Oran Festival of Ravens 2020

We’ve regularly seen groups of two or three ravens on our cliffy patch, but over the last couple of weeks they’ve been flocking in a larger group of nine or ten. They’re not obviously feeding, but just seem to be playing in the wind and enjoying their own little raven festival.

Sometimes just basking:

Keeping an eye on suspicious characters:

And generally showing off:

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Falcons of Oran

Despite the pollution, our cliffside area of Oran is pretty well populated with falcons. Our ID skills are a a little shaky, but there are at least three species.

Easily the most common and familiar is the kestrel; its tendency to hang around in one place makes it the most cooperative of the falcons:

Thanks to the geeks of https://www.birdforum.net/ for helping us to identify Eleonora’s Falcon. This elegant charmer is notable for breeding late in summer, in order to take advantage of migrating birds tired out from crossing the Mediterranean, and so feed its own brood:

Last and greatest, the mighty peregrine:

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Nice arse!

Wheatears are a group of birds which I never noticed until we started spending time around the Middle East/Mediterranean. The most important thing to know about them is, of course, that “wheatear” is in fact a corruption of the original name, “white arse”. So, croups, not crops.

We never got close enough to the desert wheatears in Oman for any photos I care to reproduce, so we’ll start with the dashing white-crowned wheatear*:

Here we have the neat, but dull female black wheatear:

And the splendid western black-eared wheateater, showing off his best side:

*All species are my best guesses.

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Reading List 13

A productive 55 books read in these six months, thanks to plague and unemployment!

Short stories

Real Time World +2 — Christopher Priest
Public Library — Ali Smith
Qissat: Short Stories by Palestinian Women — Jo Glanville (ed.)
Beacons — Gregory Norminton (ed.)
The Lady with the Dog and other Stories — Anton Chekhov
The 4th Domain — M. John Harrison
The Collected Stories — William Trevor
The Bloody Chamber — Angela Carter
The Chronicles of Clovis — Saki
Mouthful of Birds — Samanta Schweblin
The Garden Party and Other Stories — Katherine Mansfield
The Exploding Boy — Nick Parker
The Awakening and Selected Short Stories — Kate Chopin
Anything is Possible — Elizabeth Strout
Dubliners — James Joyce

I’ve been neglecting short stories as a form, so the shortathon was an interesting change for me — I read at least one story per day, and I discovered some new authors in the process. Samanta Schweblin and Nick Parker both write great absurdist pieces, often very short; Parker self-published this one book and then seems to have gone off to start a marketing company. Modern life.

The Irish are the other stand-outs for me: William Trevor’s doorstop was unremitting, but beautiful, and I understood Dubliners much better than the first time round.

Other literature

Dead Air — Iain Banks
The Giant, O’Brien — Hilary Mantel
The Third Policeman — Flann O’Brien
Super-Cannes — J. G. Ballard
Old Man Goriot — Honore de Balzac
The Collector — John Fowles
Impressions of Theophrastus Such — George Eliot
Gould’s Book of Fish — Richard Flanagan
Flights — Olga Tokarczuk
A Journal of the Plague Year — Daniel Defoe
The Vegetarian — Han Kang
The Overstory — Richard Powers

I didn’t like Flights quite as much as I’d expected, but I’d expected a lot. It did start to make more sense towards the end. For Irish absurdism though, you can’t beat Flann O’Brien.

Non-fiction

From Bacteria to Bach and Back — Daniel Dennett
Homo Deus — Yuval Noah Harari
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race — Reni Eddo-Lodge
21st Century Yokel — Tom Cox
Flow: The Psychology of Happiness — Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligence — Peter Godfrey-Smith
The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words (1000 BCE – 1492) — Simon Schama
Thinking Fast and Slow — Daniel Kahneman
Infinity in the Palm of Your Hand — Marcus Chown

Thinking Fast and Slow was enlightening, but Kahneman is no writer; it was a plod to get through (not ideal as an audiobook, so my fault). 21st Century Yokel was an entrancing, vaguely autobiographical ragbag. Other Minds managed to be both educational and heart-warming.

German

Buddenbrooks — Thomas Mann
Woyzeck — Georg Büchner
Lebensansichten des Katers Murr — E. T. A. Hoffmann
Nach der Natur — W. G. Sebald

Kater Murr was great fun, and Buddenbrooks is a pretty good substitute for George Eliot.

Algeria

The Bone Seekers — Tahar Djaout

In a hundred pages or so, Djaout satirises colonialism, traditional village life, and the post-revolutionary state. A brilliantly bleak fable.

Shakespeare

Twelfth Night — William Shakespeare
Richard II — William Shakespeare
Henry IV Part 1 — William Shakespeare
Henry IV Part 2 — William Shakespeare
Henry V — William Shakespeare

Mainly the second Henriad this term — I’m going for all the history plays in chronological order.

Other poetry

Don Juan — Lord Byron
The Broken Word — Adam Foulds

All narrative poetry, it turned out (including Nach der Natur, above), which was an accident. Maybe a happy accident though — it’s an easier way into poetry for someone brought up on novels.

SF/F

The Fourth Bear — Jasper Fforde
The Inheritors — Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Ford
A User’s Guide to Make-Believe — Jane Alexander
Children of Time — Adrian Tchaikovsky
This Is How You Lose the Time War — Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Use of Weapons — Iain M. Banks
Europe at Midnight — Dave Hutchinson

Another accident: parallel worlds were the theme which emerged this time, in The Inheritors, This Is How You Lose the Time War, and Europe at Midnight (and at a bit of a stretch A User’s Guide to Make-Believe). Time War is an almost comprehensible love story, which manages to do a lot of world-building and move the reader in a very few pages. And while we’re on coincidences, Europe at Midnight is set against the background of recovery from a pandemic:

Fifteen years after the last deaths from the Xian Flu and people were only just starting to reconnect with normal life. The British Isles had got away comparatively lightly from the pandemic, but for years afterward the country had seemed deserted, people had buttoned themselves up in their homes, still unwilling to mix with others who might have been infected. The economy had teetered on the brink yet again. Last year there had been incidents of large-scale social unrest in the Midlands – riots in Leicester and Derby – and, counterintuitively, commentators had looked benignly on it, seeing a return to some kind of normality, an expression of shell-shock more than anything else.

So, large-scale social unrest permitting, I think my main plans for the rest of the year are: more short stories; maybe some Shakespeare comedies, which I’ve tended to neglect; non-narrative poetry; and given recent events, authors from more diverse backgrounds. I have a few big reads underway (Finnegans Wake, London Labour and the London Poor, and Alan Moore’s mighty Jerusalem) which might get done by the end of the year.

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Bluer Rock Thrush

A little while ago we were visited by a blue rock thrush, which was unfortunately female and so not blue. Now not one, but two males have turned up, and look rather more impressive. Still technically not thrushes, though.

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More Beggars

Chapter two: the bulbuls.

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Little Beggars

The warm weather’s really got started here, just in time for the first round of sparrow fledglings.

The youngsters still know only one way to get food:

Fortunately there’s a regular supply of dates on our balcony, so Dad can oblige:

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Oran 2 (30/30): Locusts

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Oran 2 (29/30): Mercury

Mercury above Oran
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Oran 2 (28/30): Tongue

Blue* rock thrush**.

*Not blue, because she’s only a girl.
**Not actually a thrush, but a chat.
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