now I’ve seen it all

river Arenal, Gredos

I’ve seen it all – though sadly I don’t have photos, so have had to link to other sites: I’ve finally seen all the animals and birds that appear on the information board along by the river in the village. There aren’t that many, but it’s taken me six years to get a full house:

The white-tuckered dippers are common enough. They dive in and glide underwater like tiny penguins – though I think they look slightly less formal, as if they’re wearing dickeys rather than perfectly pressed white dress shirts. I find it sad that the Spanish simply call them mirlo acuático – water blackbirds – as it seems to belittle their individuality.

Then there are the wagtails. There are various types around this area, but I think the sign shows a grey wagtail, which, ironically, is as yellow as it is grey. The Spanish name is lavanderalavandera cascadeña for the grey – which means washerwoman. I know I see them on the rocks down by the river, but they seem far too capricious to be trusted to get the laundry done. Their bobbing flight and skittering sideways would mean that even if they were sky-blue-pink, they’d be clearly recognisable as relatives of the pied Trotty Wagtail I grew up with in the UK.

There are a pair of herons – grey herons, I think – garza real – who have nested by the river, and they can be heard sometimes before they fly into sight, their vast wings, tightly hooked neck and en pointe ballet-shoe feet making the silhouette unmistakable.

The last of the birds shown on the sign is the kingfisher – the martín pescador – that gloriously uplifting flash of vivid blue that you never quite see long enough for it to take the shape of a bird. I even saw a pair of them one morning, and came home wondering how I could call myself a poet if I couldn’t tell other people what I’d just seen. But, like the time I looked out of an attic window in Kensington and saw a pair of swans fly the whole length of the street, low over the walled gardens of London, it remains an image I treasure though I haven’t yet found a way to share it.

Down by the river, though not listed on the sign for visitors to watch out for, I’ve also seen red squirrels sleeking along tilted pine trunks, rats and shrews, a snake swimming with its head held carefully above the surface – just like I swim, keeping eyes and hair as dry as possible! – and an eel that had no such qualms. A few times, I’ve seen a flash of gold that I guess was an oriole – an oropéndula – high in the pines, and once there was a cormorant, bobbing incongruously among the rocks. There are often dragon flies, their shadows like shadows of distant helicopters, all kinds of butterfly, and waterboatmen whose meniscoid footprints dapple darkly on the water.

But today, I saw the last of the animals on the sign. One that I’d thought was just village bravado when I saw they’d listed it. I saw an otteruna nutria. It slipped from under an overhanging rock on the bank and disappeared under the water immediately, but there’s no doubt the plump grey slug-sleekness was far too large to be a rat, an impression confirmed when it eventually surfaced a couple of feet from the bank before disappearing into the rocks again.

So, I’ve finally seen it all. But since I haven’t seen it all close up, and don’t have any photographs, I’ll still have to pay attention on my morning walks.

Incidentally, I’m sure I’ve said it before, but Nick Lloyd’s Iberia Nature is a marvellous website that has proved tremendously useful for me when I’ve needed to check the translations of animal and bird species.

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

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