A Quail and other tales

It is one of those birds that are quite widespread here, but hardly ever seen. Although this year, like many of our summer visitors, they seemed rather slow in arriving in strength, one can now hear Quail calling on almost any visit to the plains, especially if one is beside a growing cereal field. The call, usually rendered as "wet-my-lips" immediately gets one looking across the crop in a vain hope that the bird may be in view. If it is close enough, a short, soft double-noted nasal call can also be heard.  It can be very difficult  judging how close the bird is or in which direction the sound is coming from. And since the Quail is no bigger than a Skylark and will be calling from tall vegetation, the chances of seeing one calling are slim indeed. When I do see Quail, and this is very rarely, it is usually because I have been lucky enough to spot one on the track ahead of me, as sometimes they come out into the open to gather grit. Although they are mainly summer visitors here, a few do spend the winter, mainly in the rice stubble fields in central Extremadura, where occasionally I might see one flying up from my feet as I walk beside a field. So Tony and Alwin Knowles and I were fortunate indeed to not only see a Quail a few days ago, but also to watch it calling at length. We were driving along a quiet road, beside a field of wheat, when one called from quite close by. I stopped and then we realised that there were in fact two Quails calling, one responding to the other. Our bird was closer and I started to check the edges of the vegetation nearby, in what I thought would be a forlorn hope in seeing it. No sign. And then I realised that a bit further away there was something standing on a stone. Checking with my binoculars, I immediately realized I was looking at a Quail and I got Tony and Alwin onto the bird straightway. It continued to call, more intent on its rival than to our presence, whilst Tony managed to get the photo above. It is rare indeed to get such a prolonged view of this beautifully camouflaged and patterned bird.

Each month has its special features of course. What I like about May is that it combines the excitement of spring, with each day being different, as the season unfolds, whilst at the same time a growing sense that the breeding season of birds is now getting into place, almost all birds have now arrived,  and a daily pattern or even routine is starting to take shape. Our garden Nightingale is back, and a creature of habit it most certainly is. At 7.30 am each morning it sings for a few minutes in a bush right beside the kitchen door. At 7.30 each evening it is snacking on the lawn, hopping about, tail cocked, looking for food, alongside the House Sparrows and Blackbirds. Martin Bennett's photo of a Nightingale this spring captures beautifully how fully it sings, not a species for subtle warbling.

The rice fields are starting to get flooded now and the sowing has started. Suddenly what had been dry and barren, now becomes attractive for birds. Late passage waders, such as Grey Plover and Ringed Plover have been appearing, along with a dozen or so other waders. Parties of Black-headed Gulls are passing through with a few marsh terns. It was checking these gulls a few days ago that I found this Mediterranean Gull - a very rare bird in Extremadura, indeed the only one I have ever seen here. Yes, May is like that: the pieces of the jigsaw are getting into place, but there is always the thrill of the unexpected as well.


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