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Showing posts from January, 2011

Winter gatherings

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Spring-like weather last week has given way to bitingly cold easterly winds. Despite there being clumps of wild narcissus in flower in sheltered places and some almond blossom, we are still in winter here. Despite the arrival of House Martins and some Swallows, and even a Great Bustard starting some tentative paces in its courtship display, the birds too still have a winter feel about them. Hard weather in central Europe has brought an invasion of Goosanders to Spain and two have even reached Extremadura, for the first time ever. I saw a female swimming on the river running through the Monfragüe National Park last Sunday. But the most striking feature of birds in winter are the sheer numbers. Yesterday we watched a big flock of two or three hundred Corn Bunting rising from a stubble field as a male Merlin attacked. It had arrived almost un-noticed, mimicking a Mistle Thrush with a low gliding flight interspersed with rapid flaps. Then it accerated and dashed through the rising bunting…

Le grand duc

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There is something magnificently apt in the French name for the Eagle Owl - the Grand Duke - an aristocratic aloofness, mystery and power. I certainly sensed this yesterday evening, in the dusk after sunset, in a perfect still calm with the moon and Jupiter starting to shine above me. The first bats had emerged and the last vultures had reached their roost. There was silence. Then, almost inaudible, a muffled "oohu". The next call was louder, more resonent, appearing to come from the dark rocky massif in front of me, the gorge creating a perfect acoustic arena. Then another call, quickly followed by another. Clearly I was now listening to two birds calling to each other. Instinct told me to scan the top of the cliff, where the sharp crisp boundary between the dark rock and the evening sky was visible. And there it was, close to the highest point of all, a new shape that had not been there a few minutes earlier: a large body, rounded head and long "ear-tufts" someti…

Discovering more migration wonders

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It is a pretty wet and windy start to the year here in Extremadura. Traditionally in Spain children receive their Christmas presents on the morning of 6th January, having left out milk and biscuits the previous evening for the Three Kings of the Orient (Los Reyes Magos). Many families will have congregated in town squares across Spain on the evening of the 5th to watch the horseback procession, along with decorated floats, accompanying the arrival of the Magi to the town. In nearby Trujillo, the Three Kings bring gifts to a Nativity Scene where children portray the roles of Mary, Joseph and shepherds, with Mary carrying a real baby. After a welcome from the mayor, the Kings give a short speech and then the children from the town line-up to receive bags of sweets, before heading back home looking forward to their presents the following morning. This year a downpour soaked everyone in the square just as the Three Kings arrived.

I have been making best use of the bad weather to catch-up …