0700, alarm goes off, stumble downstairs in the half-light to make tea… the sun pops over the Col de Port over to the east and lights up the hillside as though a million stadium lights suddenly switch on. Glancing out of the kitchen glass doors, I’m aware of movements… dozens of small birds wheeling around the electric poles, swooping at high speed at the house, spinning away at the last minute.
Then, just as quickly, they shoot over to the electricity wires between the poles that march down the hill to the neighbour’s house 200 metres below and perch. Only for a couple of minutes though, then they’re back into the swooping and diving. I’m sure they’re doing it just for the fun of it… why wouldn’t you if you could!
They’re very difficult to photograph in flight because they’re small, don’t fly in straight lines and there’s no discernible pattern to their flight. But I manage to get one shot that’s half decent and we go through our book of birds to identify them. Are they swallows? No, tail not long enough. Swifts? No, not quite right. House martins? Yes, that adds up and there’s even the point that they flock in numbers and perch on electricity and telephone wires before starting the migration south.
Again, that adds up because although today is warm and sunny, last night we had a big electrical storm pass through the valley, nip up the hill and then come back down again. When you’re at 1,000 metres (3,300 feet) as we are, then the storm is actually all around you, not necessarily above. It was cold too, and nippy this morning first thing. Looking over to the mountains (which you can’t help but do, given our south-facing location), we notice the first snow has dusted the tops of the higher peaks. Mont Valier off to the west has a clear coating but so do some of the others – some higher than 3,000 metres.