Nature Notes

Mole and Buzzard

On golden stubble, a buzzard feather is trapped between stalks. I pick it up – it is a secondary flight feather; shorter, broader and more rounded, an ‘underarm’ feather that provides lift. The narrower vane of the leading edge is dark brown, with almost indistinguishable horizontal barring. Lightening to a dun on the other side of the hollow shaft, the dark bars become apparent, an inch apart and mottling as they descend into the cream-coloured part of the feather, that whitens into downy barbs near the ‘quill point.’ I could write with it.

The offspring of its owner are mewing plaintively from the wood. Each year the young buzzards use the metal brace around the bottom of the telegraph poles to learn to hunt from and every now and then, they fly over, making a perfect shadow over the stubble. As I walk with the feather in my hand, my arm gently swinging, the feather responds as it is designed to, as if it wants to live. It resists the wind. Stiffening and rising, it vibrates with purpose and life, but wobbles and feels unstable on its own. I make a poor pilot.

By the hedge, a scrap of black velvet catches my eye. A young mole lying as if dead on the surface. I pick its surprisingly heavy, bean-bag body up and it wriggles and squirms, the remains of a fine crumb of earth falling off it like water off a duck’s back. My eldest daughter, in her summer uniform of t-shirt, shorts and wellies, comes running over and to her delight, I hand her the mole (after warning her of its bite). We study him carefully – or her, it is hard to tell. The fur is beautiful, suede-like and lies in any direction, allowing the animal to move forwards and backwards through close tunnels, without resistance. Its body is a solid cylinder, with no visible ears and a short, bristly tail. Its eyes are the tiniest pin pricks of light and its snout is long, pink, very mobile and surrounded by stiff whiskers. It lies in her cupped hands, resting on astonishing forepaws that negate any need of forelegs or ‘arms’. They are huge spades with five long white nails each; pale, human hands, their palms creased with lines I could read, to tell its fortune.

We place him on the ground and immediately, as if wound by clockwork, he digs away with incredible speed. Four strokes of his great paddles and he is gone, swimming into earth that closes over him as if he were never there. As we straighten, the buzzard shadow passes over us again, mewing, and the feather trembles and tugs in my hand.

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