Moving around

Spoonbills (John Hawkins)
July misleads us, faking a quiet time, a balmy summery lull. Bird song has almost disappeared and in its place the electric buzz of mid-afternoon cicadas. The heat builds and we retire indoors, solace in the shade and time for a siesta. But there are subplots underway and understated. One signal comes from the referee's whistle calls from Bee-eaters. As they were when spring arrivals, now they seem again to be high above, in earshot, but almost out of sight. Difficult to pick out against the hazy blue sky, parties wheel, dive and swoop, as if whole colonies were on the move. Perhaps they are. They will be around still for a few weeks, but the sense they give is restlessness, nomadism, exploring the skies in search for food before the southward migartion starts.

More evident, but still far from dramatic, is the arrival of new faces on the rice fields and other wetland sites. Since late June a trickle of passage waders has started, first Lapwings and Green Sandpipers, now other species today. This morning, barely visible in the growing crop, eight Black-tailed Godwits and over thirty Ruff fed and rested in the corner of a single paddy field. The Ruff were all adult males, adorning worn vestiges of their extraordinary courtship "ruffs", patches of different hues, some males mainly dark, others white, according them different roles in their northern leks. All had completed their reproductive roles and were on the move south.

Squacco Heron (Martin Kelsey)
This start of southward migration overlaps too with a dispersal of, presumably, local birds. At the moment this is clearly visible with the herons. On the rice fields too I found Squacco Herons and Purple Herons, the latter a mix of adults and juveniles, but neither of these two species nest in the immediate vicinity, but perhaps have come from breeding sites along the Guadiana River. Unlike the juvenile Collared Pratincoles, Black-winged Stilts and Gull-billed Terns which stood on the bunds, some of the latter still begging for food, which have all nested in these fields or on islands on nearby reservoirs.  This post-breeding dispersal and movements of herons was most marked today at another site, a brand new reservoir which I have started to visit. Throughout the spring there was a party of 14 Spoonbills present, but this morning as I watched Little Terns hovering over the water, a flock of 34 Spoonbills arrived and landed on the far shore. These I could add to the group in a nearby bay of the water body, comprising a further 24 birds. I wondered if I had ever seen 58 Spoonbill at one site before, certainly not outside a colony. They were a mixture of adult and juvenile birds and I could not hazard a guess as to their origin - it did not appear that any of them was colour-ringed. Week by week now the southward passage will pick up volume, a long-drawn out migration which will lead right through into November. The annual pendulum slowly swings back.


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