|Shoveler (Martin Kelsey)|
It feels that only now through the Solstice and Yuletide that winter is arriving, with frost now a regular morning experience and a nip to the otherwise gentle breeze. We are continuing to enjoy this long period of sunny, settled weather and as I stand facing north and the chill of the ground pushes against my boots, my back is soothed by the welcoming warmth of a steadfast sun. In front of me, gorgeously sheltered on placid water and no doubt relishing the gentle radiance as I am, are a myriad of dozing duck. Almost all are Shoveler. They sit, plump and motionless, the round white bows of the drakes appearing twice their normal size as the perfect mirrored water surface creates the illusion of a fusion between reality and reflection. This white form is then set strikingly against the mahogany brown of their sides and the black-green heads. The dressed-down females are mingled across the raft and almost all (ducks and drakes) set the same pose: hunched heads and their spatulate bills hidden from view. None are feeding, none giving that characteristic gliding motion, led by their bills which would lie flush along the water surface, seiving and sorting, the head and neck stretched flat too. At this moment, foraging is forgotten and all snooze, with just occasional itinerant individuals drifting past their companions.
Largely of western Russian and northern European origin, the Shoveler are abundant winter visitors to Extremadura. The raft of duck floating in front of me contains about 6,000 birds, of which I guess 90% are Shoveler. Amongst them are some Mallard, Wigeon, Gadwall and Pintail. Almost all are also asleep, save some sex-charged Teal whose excited clicking calls draw my attention to the sight of a flurry of males pushing and shoving to entice nearby females. There are other rafts of duck elsewhere on this water body and Shoveler also seem to be dominant in these too: indeed at this site the average winter count of this species over the last decade or so has been about 20,000 birds.
I return my gaze to the nearest raft and this time I carefully scan across the motionless duck. A few Great-crested Grebes stand out tall and elegant whilst towards the back there is a party of five Common Shelduck. Nearby, a brilliant orange-coloured head betrays the presence of a male Red-crested Pochard, close to which are bobbing, rather bizarrely right out in the middle of this body of water, a flock of seven Avocets.
|White Broom in bloom in mid-winter (Martin Kelsey)|
I pause and look around. There is not a cloud in sight and the pastures are still carrying the lushness of our autumnal "second-spring" bedecked with yellow crucifer flowers. As the air temperature rises, we are still seeing butterflies each day this winter whilst amongst the granite near Trujillo, and even on the slopes of the Gredos Mountains well above a thousand metres above sea-level, the White Broom is in flower, a display which we normally anticipate for early spring.