Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Waders moving through

In my last blog I described hearing a Green Sandpiper over the garden in the middle of a warm night..this morning I visited my favourite spot in the nearby rice fields to see what waders were starting to appear. I left the house before dawn, seeing a Red-necked Nightjar settled on the road leading out of the village. I reached my destination just as the sun was rising, showering a golden light over the lush green paddies. Practically all of the fields are deep in growing rice and apart from White Storks, Cattle Egrets, Little Egrets and a few Black-winged Stilt and Lapwing, it is hard to see very much amongst the crop. It is deceptive, because large flocks of Mallard with a few Teal flew up from these fields, where they had been feeding overnight, quite invisible. Much more productive would be the the few fields which for some reason had been left muddy with no crop. Open wet mud...ideal for waders. These indeed were thronging with birds...lots of Black-winged Stilts (I counted at least 350) with a small number of juvenile birds as well (see the photo..taken this morning) which were presumbaly from local pairs. About 40 Collared Pratincole, again with barred juveniles present. An astonishing number of Little Ringed Plover (at least 370 in three adjacent fields), along with four Kentish Plovers. I wondered if these again were local birds, concentrating here because of the ideal conditions, or whether some of these were from further afield. Gull-billed Terns hawked overhead and a post-breeding party of about 70 Calandra Lark flew over.

However, it was the waders on passage from further afield that I always find most intriguing here, deep as we are in inland Spain, and I was not disappointed: Greenshank, Redshank, Green, Wood and Common Sandpipers, Ringed Plover, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, even a single Whimbrel. A total of 14 species of wader all told..and autumn passage is only just starting!

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Sleeping under the stars

After our short holiday to see family in England, we are now back in Extremadura. It is the height of summer and the hottest time of the year. At the moment we are hitting daily maxima of 38 degrees Celsius and at night time it is staying around 26 degrees. Life is very different when it is like this. There is plenty of work to do, (although July is always very quiet as far as bookings are concerned) what with the garden and catching up with chores and maintenance of the house. The vegetable garden is having a great year and since returning from holiday, I have been busy picking and freezing dwarf beans and runner beans. It looks as if we will have a bumper crop of tomatoes, so each evening I need to tend and water them. However, any outdoor work needs careful planning and days here when it is hot follow a clear routine. Up with the sunrise (around 6 am) and try to get as much outdoor work done as possible before late morning. The dawn chorus is now reduced to the sound of our huge House Sparrow roost waking up and the calls from the swallows coming to drink at the swimming pool, along with the calls of Golden Oriole and Hawfinch. By late morning it is getting too hot to be outside and literally dozens of House Martins, Barn Swallows and Red-rumped Swallows are resting in the shade under the eaves or, amazingly sunning themselves on a ledge on our south-facing frontage, adopting bizarre stupified postures. So to work indoors until lunch and then siesta in the cool darkness of the bedroom. At 5 pm it is approaching the hottest time of the day, but there is nothing like a post-siesta swim in the pool...it leaves one wholly rejuvenated..otherwise I end up feeling a bit like one of those stupified swallows.

Back then to desk work. I have just received from Eling Lee from Hong Kong, some photos that she and her husband took during their stay here in late May. They had come to Spain to see the Inter Milan - Bayern Munich match in Madrid and stayed on for some days birding with me. It was also fairly hot then, but we had a very successful trip. The picture I have posted here is one that Eling took of a Rufous Bush Robin singing from the top of a vine. This species is a very late arriving summer visitor and typically will be found singing even in the hottest time of the day, out in the open in tracts of intensive vineyards and olive groves.

These days we tend to wait until at least 10.30 pm or 11 pm to eat, sitting outside at dusk with a light meal, watching the bats come out. A couple of nights ago, we dragged an airbed out onto the terrace and slept under an amazing back drop of the Milky Way, with a sucession of planets visible during the short night: Venus..Mars..Jupiter...Saturn. Scops Owls called on and off throughout the night and sometimes a Little Owl also was heard. At one point, I heard a Green Sandpiper calling very close by, perhaps attracted by reflections on the pool? These birds are now returning to Extremadura after their brief breeding season in Northern Europe. And just before dawn at least two Red-necked Nightjars gave their chock-chock chorus.