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They’re returning, wave after wave of them spilling over the delta of the Evros River. The sky is streaked with sharp-winged falcons, with storks whitening the meadows when they descend, with flocks of ibis that close like black umbrellas on the lagoons. The air is awash with wings.
The delta belongs to the sea as much as any continent, and its light reflects the confluence of the two, the land shot through by both water and the sun’s incandescence. Shorebirds shimmer and then turn invisible, flashing like shoals above the shallows. The languorous white drapery of an egret’s plumes shines like crystals in the snow and isolated shrines taken on a glimmer of warm stone. The delta glows with the light of birds.
After days of rain the dark reefs of cloud have been swept away by a cold northerly and migrating birds have resumed their journeys, crossing this watery realm that clasps Greece to Turkey, the Middle East to southern Europe. Raptors rise and fade like passing smiles, brief and wheeling in the wind. Pelicans circle towards the sun, shards of white light barely visible from below. Lark song trickles down from the sky and hoopoes unfurl their frilled and regal crests. Terns screech and sail by, moving back and forth on the air like kites being pulled from whatever lands and seas they’ve left behind.
What maps I would need to chart these trajectories. And as many again to sketch the birds’ destinations: impenetrable reed beds lining the Danube’s estuary; a mist-wreathed marsh in a Polish oak wood; a scrape of sand on a Scandinavian shore. These birds stitch the hemispheres together, and within seconds many of them are gone, streaming north along invisible rivers that wend only through air. Just an afterimage of wings in their wake, and the sky hanging still.
Joshua Foer has written that “remembering can only happen if you decide to take notice” so I try to etch each moment and brilliantly glimpsed bird as if the day held no others. But there’s no hope of holding on to them all. I could twirl forever beneath this burnished sky swept clear by storms and remember but a fraction of what it contains today.
Some days out on the delta aren’t filled with moments to remember but successive waves of light and flight. You are washed and wakened by wings. Brought into the company of creatures adhering to scarcely believable rites. Enduring storms, wild seas and starvation. Following stars and winds, ancient encoded memories. They pass over this place as they have countless others along the way – pushing north according to ancestral longings and taking the warm season with them. And the light that swells over the delta seems to lift the birds in the same way as the furrowing wind. Edging them over the salt marshes and shallow pans, making them buoyant after days of wrecking weather, spinning them on across the sky.