|Dawn on the summer plains (Martin Kelsey)|
The wise stay indoors and the heat drives the foolhardy inside anyway, so by mid-afternoon as the sun's force doubles back with even greater intensity with the radiant heat from walls, pavements and the baked ground itself, the villages of rural Extremadura appear even emptier than usual. The maximum temperature is reached at about seven in the evening and it only slowly recedes by the time people retire to bed. These last few nights I have pulled a mattress out onto the terrace and slept under the stars. I lie on my back and watch the form of bats caught briefly in the lights from the house, manoeuvering in different patterns, zigzags and straight lines. At stages in the night sounds awaken me - it is invariably fitful sleeping out: sometimes a dog across the valley, a Scops Owl or, just before dawn, a Little Owl. I might register the tock-a-tock of Red-necked Nightjars, whilst two nights ago well after a midnight the sky became full of calling Bee-eaters: already birds on the move? Thus awake for a moment, I gaze skywards: halfway through last night I marvelled at the geometry of Pegasus, directly above me.
These days I head out before dawn (which now just over a month from the solstice has withdrawn to a very respectable seven o'clock). Heading south, the Garciaz hills to my left are outlines against a pale apricot sky. As I pass through villages on my way, many inhabitants are out performing that most time-honoured rural custom: the paseo
. Almost every village will have a well-laid path that takes the walkers out beside a road, sometimes for two or three kilometres, with regularly spaced benches and ornamental trees. Here old and young take a daily (or twice daily) constitutional, which in the summer will be pre-dawn and after sunset. Historically it was quite strictly segregated by gender and still I notice that the small groups of twos and threes are almost invariably single-sex, the paseo
still providing a chance for gossip, small talk and problem-sharing: women with women, men with men. The social fabric is still strong in Spanish villages, holding together in the face of the attrition of depopulation - few new people come to live in these villages and they are greatly outnumbered by those who leave in search for work.
|Dried cardoon thistles (Martin Kelsey)|
I reach the plains at the same time as the sun does. Despite the prolongation of flowers this spring, the summer though hesitant at the start has now reached its inevitable and unstoppable climax. Even the cardoon thistles that gave out the final shout of colour have now blended in their dessication to the subtled whispering hues of golden, tawny blond. Underfoot the grasses and herbs are crisp and fragment at touch.
|Moulting first-year male Lesser Kestrel (Martin Kelsey)|
Birds have finished breeding and Calandra Lark plunge across the pastures in a driving mass of two hundred birds. I am struck at how scruffy many of the adult birds are, now well into annual moults, and how confusing it makes them appear. Familar patterns are disrupted by transitional plumages, old and new mixed together. I study a male Lesser Kestrel as it handles a grasshopper that it had just swopped down on. It is a first summer male (hatched last year) on its way to becoming a full adult, slowly replacing the spotting on the wing by a diagnostic grey wing panel and still retains a suggestion of a moustache stripe, which will also disappear. And so moulting full adult and one-year old Lesser Kestrels perch along the fences, beside fledged and heavily marked juveniles, recently fledged. From one point, I can see eleven birds, all lined-up and each one making short pounces onto the ground for prey.
|Juvenile Roller (Martin Kelsey)|
Rollers too are on the fences, again with adults outshone by their fledged young. The latter are more subtle in their tone, unlike their parents whose outrageousness has now become tatty. The young birds combine an attractive naivity with tidiness, freshness in both senses, with each feather perfectly formed and shaped, as the individual becomes shaped through learning and experience. Each day that passes marks another success for its survival.