You know that queasy feeling that you are being watched? Of course you do.
But I’m not talking about deep state or online data capture. This is about the unnerving sense that non casual, uncomfortably close, piercing eyes are upon you.
It is normal to be scared of the dark. The human species tends to seek comfort in congregation and illumination, despite a darkening disposition to be socially fractious. Being separated from the pack may well not be a happy place, doubly so if you are in unfamiliar surroundings and there are shadows, strange noises and chasms of deafening silence.
But I am not out of my comfort zone. Our wild home on the fringe of a serra and forest is familiar ground. We have lived happily for a very long time with nature soaring, scurrying, slithering, scampering. The now almost nightly visits of grunting boar right up to the house, wrecking terraced walls and breaking irrigation pipes, are irritating and astounding (given their cheek), but not frightening.
We are long used to walking the land at dusk and in the dark. Now we are wary.
It started with a bark.
We were working late in the farmhouse office, funnelling olive oil orders through our online accounting system. Yawn. It was about 10pm. Night had almost fallen. Suddenly, right outside our back door, a few feet from us, came a high-pitched canine call.
“What the hell was that?”
Fox? Perhaps, but they tend to scream. It was too rapid a bark, coming in short volleys.
Maggie went to the window in the darkened kitchen. I opened the back door. It barked again, whatever it was, very close, but my reasonably good eyes could not adjust. I’m a tad deaf in my left ear which makes tracking sound difficult, but I was pretty sure it was coming from just in front and above me.
Outside the back door there are three metres of concrete then steps up to grass and two vast Cyprus trees and some head-high plum trees. I clapped my hands. There was a pause and then Maggie yelled. Something vast had flown away from the house into our olive grove.
The barking faded with it. A barking bird. A vast bird. I followed and it retreated up the land.
It was a Bubo Bubo (arguably the lovelies of Latin names). But it is daunting, and it is out there, right there, watching, waiting. I keep hearing it, barking when alarmed but also hooting.
Eagle owls are vast, fearless, wondrous works of art with a wingspan of almost two metres, eyes that look into your soul, and the talons, power and gall to take on a fox, a young deer, a goshawk, other owls even a wild boar piglet.
We figure that must be the lure. We have been knee-deep in boar, as I said, many of them striped infants, for most of the dry summer, the hogs indifferent to our torch beams and our bellowing, blithely gobbling up hazel nuts, figs and other fruits, ploughing the ground where there are leaks in our water pipes.
Rabbits, Bubo Bubo’s staple prey, are as rare as hen’s teeth here. There are rodents and other birds for it to feed on, but they have always been here. No, it must be the carousel of the ever increasing, nocturnal pigs.
Are we wrong? Answers on a postcard, please, or maybe drop a line to Catalonia Today.