From huppes to rapaces--birds in our French garden, les oiseaux dans le sud de la France
Thursday, May 06, 2021
Un gabian strutting across the table on our front porch. Read to the end for all the useful French words and expressions.
Today's Word: s'envoler
: to fly away, to take flight; to take off, to be blown away
Hear Jean-Marc read the following in French and in English.
Si tu te sers de la liberté en échange d'autre chose, comme l'oiseau, elle s'envolera. If you use freedom in exchange for something else, like the bird, it will fly away. --Gao Xingjian (émigré to Paris, Nobel Prize for literature)
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse
"Freedom is for the birds." That's a funny title for today's musing, given "for the birds" means anything from "worthless" to "not important". No wonder birdwatching is less popular these days than surfing the net or social etiquette or wearing the right dress (stuff I think about. More about that later).
Mysteriously, the moment I chose "birds" as the subject of today's post...the most exotic oiseau in Provence paid a visit to our garden! I had just sat down for a solo lunch on our front porch, which overlooks the wild garden when I recognized those white and black zebra wings and that impressive crest sur la tête. I'll never forget the first time I saw une huppe after it landed on our pétanque court back in Les Arcs-sur-Argens. Quelle curiosité! I have only seen a few over the years and had I been eating lunch inside I never would have seen this animal diurne as it alighted on the diagonal trunk of our pepper tree (in the opening photo, you see the weeping branches of the faux-poivrier).
(And now, a brief interlude in time to list some birds in our neighborhood, and where we see them)
le martinet = swift (seen in the air this time of year)
le rouge-gorge = robin redbreast (seen in our Judas tree)
le corbeau = crow, raven (the gigantic parasol pines across the street)
la pie = magpie (struts around yard, often seen in the mulberry tree, eating!)
la mésange = chickadee (hedges)
la hirondelle = swallow (in the air)
le flamant rose = flamingo (rare in our area, spotted on the seashore)
le pouillot fitis = willow warbler (not sure, but I hear they exist here...)
le merlin noire = merlin (parasol pines? Am I confusing them with those crows?)
As I sit typing this post, I hear the familiar screech of a green perruche and am transported back to a few summers ago... Mom shouting for us to hurry outside--a bunch of parrots were flying around our palm tree, attracted to the bright orange dates growing there. How did these exotic creatures end up in the Land of the Mistral? Were they escapees from a neighboring villa? Fugitives from the zoo in Toulon? In the days that followed, I quizzed everyone from the Jehovah’s Witnesses who regularly ring our doorbell to the municipal meter maids (trained to spot freeloaders!). Thanks to these accidental informants, I learned a lot about la perruche à collier (Psittacula krameri), including a few things we immigrants have common…(more here).
Just last night, Mom, Smokey, and I were sitting beside the cherry tree surrounded by doves (two or three in Jules's lap) when Mom noted that what is usual to us (all the soft gray tourterelles in our garden) is spectacular to others. As natives of Arizona, living in The Sonoran Desert, we enjoyed the roadrunners, quail, and hummingbirds (which do not exist in France), but seagulls were something never seen before! These days they are ubiquitous in our seaside town. (The locals here call them "les gabians.")
Speaking of birds by the sea, the cormorant is another species in our voisinage. I see the same couple every day, in one of the coves along the boardwalk. Ils sont là, tes amis! There are your friends! Jean-Marc always says, when we walk by. There is a certain comfort in seeing the same birds in the same place at the same time, every day.
Of everyday birds we can count on pigeons! They left the boardwalk and moved into our yard after the first lockdown. Three confinements later, gone are the restaurants (and all the savory scraps along le trottoir...). Now all our doves (and our chicken) must share seeds with these economic migrants. Speaking of hungry birds this brings us to a sad parenthesis: birds of prey (les rapaces in French). I am certain they are what snatched up two more of our chickens in the last months. After learning owls (les hiboux or les chouettes) can swoop in and carry off a hen, I began to suspect Le Petit-Duc, whose evening cry à la metronome is unmistakable. On second thought, and after talking to a venerable paysanne who lives nearby, it had to be une buse (a buzzard or a hawk).
That leaves us with the biggest bird in our garden, our hen, Edie. We are doing our best to protect her. As for protecting all the other birds in our neighborhood, they say it is important not to use pesticides--and if you want to attract more birds into your yard, keep a shallow bowl of water, food, and put out a few more birdhouses. I'm going to purchase some wooden nichoirs at the next chance. Tell me, what are your secrets to enjoying the presence of birds? What benefits have you experienced? My smartphone informs me I've spent less time on the internet last week. Isn't that freeing? Now if I only I could quit ruminating about what to wear for a few upcoming social events. After three lockdowns I'm more comfortable watching birds than dressing up. I wish, like the hoopoe, I could just wear zebra wings every day (and for fancy occasions une crête sur la tête).
Please consider following my Instagram account -- apart from the photos I post of our area in France, it is a good backup. Should this journal experience a glitch, you will always be informed of a new post via Instagram
s'envoler = to fly away
un oiseau = bird
sur la tête = on the head
une huppe = hoopoe bird
la pétanque = boules
quelle curiosité = what an oddity
diurne = diurnal, daytime
le bec = beak, bill
le faux-poivrier = "false pepper tree" (schinus molle)
la perruche = parrot
la tourterelle = turtledove
le voisinage = neighborhood
le trottoir = sidewalk, pavement
le rapace = bird of prey, raptor
un hibou = owl (can also mean "grouchy person"
la chouette = owl
le petit-duc scops = scops owl
le paysan, la paysanne = farmer, peasant
la buse = buzzard, hawk
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety