Stone Curlew at winter roost (Martin Kelsey)

The cues are coming in now thick and fast, there can be no denying it. Winter is being nudged away and the unstoppable forces of spring are stirring. It was not a delusion derived from the extraordinarily warm and sunny weekend that we enjoyed - I am too long in the tooth to be fooled by weather's fickle vagaries. No, by late January in Extremadura there are messages galore that we are now embraced by a transformation. Winter's days are truly numbered.

The Stone Curlews are still in their winter roosts and they stood, semi-comatose, hardly blicking in the sunshine because most had their eyes closed. But whilst I watched these motionless birds, I was absorbing both the warmth of the sun on my back and the sound of Barn Swallow song above me: a liquid, stroking cheer. In the villages, House Martins are already busily visiting their nests. There is further evidence of birds on the move. On my visit to Alcollarín Reservoir I was struck by the presence of over 700 Pintail, amongst the Shoveler and Mallard. There had been just a few dozen a couple of days earlier. However, even this figure was dwarfed by the spectacle that greeted me at the larger Sierra Brava reservoir. There a carpet-like mass of duck comprised over 5000 Pintail. These were newly arrived birds, probably from West Africa and pausing in Extremadura on their northward migration. For these Pintail, spring had started many days ago. I notice changing dispersion patterns: Lapwings having spent the autumn and winter spread thinly across the pastures are now clumped into flocks, and perhaps the locally wintering birds are now also being joined from birds, like the Pintail, already on the move. Certainly, the large flocks of Golden Plover which always start appearing from mid-January onwards must be mainly made up from birds that are moving in from the south.

Crocus carpetanus (Martin Kelsey)
At my feet too there are new forms and colours. High in the Sierra of the Villuercas, where puddles of water wobbled with loose caps of ice, Mountain Crocuses Crocus carpetanus have sprung from the green sward and in sheltered spots, there are already profusions of Hoop Petticoat Narcissus. But the most telling sign was revealed to me as I stepped outside in the evening. For as long as I can remember, I seek to comply with an evening ritual whereby just prior to retiring I step outside to take a few minutes of the night air. It is a moment for reflection and to feel perhaps the slight motion of a night-time breeze or indeed that often stillness once the stars emerge and sound can carry wondrously. There may be nearby mammalian rustles or, as there was that evening, the jerk of the Little Owl call. This routine gifts me a concluding communion of the day, a short solitary meditation. And as I stood there, the sound that speaks change emerged from the olive orchard, a lilting churring chorus - the love song of the Natterjack Toads. It was a cyclical cue with its unmistakeable message.


Anonymous said…
As some one who cut his naturalist teeth listening to natter jacks on Cumbrian dunes and salt marshes to hear them in olive groves sounds very exotic. I say it again, lucky you :-)

Brian Banks

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