Sounds on the highest lands of all
|High in the Gredos Mountains in late May (Martin Kelsey)
Ascending the slopes, on twisting roads following ancient tracks heading for trusted passes, the familiar evergreen oaks of much of our region are left behind, replaced by deciduous Pyrennean Oak, with large leaves of the freshest of lime-green. Here the energetic trill of Western Bonelli's Warblers resonates from the canopy. But it is above the tree-line, in high fells marking invisible boundaries between Extremadura and Castille y Leon, where one enters a landscape like nowhere else in the area. And late May is fine time indeed to explore, with the brooms and saxifrages in flower. Weathered granite breaks through this scrubby moorland, as rounded outcrops, or huge massifs. Whilst the occasional Griffon Vulture drifts overhead, it is the smaller birds which dominate visits to these montane habitats. And across the seeming emptyness of the open landscape, under a dome of intense blue with shifting clouds, the song seems to come from the sky as many of the species here fill this space with sound. Barely visible Skylarks provide almost continuous background song, and are joined by others making fluttering flirtaceous songflights: Rufous-tailed Rock Thrushes, Common Whitethroats, Northern Wheatears and Bluethroats. All of these will be singing from perches too (see the Bluethroat below), but have converged their behaviour to suit a space devoid of trees, rising as the mood takes them in the air and then gliding down, wings and tails spread widely. The result for the observer is as if to be witness to a joyful celebration, like watching hats being tossed into the air.
|Bluethroat (John Hawkins)
Whilst some of these montane dwellers have taken to the exuberance to songflights, others contribute to the soundscape solely from perches. The Dunnock here is a breeding bird from 1500 metres above sea-level, and stands of broom held Dunnocks atop the most prominent twigs, singing in heated rivalry. However, for me both the sweetest, most evocative, perhaps almost melancholic, of all the sounds is also the simplest of them all. Coming from small birds perched also on broom, but most often the outcrops of the bedrock itself, was a plaintive, drawn-out ringing song, that captures more than any other the sense of solitude and space that I feel everytime I am at these highest and loneliest of places. The Ortolan Bunting, its chin, moustache stripe and fine eye-ring matching the yellow lichen on the granite, I occasionally encounter on spring or autumn passage on the plains or even along the lanes near our home. But here above the tree-tree this is a common species, whose bittersweet song tunes in with the windswept freshness of its surroundings, within earshot with every pace one takes.
|Ortolan Bunting (Martin Kelsey)