Autumn drought

It is now mid-October, but it still feels almost like summer. The temperature is only now starting to edge its way slowly down from daytime maxima of 30 degrees and we have had no rain to speak of (apart from a few showers at the start of September) since June. People are starting to get worried. By now autumn rains should have started, the landscape should have started turning green. Our olive trees are laden with fruit, but the olives are small and are getting wrinkled. If there is not rain over the next few weeks, they will not fatten up and many will fall prematurely. The prospect for the winter olive harvest is not looking good. In my vegetable garden we still have tomatoes, melons and courgettes, but the winter cabbages are disappearing (I think by a mouse which literally pulls them downwards from its burrow) - one day the plant is there, the next day it is gone, with just a little hole showing where the stem had been.

The weird thing is that even though the weather and landscape scream summer, the garden birds are telling me autumn and winter. In the last blog I wrote about the autumn song of Robins. Now their song at dawn and dusk is accompanied by that of wintering Chiffchaffs whilst Black Redstarts (see John Hawkins´ photo) are taking up their winter territories. Yesterday and today I heard a male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker drumming from the top of dead branch just down the lane from the house, with another male drumming in response in the distance - signs again of ensuring that territories are identifed.

I also watched today a very brightly plumaged male Greenfinch having just completed its post-breeding moult. It was in spectacularly pristine condition, a really gorgeous bird with vivid yellow flashes on wings and tail and dove grey wings contrasting strongly with its mossy green body. It was gorging itself on cypress cones, a favourite food here in the garden in the winter for Hawfinches as well. As it was doing that, a Blackcap, a Chiffchaff and a Song Thrush were on the lawn below the tree, all of them winter visitors.


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