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Emergence

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It was an emotional reunion. After over six weeks away, I had missed its prime. But with huge gratitude I was there to witness the evensong of spring on the plains, as it ebbed away. Summer comes early on the steppes of Extremadura.

Lockdown was still in place, but I carried a government authorisation to work as a volunteer to monitor the classic steppe species, all confronted with a challenged future. On getting out of the car, I instinctively did the most simple thing. Standing facing east, I soaked in the very first rays from the rising sun in a landscape which seemed unlimited and eternal. Backlit feathery Retama bushes providing perches for singing Corn Buntings, emerged from the mist. Pondering forms of grazing cattle shuffled in the mist. Everywhere larks were singing.

With a weaving buoyancy a Montagu's Harrier tracked over the vast meadow beside me. A dawn and dusk hunter, searching the ground for a vulnerable nestling or oblivious rodent. This raptor is on the verge of …

Lockdown Birding Part 14

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Only infrequently seen at the start of the lockdown, Red-rumped Swallows are now close confidents of our confinement. They are happy to sit on the balcony railing as I stand just a few feet away by. They chortle in their friendly budgerigar manner whilst perched in the shade next to our open kitchen door.  I am not sure where this pair has chosen to nest. The old nest beside the kitchen still stands but over the last years has seen other occupants: Blue Tits and Wrens. It is now full of holes and stuffed with moss, an alien nest-lining for the Red-rumped Swallows, which gather small feathers floating airbourne.

The Stonechats must now be on their second brood, and the Barn Swallows in the toolshed are using the same nest from which their three first-brood chicks successfully fledged. There are family parties of Blue Tits working the bushes. Their ashy-smudged juveniles inquisitively picking at the bark of the twigs. The Nightingale is paired up and I suspect nesting at the edge of th…

Lockdown Birding Part 13

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From the balcony I can see gentle hills to the east, south and west. I stand with my back to the house, so there is no view northwards. Ignoring the wall of the house behind me and the floor I am standing on, this means that almost half of the bird habitat offered to my view is the sky.

My good friend David Lindo's message is to "Keep Looking Up". So much happens above, but when walking it is too easy to keep focused on just the ground and vegetation, During the lockdown, standing on my balcony, there is no excuse. Sightings in the sky have granted me surprise and action. The arrival of a Black Kite swinging low overhead is usually announced by the swearing of Iberian (Azure-winged) Magpies. They lift from their hidden perches, sometimes two or three in unison to engage the raptor in pursuit. The Black Kite makes a subtle adjustment to its rudder through a twist of the tail, and changes course. The Iberian Magpies want the sky kite-free. The intruder seems nonchalant as…

Lockdown birding Part 12

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Teased by its characteristic scratchy rattle, I lean over the balcony to try to get a view of the Sardinian Warbler. Movement through the leaves in the hedge betrays its presence as it works its way upward. It rises in a short flight to land on the old rusty electricity pole beside the house. Smart and striking, with the perfect contrast of white throat and matt black head, with a vermilion orbital ring. Like the call, its song scratches its way through a gentle set of even notes, rather conversational and intimate. Until off it launches in a surprise jerky airbourne performance, climbing into the sky with its long, white-sided tail see-sawing in fluttery rhythm. At the climax, the descent starts and with a final tease, the bird cocks its tail as it sneaks back into the brambles.

The Sardinian Warbler occurs around the Mediterrean and is around here the widespread breeding Sylvia warbler. At this time of the year, I would normally be out in a favourite area of broom and lavander scru…

Lockdown Birding Part 11

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Everytime I have been out for my balcony birding session, and pretty much whenever I have stopped to listen, day or night, our Nightingale has been singing. He arrived a few days later than the others which are holding territories to the west and to the south of us. They are within earshot yes, but not bombarding us like this one. We can hear our Nightingale when we are inside the house, with all of the windows closed.

From the balcony I can find him perched in an acacia tree close by, or a mulberry.  He has favourite song perches, which is where I instinctively look for him. He stands still and almost upright, bill agape. He looks confident and accomplished. There is no need for show, his song speaks for itself.




The song of a Nightingale is a meditation, with deliberate pauses between each phrase to focus the attention. It reminds me of classical Persian music, which is hypnotic and often improvised, with short series of notes punctuated by silence. Like the music, the phrases are v…

Lockdown Birding Part 10

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Wobbling on the flimsy, pliable tip of the twig, amongst the mulberry's soft, lime-fresh leaves,  the newly-fledged Barn Swallows had certainly picked a challenging day to leave the nest. Shafts of heavy rain stung diagonally, driven by the fierce southerly wind. Just a few hours earlier, they had left the snugness of their feather-lined mud-cup nest, deep in the shelter of my toolshed. Uncertain of balance, they shuffled along the twig. They bore a rather glum expression, thanks to their huddled stance and wide, soft gape flanges. The latter reminded me of the face of a sad clown.


From time to time, a parent swallow arrived with food, settling for the briefest of moments alongside the youngster, plunging its bill into the wide gape before launching itself off the twig again. The lucky fledgling exuded a  satisfied shimmer. It was extraordinary how the parent swallows were managing to find and bring in flying insects under such atrocious weather. They worked hard, zigzagging low o…

Lockdown Birding Part 9

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Today's protagonist signals his presence by the best known of all bird sounds. Its repeated, disyllabic call carries far, onomatopoeic and easily imitable: "cuc..koo". I look south across to the slope of the Sierra de los Lagares and spot a distant long-tailed bird. It flies on an unwavering, horizontal trajectory, its body held likewise, propelled by strong downward stokes of determined pointed wings. The almond tree in front of the house obscures my view. As the Common Cuckoo reappears it has come much closer and is tracking  a wide arc that will take it cruising around the amphitheatre of our coombe. It calls as it does so. An announcement of possession. I have seen the female around as well, on patrol not for rivals but for opportunities. Our cuckoos close to home with have access to none of the classic Common Cuckoo hosts, as known through studies elsewhere: Reed Warblers, Dunnocks or Meadow Pipits. None of those species nest nearby. Once I watched a fledged Common …