|Violet Dropwing (Martin Kelsey)|
I could not take my eyes off its eyes: a calorific, almost luminous furnace crimson, round and compound. They were seemingly glowing and it was hard to discern a defined surface, it was if they flared. The rest of its body was equally loud, a vinaceous dandified plum colour. It stood, its three pairs of legs clasping the harsh-stemmed rush, its head partially rotated and then it had gone. I did not have to wait long for this territorial male to return and and there it was again, on the same perch, beside the same patch of still water. It was a Violet Dropwing, a dragonfly whose name describes both its hue and the way its wings hang forward at rest, like broad oars ready at an instant to push the insect into another dash at the waterside. It was not alone. From our position just downstream from a bridge crossing the River Almonte, without moving a foot, we could watch Epaulet Skimmers and Red-veined Darters, shifting in and out of the emergent vegetation. At our feet an Iberian Bluetail damselfly quietly hooked itself onto a stem, whilst on an island mid-stream was the bold and outrageous Blue Emperor.
|River Almonte late September 2014 (Martin Kelsey)|
The start of autumn is when one is confronted by a dragonfly climax and over the last few days, especially when the conditions are calm, they have captured our attention. The tools of birding are perfect for watching these predators too - binoculars and a camera, and the patience to stand still and seek to comprehend their behavioural patterns. Gradually one starts to map out territory boundaries, favourite perches, even the differences how the males and females use the habitat available. Water is coming back into that habitat as autumn unfolds. The River Almonte lay as a series of disconnected pools along much of its course over the summer, but September rains have been generous, sometimes as deluges across the plains.
|The rain on the plains (Martin Kelsey)|
Rivers and streams have recovered their flow and great autumn transformation takes place under our watch. We call it a second spring. I promised my companions, Cyril and Janet, that during the course of their week's stay with us, that they will witness the very colour of the landscape change...within days the cumultative effect of countless green shoots has brought back greenness to the countryside and everyone is talking about it. And more life is stirring, on a gentle slope in an open holm oak dehesa
, despite the grazing pressure of sheep, we came across the most breathtaking spread of wild autumn crocuses I had ever seen, a delicate soft pink carpet embracing the close sward of this open wood pasture.
|Autumn Crocuses (Martin Kelsey)|
A peak of equinoxal changes: the dragonflies, the rebirth of the landscape and throughout all this the quiet but massive passage of small birds pushing across the Iberian peninsula. Out on the freshening plains, moving amongst the dry thistles, pausing on fences, sheltering in isolated shrubs continue countless flycatchers, Willow Warblers, Whinchats and beady-eyed Common Redstarts, our link here between the soft temperate deciduous central European woodlands and their tropical African sojourn. There they will share habitat again with Violet Dropwings. Like several dragonfly species, Violet Dropwings have only recently colonised southern Europe from Africa, spreading northwards and symbols perhaps of deeper change.
|Common Redstart (Martin Kelsey)|