. To see a second flock following at dusk was an even bigger one. But to hear, and then glimpse, a third, flying right over the chimney pots at midnight on the night of the full moon, was something unforgettable: in spite of the bitter cold, in spite of the lashing rain, in spite of being half undressed for bed, I ran outside to the track and watched, and listened.
The picture is not, I confess, mine. But this is what I saw:
And today I stumbled upon this video, captured by a local person at St Lizier, just a few kilometres down the road.
An ah -so moment.