What a beautiful autumn!
As a nature guide, there are many things I have absolutely no control over. I cannot guarantee that I will find every bird that my clients ask for - although everyday, without fail, has its rewards and surprises. And I cannot control the weather. Out with a wonderful group for a week, we had just endured our second day of heavy and quite persistent rain. We were seeing great birds and the folk were in high spirits, but always as a guide I want to do my very best and the weather was creating a tough challenge for me. We popped into a favourite bar of mine for a break and as the group enjoyed the excellent coffee that these little village bars unfailingly provide, I chatted to the owner of the bar. "Lots of rain" I said and she replied: "Yes, and doesn't the countryside look wonderful!". She was absolutely right. In my concerns about making the most of our days in the field, I had blinkered myself to the fact that all of us who live here had been praying for rain like this for months. And yes indeed, the landscape is looking gorgeous at the moment. The plains and dehesas are emerald green, there are pools of water everywhere. When the sun is out, these glisten like jewels. There are carpets of yellow crucifers in flower, as well as autumn bulbs. It has been a wonderfully wet and, as a result, a beautiful autumn.
And the birds have been magnificent too. Despite their slow arrival, the Common Cranes are now here in strength (all the photos in this blog belong to Patrick Hayes who was here in early November). Their bugling calls once again a constant part of the landscape itself.
Along the ditches in the ricefields, the exotic little finch, the Red Avadavat is nesting and the male is in full breeding pluamge - a sight that people who come here just in the spring will never see.
The birds of the steppes stand out against the lush green sward: richly coloured Great Bustards, earthy coloured Black-bellied Sandgrouse and, so typical of the winter, the masses of smaller birds. This autumn there seem to be more Common Starlings, Redwings and Siskins have I have ever encountered before here. We stood marvelling at the sight of a flock of a hundred Little Bustard, appearing and disappearing above us against a blue sky, as they turned as one, pale then dark, sideways on and then banking.
Common Chiffchaffs are everywhere and Patrick Hayes even got a picture of a male Brambling in our garden (a first ever), though a raindrop-covered bedroom window.
The spectacle of the wintering passerines is matched by those raptors attracted by them: we are getting good numbers of Merlin, Sparrowhawk and Hen Harrier as well this autumn. The Black-winged Kite is more obvious too. With the group we watched one soaring beside a Red Kite and then being mobbed by a Common Kestrel, practically identical in size. Around us at that moment were a flock of about 50 Little Stints, some Kentish Plovers, a Ruff, groups of Tree Sparrows and the ever-present cranes. We felt spoilt for choice of where to look.
Extremadura has received a blessing this autumn with the rain that has arrived: this is what we have all been waiting for. At a time of economic crisis in Spain, it has been a gift for us all.