Sunday, April 03, 2005

Ducks and Flamingoes at the Camargue

Huge rafts of green-headed mallard, the rusty-headed widgeon or neat, green-eyed teal, shelducks in their carnival colours of greenish-black and rich chestnut, rusty-headed pochard all these speckling the water or purring through the air as they wheeled in flight from one area of marsh to another. In the shallows, storks fished. Occasionally a pair would face each other, throw back their heads and rattle their red beaks like the crackle of Lilliputian musketry. Snow-white spoonbills with their strange spatula beaks, like deformed ping-pong bats, moved solemnly along, sifting the plankton-rich mud through their beaks. Flamingoes like huge pink rose petals moved among the shallows keeping up a constant garrulous ugly honking out of keeping with their elegance and beauty. Then there were the squacco herons, pale as caramel, blue and black beaks and their legs pink with the excitement of the breeding season. Soberly dressed bitterns, standing in reed-beds, doleful as bank managers contemplating their overdrafts, and rather piratical-looking night herons, with black backs and black caps and debonair, drooping white crests and red all-seeing eyes. Next to them the purple herons seemed sinuous and snake-like, with their long chestnut necks and harsh cries, a sort of feathered Uriah Heep. Then in complete contrast were the other waders: sandpipers, pattering along the mud like schoolgirls in their first high heels; redshanks and greenshanks; the black-winged stilts with legs like all those lovely girls you see in America, whose shapely legs seem to start immediately under the chin. Then the paragon of all wading birds, the avocet, moving elegantly on stormcloud-blue legs in a black and white suit, obviously designed by the most expensive Paris fashion-house, aristocratic tip-tilted noses being occasionally dipped into the water and moved from side to side like delicate, beautiful metronomes.


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