Summer swings into autumn

Here in Extremadura there is the clear sensation that by mid-August the season is shifting from summer to autumn. The nights are a bit longer, it starts to feel a bit fresher at dawn and changes are afoot as far as the birds are concerned. Over the garden the Bee-eaters are in noisy flocks. As well as our local pair of pale-phase Booted Eagles, we are getting more sightings of juveniles and dark-phased birds..presumably starting to head south. There are now far fewer Black Kites around. Down on the rice fields, where the wader passage started several weeks ago, there was much less suitable habitat yesterday than on my previous visit. Open, fallow fields had dried up and were largely devoid of birds, whilst the rice in the paddies has grown much taller, making it much harder to see any birds feeding there. However, there were good numbers of Ruff (mainly juveniles), Wood Sandpipers and Green Sandpipers, as well as Common Snipe and Little Stint which had not been present on my visit in July. I arrived before dawn and whilst I sat to wait for the light to improve, I listened to the dawn chorus of Red Avadavats. This tiny exotic finch (hailing from South Asia) is clearly quite at home in the ditches beside the paddies. They are late breeders, nesting in August and September. Their call is a thin, high pitched, slightly wavering note and this was emanating from clumps of rushes where the birds had been roosting. They are invariably in small groups, which bound along the road as one drives slowly along. Here they occur alongside Common Waxbills, another escapee, this time from Africa, which tends to be less restrictive in habitat choice, liking bushy or rank vegetation (I have seen them in our garden, but is still quite localised. Being here before dawn also enabled me to pass by a wonderful Cattle Egret and Jackdaw roost, willow bushes adorned with hundreds of white and hundreds of black birds, mingled together. August is the only month here when I am likely to find Purple Heron at this site and true enough one juvenile was present, having probably arrived from the breeding population on the nearby Guadiana river. More surprising was a Squacco Heron, only the second one I have seen here on countless visits, another sign of post-breeding dispersal.


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