A couple of years ago during a visit to my physio, I was asked, while she was manipulating some body part or other, whether I was scared of running on my own. She was referring to the possibility of bumping into the likes of farmers with Pernod breath precariously waving their shotguns around. Or their hunting dogs, who can be a bit over-friendly in a hungry-looking kind of way.
I’m lucky enough to be able to walk out of the front door and take my pick of the beautiful lanes and tracks around where we live – and go running! The rolling countryside is a pretty agreeable backdrop as running starts to decompress mind and body. A few years ago, I used to always run alone with my headphones on – nothing like running up a hill to Kate Bush singing ‘Running up that Hill”! Alone but for the odd glimpse of local wildlife – deer, hare and birds, all of whom outnumber cars passing by. But I have never felt unsafe.
One day, I did bump into one such hunter and his dog: the springer spaniel came bounding over so I cautiously called out, “il est sage?” (is he friendly?). The hunter replied, “Yes, he only bites the ugly, old ones”! The dog didn’t bite me which I took to be a roundabout way of paying me a compliment?
On such a run one Sunday morning, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a large bird on the ground in the field about 10 metres away from me. A buzzard! I fleetingly supposed she’d just caught a mouse or similar…and paid no more attention to her.
About five minutes later, oblivious to anything but my ‘tunes’, I suddenly felt a clawing through my hair, quickly followed by birds-eye view of a bird’s back end. I was being attacked! I pulled my earphones out and immediately heard the cry of a buzzard. This is what it sounds like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLVIblWdWG4
I quickly realised that she was coming for me again! I ducked down as she swooped down on me – not coming into contact this time but flying only about four feet above my head. I ran for it!
Luckily, it hadn’t drawn blood (I’ve got quite thick hair!) but having checked afterwards if attacks by buzzards are a common thing, it seems that those who are more follically challenged have received some pretty nasty gashes across their scalps.
On a different occasion, another big buzzard (their wingspan is generally between 120-150cm), came for me from the side, swooping down the line of the field to my left. She was not much more than 15 metres from me when I noticed and started shouting and waving like a banshee to divert her.
For the next few weeks, in this particular spot and another just up the road, I was bombarded every day on my ‘peaceful’ run, by, it turns out, buzzard parents who for a short period become super-protective of their young as they start to fledge. This aerial bombardment lasts for a week or two. Wildlife experts have said that while attacks on humans are very rare, birds who are nesting can be extremely territorial during nesting season.
So, self-defence tactics had to be clearly thought out as, although I’m not usually scared of birds, I don’t want one of them flying off with my eyeball either. The choice of arms to defend myself was limited to….my arms, or a big stick by the side of the road. Handy branches are not always available (I have started to leave one in the same place each time) and less easy to disguise when a car comes round the corner. There is one particular neighbour who I have never spoken to but see very regularly on the D4, whom has caught me at least five times waving a branch above my head as I run along! What must she think?
My wonderful neighbour Jean-Louis offered to lend me his eagle hat which I haven’t worn yet (see photo) as a) it’s annoying and floppy to run in and b) the eagle’s head needs to face backwards as that is the direction from which the buzzards attack. But mainly because…it looks a bit odd!
So, the time has come to start thinking about strategically positioning a stick. When driving past the little copse where they nest, I can already see them circling in the sky – warning off unsuspecting runners? The three black dots in the sky in the photo above are some of the locals. They are stunning birds and lovely to observe (I can’t lay claim to the beautiful close-up image of the title photo). Perhaps a different running route needs to be planned for the next few weeks…