knowing this vast, fearless bird that will take a goshawk or fox is nearby adds a little spice to walking through the olive grove to give the pony her night feed
The Pyrenean chamois antelope (Rupicapra pyrenaica) made me slam on my brakes. It cleared the ditch with ease and trotted across the tarmac before propelling itself majestically over the crash barrier and down the steep slope on the left towards the river dam.
I was on a back lane weaving through the rugged Priorat terrain and hilltop villages to go to work at the olive mill – yes, the Priorat, in the toe of Catalonia, some distance south of the chamois’ normal Pyrenean habitat. There was no mistaking. The two horns distinctively curled back and splayed. The wondrous tan creature with dark stripes running down either side of its face between eyes and mouth was just a few metres in front of me.
Nothing is constant. We establish ranges, habitats and migrations of wild creatures then they evolve or diminish. Everything is fluid. Take what is now the nightly call of the eagle owl (Bubo bubo). Remember when I wrote last year that we had heard and seen our first one here in 22 years? It was on a branch four metres from our door. Well now it is close by every dusk and dark hour, high in a pine, fig or walnut tree. The call is distinctive, and knowing this vast, fearless bird that will take a goshawk or fox is nearby adds a little spice to walking through the olive grove to give the pony her night feed. Occasionally two will be out there somewhere, their song, a deep single note - “whoa” - bouncing back and forth across the valley. The reasons are now everywhere. Rabbits belt in all directions regardless of the hour. One female rabbit and her descendants can multiply more than a thousand times in two years.
This surge in wealth of prey has to have been a draw, too, for the genets which have now moved in, the only member of the Viverridae family found in Europe. A full grown rabbit might be too big for these nocturnal predators, but a kit, a baby rabbit, would not.
Animals that breed successfully can quickly establish new territories and nature is forever adjusting. Living on the fringe of a vast natural park gives us a rare and enthralling connection.
Another sound. I cannot be 100 per cent sure... yet. We are used to the upset of farm and village tom cats fighting, screaming, but this was different. It was coming from the deep forest. The hope is we have an established colony of Felis silvestris, wild cats. The habitat is perfect, with massive wilderness, low human density and, yes, a proliferation of rabbits, their favourite food.
The only other possibility is lynx, but I think I may just be getting well ahead of myself. Roll on the day they are here. I may have seen one before you read this, a moose and black bear too... in Canada where Maggie was born, on a visit to the family home (and to promote Priorat olive oil).