RICHARD WILLIAMSON Nature Trails...The best design in nature

We were all a bit grumpy. We were hungry and thirsty, but just kept travelling on and on to find some shade as the road climbed like a slow snake into the mountains.

Ancient Roman pillars stood as gaunt reminders of a culture which had once tried to tame even the granite massifs. The car swung left, then right, then left again on countless hairpins. I refused to let the sweltering switch-back spoil my balance or sight of the high blue dome as I peered left then right for eagles, or kites, or butcher birds on the wires.

This after all is what birding and family holidays (and spending dollops of cash on holiday-lets and transport and airport charges) is all about. You pick up the grains of gold out of the mundane sweepings.

Then, all of a sudden, out of an orange-coloured sky, wonderful you came by. To quote a pop song of the 1950s.

We found the shade of a mountain ash, complete with all its umbrella mantle of orange berries. We stopped and were overwhelmed by the wonderful silence as the engine was switched off and the suddenly cool 4,000 ft high mountain air swept into the unpleasantly warm air-conditioned interior of the plastic Eurobox in which we had to travel. Bring back Morris Travellers, say I.

Out came the Evian bottles and the ham rolls and then the landscape could be appreciated. I wandered into the alpine hay meadow. Steeply below were patchwork meadows and banks with wild flowers and small trees with willows and chestnuts and oaks, making green cushions for the eye to rest upon.

Atop one, a vigilant bird looking this way and that with a large head and thick black eyestripe. The red-backed shrike flew down to catch a cricket. At that moment something totally unexpected, as we began to feel comfortable and happy again with one another.

From behind a bank 20 yards in front, a large bright grey bird we thought was a seagull shot up into a steep climb, and sailed elegantly away.

For ten minutes the Montagu’s harrier showed us that modern carbon-fibre gliders with their stiletto and upturned wings and graceful fairings have started to catch up with the best that nature already has designed.

Powder blue, diagonal dihedrals black markings and tipped wings gave the rarity immediate recognition and, I am glad to say, response from the fed and watered audience.

Was it sailing back to Africa from a nest site in East Anglia? Once upon a time, only 20 years ago, it could have been the one that nested in West Sussex not 100 miles from this house.

It spiralled high on a thermal and was soon a pinpoint with the eagles and we were all the better for it.