And they say that he got crazy once and that he tried to touch the sun…

By mLu.fotos from Germany – Perseids 2015 – Compilation 1 (All in One), CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42351494

One of the most beautiful sights on the Camino is the sky above.  I recall lying in a field one night in August 2016 along with my friend Jay and a group of five or six other companions outside Carrión de los Condes, watching the annual Perseid meteor shower over the Meseta — the inspiration for the line ‘I’ve seen it raining fire in the sky’ in John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High.  The clear darkness was streaked with flecks from a cosmic arc welder and we sat eating cheese and bread, all wrapping up against the heavy dew and sleeping briefly and fitfully, before hitting the road with dawn lighting upon our backs.  At Tardajos, west of Burgos, in 2018 the warlike Mars showed red in the sky as the town prepared for a night-time concert that would start long after we peregrinos were peacefully tucked up in bed.  And like so many others I remember the sun setting over the ocean at Finisterre, and sharing a cigar with my friend Tyler on the pleasant walk back to the town in the evening gloom and deepening night.  But the sky is filled with more than just lights (there’s rain too, and by God plenty of it in Asturias!), and it’s also home to some of the Camino’s most interesting inhabitants.  Not least among these is the Red Kite (Milvus milvus), which was once native to Ireland until driven to extinction in the nineteenth century, although a breeding programme has helped reintroduce it to the Wicklow mountains using birds from Wales.[1]

By Charles J. Sharp – Own work, from Sharp Photography, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=90658674

The Red Kite is a reasonably large bird of prey, with a reddish-brown body about 60 cm long and a wingspan of 1.8m. You’re most likely to spot a Red Kite in the sky above you than on the ground or trees, so its profile rather than colour is what to look for, especially as it may look dark when silhouetted against the bright sky.  You’ll probably see it glide on outstretched wings that are white toward the edges and have five dark feathers, almost like fingers, at the end of each wing.  Its wings are angled (the leading edge is flat farthest away from the body but then angles in toward it), and these along with its deeply-forked tail give it a distinctive profile.  Other large birds of the Pyrenees include the Griffon Vulture, which is much bigger (body of about a 1m long and wingspan of 2.5m), which presents a much straighter wing edge when gliding (indeed its wings look almost rectangular),[3] and of course the large Golden Eagle, which also presents a flatter wing profile and seemingly more ‘fingers’ at the ends.[4]  The tail is the real giveaway, as the Griffon Vulture’s rounded diamond tail and the Golden Eagle’s longish flat tail both look nothing like the deep-v shape of the Red Kite.

If you do walk along the Camino in the regions around the Pyrenees, make sure to look up, and you’ll probably agree with John Denver:

And the Colorado rocky mountain high
I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky
I know he’d be a poorer man if he never saw an eagle fly
Rocky mountain high
.[5]


[1] Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, ‘Red Kite’: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/red-kite.

[3] Image: https://www.rondatoday.com/griffon-vulture-of-the-serrania/ Image:

[4] Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, ‘Golden eagle’: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/golden-eagle.

[5] John Denver, ‘Rocky Mountain High’, https://youtu.be/eOB4VdlkzO4.

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