On an October day made strange by hazy skies, we took our usual evening route, to Rio Martil, and the dusty track to the sea. The clouds hung heavy in the air, dressing the sunset in modest pastels and carving a quiet hollow around every sound. A lonely tractor churned dry earth in the field to our left, a small, hopeful block of blue amidst the brown. Birds followed it, an entourage of white catching creatures too small for us to see. As we walked, we kicked up dust and scuffed crunching gravelly stones, and the temperature, cold enough for jackets and warm enough for mosquitoes, licked confusingly at our skin. Plastic bags caught on bushes hung dismal against the green, and the unpaired shoes and bottle caps and a desk with no writer reminded us of the discarded pieces of human lives – all those people we couldn’t imagine in the quiet of an evening watching birds.
A marsh harrier flew overhead, appearing sharply dark as it punctuated the turbulent expanse of white. To our right, a heron stood statuesque and poised for action, a pensive guardian of the water, unruffled by the smaller birds who couldn’t sit and wait. The buildings in the background seemed to sleep, white walls and accents of pretty blue more suited to sunny days, summer noise, and heat to curl their careful paintwork. A few steps further, town behind us and the sea in front, a little owl skipped, perfectly camouflaged as it landed in the field. Only its eyes gave it away as it sat, beige on beige on brown on brown, moving its head occasionally, eluding our focus as we squinted through our cameras, missing it once, and missing it again.
Closer to the end of the track now, the water to our left grew bigger and more open, revealing flamingoes in pink washed out almost to white. In the fading light they seemed to glide serenely, a reproach to the mosquitoes reaching fever pitch around our ears. Reluctant, we gave in to the specks of black that flashed into and out of our reach at blurry speed and stung our skin with burning bites. They followed us as we followed the setting sun, hanging back sometimes, but never for long enough. As we approached the car and the structures of Martil grew bigger, the spoonbills flew across our path, eight of them in line to stop us and make us smile. Then the ibis, strung together in flight like bunting fluttering in a breeze, dragging our gaze back towards the sea as they sped for the horizon. The dark drew in and we leaned our heads against the windows as we drove back through town. The shops had their lights on and neon signs flickered and flashed, inviting in the people walking quickly by. The river was still there, the town wrapped around it, and the peaceful haze still hung – behind us as we drove, but in the forefront of our minds.