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FEEDING THE BIRDS OF PREY
by Chris Barchard
We were in the garden of the house in Switzerland where we were staying with my girlfriend's relations, with whom I was only briefly acquainted. The man pointed to the sky. "See that," he said, indicating a bird of prey circling above; "We feed him. I will show you." He went to the kitchen, quickly returning with a couple of large lumps of cheese and some uncooked bacon rinds, which he threw confidently into the centre of the lawn. It was an unusual garden by English conventions, characterised by a sort of managed wildness. The grass was quite long and there was an abundance of wild flowers that he later told me they had planted. Apparently this kind of garden management is the fashion in Switzerland.
We sat three of us together on a garden swing seat, my girlfriend lying on the grass to my left and the rest of the party sitting on the patio. We watched the bird as it started gradually circling lower and eventually swooped down and silently glided towards its "prey", not just dive bombing it as I had previously thought these birds did. It passed right over my girlfriend, who froze in horror, and then it came almost into contact with the lawn as it picked up a piece of cheese. Then it was off with one beat of its wings. This was repeated three or four times while a couple of other birds of the same type came into view. Two of the birds seemed to be mates since they got so close, calling to each other.
After the first sortie I trained my camera on the food, which was replenished a little later, after I had unsuccessfully tried to get a picture. But eventually team effort prevailed. My girlfriend's father and brother, who were sharing the swing seat with me, told of the approach of these impressive creatures with five foot wingspans, while I went on alert to press the shutter button as soon as they came into frame. I got two pictures of them, the one here showing the head down about to pick up a large cube of cheese. Stranger things happen in my head, but not much.