In the more than seven years we have been living here, I have always assumed that the small game birds which foolishly run along the chemin rural in front of our car their legs going nineteen to the dozen (you would have thought flying, or diving into the ditch alongside would be the safer option, but no) were quail. But apparently not.
Our neighbour stood on the veranda late one evening holding an opened package mistakenly delivered to them rather than us. We talked of the start of the hunt season and his six hounds. He stroked an astonishingly well-behaved Vita while she sat and gazed at him adoringly. As he departed, Bertie trotted happily alongside him, so much as to say "this man is much more fun, he'd take me hunting".
It was only afterwards that I remembered. This was the neighbour whose wife said our dogs had killed their goat. Whatever the truth, he at least no longer bears a grudge and a small feeling of relief touched my heart.
And it was afterwards that Tod and I had the conversation about the quail. I had said "caille" and our neighbour had disagreed, cupping his hands in the shape and size of the birds we know and using another word which we didn't recognise but thought began with a "p". So not quail. But what then?
An online French dictionary and a bird sound website gave me the answer: perdrix - partridge. I had imagined they were much bigger, more like a pheasant. It's those Christmas images of over-sized partridges perched in pear trees which confuse.
And their sound confirmed it. That chucking noise they make while standing on top of a clod of ploughed earth, so much as to say to the hunters: "come and get me". They are the most reckless of birds! Quail, I learn, are much more sensible and stay hidden.
The postman brought us two gifts that evening with his misdirected parcel - neighbourly peace of mind and a new insight into our local fauna.
2 years ago