Thoughts inspired by a recent field trip to the Blyde River Canyon area of north-eastern South Africa (where we searched for and watched the hyper-rare Taita Falcon), along with some vaguely corresponding landscape images… 

Hazy pastel shades of the lowveld merge with the far-horizon, where ripe tropical woodlands stretch endlessly to the north. The air here on the escarpment is thinner and less pungent, and a cooling wind ripples along the sharpened edge of the drop-off, eddying in the complex of forested ravines that splice the terminal walls. Crags are patterned red and grey by the ages, laid out as a jumble of soaring, fractured strata. Many are covered by bold splatters of luminous-yellow lichen, and all are swaddled in an earth-coloured, loose-fitting blanket of vegetation.

A rising sun bakes and dries layers of terracotta cliffs. It builds pressure that is released as cymbal-crashes of shimmering heat and waves of glaring, distorted light. The shadows of skeletal trees are projected onto orange screens of darkly cracking rock, shortening and deepening with time. As the liquid, early-morning chorus of colourful birds is slowly drowned by an irresistible tide of insect sounds, a scratchy, airborne call pricks the ear: young falcons, flying playfully across the darkened doorway of a sun-starved gorge, are calling wildly as they chase each other and the light. Punching into a beam of gold, their quick-silver shapes magically appear – tiny, silver sparks, flashing across the ancient rocks.

Towards afternoon the scene dims as clouds join their bulbous, greying hands and rumble in from afar. They shine flickering torches of lightning into previously hidden corners of the landscape, dappling the scene as they arrive. Gusts of wind accelerate and intensify with the approaching storm, bearing aloft an adult falcon. It rides the towering waves of air with complete control and breathless, arcing speed. A small, anchor-shaped life steeples over the mountain, curves into the abyss, and is gone almost before light has marked its way.

A puff of small, freshly-plucked feathers blows out into the canyon, racing the first heavy drops of rain to the ground…




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