....they were bigger and nobler and heftier than either and, at a closer look, totally different....



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 The Great Bustard (Otis tarda) is in the bustard family, the only member of the genus Otis. It breeds in southern and central Europe, where it is the largest species of bird, and across temperate Asia. European populations are mainly resident, but Asian birds move further south in winter. Portugal and Spain now contain about 60% of the world's population

I found him strolling in the avenue that led to the house. He must have been around thirty-five. He had a frail look, a slight tremor, and an expression of anguish - not only with me, I was relieved to see - which a rather sorrowful smile lit up. A natural tendency to speak slowly had been accentuated by a bad motor-crash brought about by falling asleep at the wheel. There was something touching and very nice about him, and as I write, I am looking at a couple of sketches in the back of my notebook; not very good ones, but a bit of this quality emerges. German was his only alternative to Magyar. He said, "Come and see my Trappen!" I didn't understand the last word, but we strolled to the other side of the house where two enormous birds were standing under the trees. A first glance suggested a mixture of goose and turkey but they were bigger and nobler and heftier than either and, at a closer look, totally different; the larger bird was well over a yard from beak to tail. His neck was pale grey with a maroon collar, his back and his wings a speckled reddish buff and strange weeping whiskers swept backwards from his beak like a slipstream of pale yellow Dundrearies. Their gate was stately; when our advent sent them scuttling, Lajos made me hang back. He approached them and scattered grain and the larger bird allowed his head to be scratched. To Lajos's distress, their wings had been clipped by the farmer who had found them the month before, but when the larger bird opened his, and then spread a fine fan-shaped tail like a turkey's, he looked, for a moment, completely white, but turned dark again as he closed them. They were Great Bustards, rare and wild birds that people wrongly related to the ostrich. They love desolate places like the puszta and Lajos planned to keep them till their feathers had grown enough for them to fly away again. He loved birds and had a way with them, for these two followed him up the steps with a stately pace, then through the drawing-room and the hall to the front door and, when he shut it, we could hear them tapping on it from time to time with their beaks.

Patrick Leigh Fermor:
Between the Woods and the Water On Foot to Constantinople from The Hook of Holland: The Middle Danube to the Iron Gates blz 72-73




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