Who knows what makes me gather the lift in my feathers for the first wing beat of many thousands, when thousands of miles lie ahead?
Perhaps it is the rise in heat or the drop in the floodwater lagoon. It could be by watching the swifts and nightjars flock together, then swarm Northwards, strengthened by their number.
But no flock for me; this is my journey to take alone, and when the instinct is strong, I grip the perch, rock back on my haunches, then launch.
I have wintered in the warmth, where the waters are clean and the fish abundant. I am Sea Hawk - offshore hunter - so I am well fed and these wings are strong and rested, making the early days of the flight the easiest. The heat that drove me North lifts the air and around its spiralling thermals I soar, buffeted by the salty Atlantic air from the West.
But I’m not fooled by a gentle start - the desert awaits, where death hitches a ride in your slipstream, ready to pounce if the rivers run dry or the wilting Sun overcomes you. Many winged skeletons are scattered in those lifeless expanses.
Steering a course is perilous for a fledgling but experience guides me to keep the ocean at my left wing and the sun heating my back and that when the mountains rise up in the East it is almost time to cross the Middle Sea.
I am River Hawk, so once the Sea is at my tail I scan the land for snaking rivers, then scan my memory for which of these is plentiful. Banking downwards, I carve my turns until the shadow of a river fish draws my eye and then I tuck in my wings and plummet. My dive is deadly but these talons make that death quick and painless, and the glare of my white breast and the blackness of my bandit’s mask are the fish’s final thoughts. I rest overnight on a perch or cliff ledge to savour the offering and get some precious rest.
My feathers preened, I launch once more – Northwards, ever Northwards, my oily feathers resisting the moisture in the air and thick plumage keeping me warm if I enter biting winds from the east or draining headwinds from the North, which are signs that home beckons. I am Fish Hawk, so I know to track the white cliffs Westwards, where I can fish both in the salty water to my left wing and the freshwater to my right: perhaps a nourishing mackerel from the sea, an estuary bream or a carp from a lake in the shadow of the Downs.
Now for the final push. For weeks my wings have worked and I am tired and vulnerable, so must stay alert as I veer inland and North yet again.
This land is lush and green, the air cool and moist, and riding high on Atlantic winds from the West, my sharp eyes pick out other creatures, all on journeys of their own.
I am faithful to the eyrie I have constructed over many years, and its sanctuary awaits. It is there I will wait for my mate and his courtship, then lay my eggs and tend them until they hatch. Imagine, our chicks must be ready for their own journey South in just a few weeks. Many do not make it but isn’t it magnificent to think that enough do?
I am close. I know this patchwork of fields, the curve of the land and the scent of the pine needles. There it is! I glide in circles to survey the area around and when I feel safe I swoop and land. I am weary, sore and hungry… but I am home, at least for a few months until the leaf fall, when my return to West Africa will begin.
I am Sea Hawk, offshore hunter; I am River Hawk, Goddess of the sky; I am Fish Hawk, nemesis of those they named me after; but you can call me Osprey.