Posts

An Orchid Odyssey

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Sawfly Orchid Ophrys tenthredinifera : one of the most widespread species in Extremadura   Orchids are compelling. Even the most botanically-challenged birders will stop to admire one in flower. Simply being an orchid commands attention. The name is instantly recognisable, sounds special - although how many will know that it comes from the Greek word for testicle, thanks to the pair of tubers that many orchids have underground? The flower itself is attractive, usually held aloft on an upright stem, gorgeous and intriguing to those curious enough to get on their knees for a closer look. Beyond their appearance are fascinating life-histories and ecologies. They have an association with fungi which provide nutrients and sometimes have highly-specific pollinating agents. The bee orchids are sexual traps that lure young male bees by pretending to look (and smell) like female bees. A long wet and mild winter for growth and a long hot dry summer for dormancy is what suits the orchids growing

Hidden birds

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Great Bittern (Martin Kelsey) Birders will know that birding is as much about bird-listening as it is about bird-watching...probably most birds are detected by sound first. So when birds are quiet, their detectability is hugely reduced. Many factors will be at play. The activity patterns of birds vary during the day (and night), small birds are more likely to be calling, singing and actively feeding in the first few hours of the day. Large birds like vultures will be most visible from late morning as the air warms. Detectability will vary by season. I can see one of my favourite birds, the Hawfinch, in the garden throughout the whole year, but in April and early May, they become very hard indeed to find. This is when they are nesting. They must be nesting somewhere close (perhaps even in the garden itself) because a male sings close to house in early spring and a family group with recently-fledged young appear in mid-May. Weather conditions will affect detectability considerably, espec

Sounds of spring

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Male Barn Swallow (Martin Kelsey)  The invitation comes from just outside the bedroom window. It is joyful and instantly uplifting. Sliding and rising, rhythmic and textured like honey, the song of a Barn Swallow is like a conversation with a friendly neighbour, ending with a teasing mechanical twizzle.  The sound opens a box of memories, of childhood holidays on farms, brought back to me this morning after more than half a century. One swallow does not make a summer, or so the saying goes, but for me there is no surer sign of spring.  The swallows have been around since late January, but a pair have been checking out my toolshed for a couple of days now and today sang for the first time from the old satellite dish just below the window. Their favourite perch. It marks the change, because spring reaches us in mid-February.  This has been a challenging transition for me. Still under a municipal lockdown thanks to persistence in COVID infection rates locally, I have been missing the cues

Counting time

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Common Cranes (Martin Kelsey) Returning to Extremadura after caring for my mother during her final weeks is like turning a page and starting a new chapter. With the passing of one's parents, life is never again the same. A reminder of mortality, but also the urge to commit to never taking things for granted, to appreciate what we have around us. Let nature flow! January here is counting time. Counting birds that is, and most of my time in the last few days has been about doing that. So here is my counting tale, which ends with an owl and a duck! On my return, what better than to take the walk from home, taking in the hill behind the house in circular route along a lane, amongst old olive groves, pasture and patches of evergreen oak dehesa ? This is a favourite of mine and one which I use to contribute every winter to the bird population monitoring work of SEO/BirdLife. During two hours I record every individual bird. I have done so twice for each of the last eleven winters. Overall

The Global Birding Weekend in Extremadura

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The Global Bird Watch weekend saw many arriving Common Cranes (Martin Kelsey) October is often considered a bit of an in-between month in Extremadura. The great wave of trans-Saharan migrants such as flycatchers, Common Redstarts, Whinchats and Ortolan Buntings has peaked in September as they paused to refuel. The often exciting variety of waders on overland migration has mainly passed through. Winter visitors are starting to appear, but it will not be later in the month that their numbers build up to reach the amazing spectacle which is winter birding here. And whilst we sometimes find unexpected rarities, as elsewhere, in October, we can never compete with the coastal sites. So it was with great curiosity that five members of GUIDEX , the association of nature guides in Extremadura, formed a team called "Extremadura Birding Guides" to register as part of the Global Birding Weekend . Together with about a hundred teams and thousands of individuals across over 120 countries,

A young master at work

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Spotted Flycatcher (Martin Kelsey) This is flycatcher month in Extremadura. Fresh from broad-leaved forests in central and northern Europe, Pied Flycatchers are the most abundant. With their urgent, metallic alarm call, they are easy to locate and on my regular walk along the lane from the house I can expect to find five or six in the space of twenty minutes. At this time of year, all are in plumages similar to that of spring females, a satin brown above with whitish underparts and a bold white flash on the wing. The males are no longer the striking "pied" black and white excitements of spring. My morning's tally in September will exceed the total number of spring passage birds that I will see in a normal year here. There are several reasons for this. The numbers of migrant birds will always be greater in the autumn than the spring because the population is larger - there being adults and young birds on the move. In spring, one sees only those birds that have survived the

Wandering minstrels

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Willow Warbler (Martin Kelsey) Nature tells me that by 15th August autumn has arrived in Extremadura. There is something about the freshness at dawn, after nights that have now lengthened to almost ten and half hours long. The turquoise midday sky is now bereft of Black Kites, most of which are already in Africa. And the arrival of a tiny bird from northern Europe marks the change of season with certainty.  This morning I watched a loose group of four of these lemon-soft sprites foraging along our driveway. In tireless fashion they popped in and out of view amongst the narrow leaves of an almond tree. It was an exploration with a search-image of miniscule arthropods, to be found on the underside of the leaves. These were reachable by peering from a perch, or by making a short, fluttering hover just bill-distance from the foliage. Exhausting possibilities there, they flew across the drive onto a patch of lawn and then onto the gravel. So engrossed were they in their morning foray for fo