|Dark-phase Booted Eagle (John Hawkins)|
A day later we were to witness the consequence of such scrutiny. Again a Booted Eagle was fixed poised high above us and, without warning, a singular contraction of the wings instantly changed its shape to that of an arrow-head. So fast was the stoop that it was hard to trace it with our binoculars and suddenly the silence was rent by the stridence of swallow alarm calls. From the Retama scrub just a few metres from where we stood, the eagle braked and rose and it took us a further few seconds to realise that it was carrying away its prize. A nearby sturdy concrete gatepost served as a plucking post and later as we examined the scene, amongst the tussles of body feathers were the unmistakable white-dotted, slender bluish tail feathers of a Barn Swallow.
Booted Eagles are, I think, the most brazen in their hunting stoops, verging on the obliviousness of the foolhardy. I have seen them plunge into the rank vegetation of the Madrid motorway verge, just behind a crash-barrier. Or entering a round-about at the edge of the city of Cáceres, I have been dangerously distracted by the sight of a Booted Eagle dive into the ornamental shrubs in the centre of the roundabout's island. At times, as we watched Booted Eagles in their static glides, a bird would pull out of a stoop halfway and would jerk upwards to regain its position, just as if it were held by a puppeteer's string.
Perhaps the Short-toed Eagle excels even the Booted Eagle in this command of the air, habitually locking itself at even higher elevation, with strongly barred-tail widely spread. But frequently it lapses into a gentle hover, with its broad wings pawing the air softly as its vision seeks the shape of a slumbering snake.
|Raptor Identification course May 2016 (Martin Kelsey)|
|Spanish Imperial Eagle (John Hawkins)|
Golden Eagles, despite their heavier shape, flew with a beautiful buoyancy, gliding with uptilted wings, wavering on a central axis. And we whooped too as we witnessed the sheer exuberance of Golden Eagles in their somersaulting sky-dance display.
But for me, always, nothing can ever match the exhilaration of the unannounced appearance of Bonelli's Eagles, the gripping combination of place and time. In a dramatic landscape of sheer valley sides, rocks and trees, the bird swings around the spur of the ridge, eye-level and without a flap rises from the valley side to circle three times above us. Then, allowing gravity's pull to almost suck it away from us, we watch this most enigmatic of eagles silently taking its leave as it follows the course of the valley. Gone from our vision, it leaves us speachless.
|Bonelli's Eagle (Martin Kelsey)|