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U3A Writing: The Maiden Flight

A first flight brings warning cries in this evocative article by Sandy Saunders.

As the Wolley laughs its way down into the Torridge, lesser streams chuckle into it from either side. Densely wooded slopes provide homes for a glorious variety of wildlife and at the top of one, a pair of buzzards had nested and reared a chick.

It eventually clambered out of the nest and began to experiment with its freshly fledged wings. At first it stayed very close to the nest, but as it grew more confident it inched further along the branch until it could stand and flap with daily increasing vigour.

At last the time came when youngster and parents all agreed that conditions were right for a maiden flight. Having edged to the very last tip of the branch, the youngster flopped, flipped and finally flapped into an unsteady passage down into the valley, parents swooping and wheeling round him screeching encouragement as he wobbled along. In the confines of a small valley this circus took most of the available air-space.

The stream was a breeding area for a variety of fish species, and their young had attracted the attention of a mother heron, who herself had young about a mile downstream. She had been cranking her ponderous way up the Wolley when a ray of sunshine flashed on something in the side-stream. Lowering her head so as not to miss the next evidence of her intended prey she turned up the side valley, fortunately now flying even more slowly as she waited for a further revealing flash.

The two mature buzzards screamed warnings to the youngster and volleyed oaths at the heron. She ignored them, being much more interested in food for her young. The youngster was much more willing to listen but while his vertical motions were more or less under control, his lateral changes of course were not. He continued to wobble right into the path of the heron.

The adult buzzards were by now performing aerial feats not previously dreamed of and their combined imprecations would have drowned a whole Albert Hall of Brunhildes.

At the very last second the heron looked up and with a weary droop of its long wings slid just underneath the youngster. His descent was by now perilously close to stalling point; his parents swiftly took up station on either side of him and escorted him to a convenient branch of a near-by oak. He sat there for a long time before he flew back home.

Did something in the youngster's cries trigger a faint echo of a universal distress frequency used by all original bird species and cause the mother heron to take pity on him? Or did she just then catch another glimpse of silver from the stream below and dive slightly to make sure she did not over-run her prey? We'll never know.

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