He is calling again from the field below the lane. In the muddied dusk of evening, I hear his plaintive shriek across the surface of the wind; insistent, hopeful: peeoow, peeoow. He will be down there now, quartering the sedge, tilting into the breeze with a flex of his primary feathers, turning his eye – bigger then mine, sharper, less distorted with age – across the land with practised patience. He will not know that I am looking for him.
His days revolve around the search for food. He is catholic in his scavenging, opportunist; happy to take voles or shrews, frogs in season, carrion when he can find it, when the stench of death is carried on the spring breeze. He rarely hunts. Other, smaller birds are a distraction; larger mammals too fast, too heavy. He chooses the quick catch, the idle pounce.
I have been watching him for months, trying to understand his days. When the westerly rains shadow the fields, I see him hunched in the tree like an old gentleman in a dun-coloured overcoat, patiently waiting out the shower, folded into himself, brooding. The rain sheds from his feathers like mercury.
When the frost lies thick on the fields, I have seen him in the early morning hunkered on the wire in a stillness of waiting. He makes no movement until mid-day, waiting for the air to thaw, letting his leaden wings warm in the pale light of the sun. These days he knows will be hard, the ground stilled and firm, his prey burrowed into their winter holes, waiting for the sun to return. He knows how important it is to conserve energy, to stay on this wire and wait for the food to arrive. He is an expert at waiting.
He tolerates the sparrowhawk like a tribal elder sighing at the antics of the youngsters; part-jester, part-hooligan. The sparrowhawk stays low among the trees, nimble on its wingtips, chasing a different prey. He has no time for its speed and grace, its short-term game. The peregrine which nests in the nearby quarry he acknowledges, however, as though the two of them have a grudge that neither has forgotten. They share the same space of sky, but at different times, avoiding each other's eye.
Last summer, I began to notice a female, too, in these same lanky ash trees. She calls and he comes, ghosting low over the tips of the trees, power and grace in his wings like a withheld anger. The crows and jackdaws birl up to meet him from the trees and chatter at his tail. He jinks away with insouciance, knowing that this is a game, knowing that they will tire of the chase, knowing that he is emperor of the fields. The jackdaws chatter of victory and spill back into the trees while he follows the call of his mate. They share this territory now, he and the female, although I have not yet found their nest, hidden in one of the ivy-clad ashes which line the lane. I imagine them raising their young in this coming spring: the rituals of the evening hunt; the way to fly at dusk as though these fields are part of the domain; the limits of the territory; the power that comes from patience.
I hide under ash trees in the fading light and listen to his call on the evening breeze. I think of other buzzards, other territories beyond the limits of my village, but none that I know as intimately as this one, none I regard with such fraternal forbearance, none that seem to match the patterns of my own footsteps as I walk these fields steeped in winter's rains. His piercing call measures the pace of my steps: peeoow, peeoow, and I feel his presence over my shoulder like a shadow, like an admonition.