Distant Sierras

Red Kite (John Hawkins)
It was exactly two months since I had last walked this circuit and the immediate difference I noted was sound. Birds that were not here at the end of summer were now part of my soundscape. The gorgeous sweet liquid notes of the winter song of Robins, flowing like a caress from the undergrowth was the first contrast. Then the thin calls of Redwings flying overhead, impossible to find against the intense blue sky but the unmistakeable sound of these migrating Scandanavian thrushes. Quickly afterwards came the more throaty calls of Skylarks, another migrant from the north and then the weaker calls of the trimmer-looking Meadow Pipits. It was perfect migration weather: calm and clear and the visibility was superb. The Gredos mountains (see photo below), over a hundred kilometres away stood sharply defined and, as always on days like this, magnificent. The landscape had changed as well, of course, looking refreshed and luxuriant with fresh, lush grass. It is no wonder that autumn is such an important lambing season here: the sheep have recovered their form after the deprivations of the summer drought.  

The Gredos Mountains from the Sierra de Los Lagares
These are the days when the leading figure in the sky is the Red Kite. A scarce breeding bird, the population increases by at least twenty-fold in the winter with arrivals from the north. They become the most commonly seen bird of prey, with one of two somewhere in the sky almost every time one stops to take a look. Driving early in the morning towards Trujillo the sightings will easily reach double-figures as birds leaving their communal roosts head off for their morning patrols.

As Claudia and I continued our walk, Small Copper, Brown Argus, Bath White and Clouded Yellow butterflies explored the side of the track, stroked by the gentle autumnal sunshine, whilst a Common Chiffchaff, yet another winter arrival, called from the encina holm oak beside us. The view we now had before us was westward towards the Sierra de Montanchez, across expanses of encina dehesa.

The view across to Montanchez
It was warm by now, but the ice on the car windscreen this morning was another marker of the season's progress. With the change of the clocks last weekend, the afternoons are getting shorter and on returning home, the grate was prepared for the log fire. From now on the little plumes of oak wood smoke drifting from the chimneys of the dwellings in our village will be a feature of each close of the day.


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