Reaching for the sky
|Gredos landscape (Martin Kelsey)|
On the plains spring is over and the vegetation is blanched blond. Hay has been cut and gathered and harvest is underway. On more lightly grazed land, the dominant shrub is now in flower. A wispy grey-green untidy plant, commonly mistaken by visitors as tamarisk, it is in fact a type of broom called Retama sphaerocarpa. As I drove north from Cáceres, I entered a landscape turned lemon yellow by the sheer abundance of this species, growing on otherwise sparsely vegetated, thin-soiled badlands. It offers a final respite, along with the thistles, before summer closes in, for nectar-seeking insects.
But my journey was taking me further, rising a thousand metres more onto open country, the rounded granite mountain tops of the Gredos. Rising through the soft greens of the deciduous Pyrenean oaks, I arrived at a place where spring was just starting. Indeed, the white brooms so characteristic of the granite berrocal near Trujillo, which is in full bloom in March, were only just starting to flower at this height. Before me was an artist's palate of colour: whites, russets and purples, but predominantly the rich yellow of the mountain broom species Cytisus oromediterraneaus. Locally know as Piorno, it gave its name to the highest town in Extremadura: Piornal, which was founded in the middle of the 13th Century.
|Ortolan Bunting (Martin Kelsey)|
The birds too were exuding spring passion. Most characteristic of this terrain is the Ortolan Bunting, whose poignant song, carries in its tone and its simplicity an evocation of space and depth. Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush delivered a more embellished fluty song. As I stood, I could hear the song of no fewer than nine species of birds. As instruments in an orchestra, they melded into a exaltation of the mountain, but for many their performance became even more exuberant. Positioned at this mountain top, an interface of the earth and the heavens, birds launched themselves into the sky, parachuting down with tail and wings outspread. Rock Thrushes and Wheatears, Water Pipits, Whitethroats and Bluethroat all deployed the same technique, carrying their song to join the continuous offering of Skylarks, so high that they were hard to locate against the blue of the sky. Only the Ortolan stayed put, stoically atop a granite boulder, its haunting song filling the horizontal dimension, mingled with a tapestry of colour.