Lockdown Birding Part 13

Black Kite over the house (Martin Kelsey)

From the balcony I can see gentle hills to the east, south and west. I stand with my back to the house, so there is no view northwards. Ignoring the wall of the house behind me and the floor I am standing on, this means that almost half of the bird habitat offered to my view is the sky.

My good friend David Lindo's message is to "Keep Looking Up". So much happens above, but when walking it is too easy to keep focused on just the ground and vegetation, During the lockdown, standing on my balcony, there is no excuse. Sightings in the sky have granted me surprise and action. The arrival of a Black Kite swinging low overhead is usually announced by the swearing of Iberian (Azure-winged) Magpies. They lift from their hidden perches, sometimes two or three in unison to engage the raptor in pursuit. The Black Kite makes a subtle adjustment to its rudder through a twist of the tail, and changes course. The Iberian Magpies want the sky kite-free. The intruder seems nonchalant as it glides off.

Panic calls of swallows invariably mean the appearance of a Booted Eagle at this time of the year. Although the smallest of the eagles here (similar in size to a buzzard), it is an aggressive hunter, dropping by a steep stoop to attack prey on the ground, such as lizards.  But they punch above their weight and often hunt birds. I once watched a Booted Eagle plunging in an attempt to take a adult Mallard from a small river. It proved in vain. On another occasion, we watched a stoop onto a family party of Barn Swallows. This time the eagle was successful and it barely gave us a glance as it perched on a gatepost to pluck the juvenile swallow. Its extraordinary acute vision facilitates the location of potential prey, perhaps some recently fledged swallows perched on a twig, even when it is airbourne, high above us.

A playful troop of Ravens (Martin Kelsey)

Ravens have been gathering these days. This morning a flock of nearly 40 frollicked, wheeled and tumbled in the updraughts beside the hill. Watching such birds exploring the fluidity of the air confirms our limitations. Not only do they exalt in the freedom of all three dimensions, way beyond our terrestrial restrictions, but the sky must feel more liquid than gas to them. They feel and embrace air's fluid forces, the currents, eddies and flows that are simply invisible to our senses.

The sky too is their highway of course. By looking up a few days ago I was rewarded by a bird that I usually see once or twice in early May when I am birding locally and I had really hoped would appear during a balcony birding session. At a midday session, a bird rose over the trees to the south, made two soaring turns before, as if on a fixed course, gliding high in my direction. It appeared dark and flat-winged. I guessed its identify straightaway, and it was quickly confirmed as it crossed the sky above me: a Honey Buzzard. A day or two earlier it would have made a long glide across the Straits of Gibraltar, crossing the sea at the narrowest ithmus. It would have reached the Spanish coast at low altitude, almost certainly together with others. Over Extremadura, mostly they are migrating so high that they are barely visible, it is only a few hours after sunrise, when they are embarking from a roost site, they they are low enough to see.

A migrating Honey Buzzard over the house (Martin Kelsey
Brief appearances of migrants in a hurry have been a feature of the lockdown birding in the last few days. At dawn I heard the soft billing of a Turtle Dove, just three times and then not again. A Garden Warbler flew across my view. It settled and explored an olive tree, and then flew on. Barely audible a couple of days ago was a quiet conversational chatter of Reed Warbler.  Lockdown Birding has given me a much better hold of the trancience of bird migration in spring.




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