Showing posts from 2021

Silence of fallen leaves

Early December in the hills (Martin Kelsey)   Eight months earlier, under the softness of a fresh canopy of Sweet Chestnut leaves, the sight of a vast colony of creamy Barton's Orchids filled me with joy. Now, only a single wizened grey spike, bearing the husks of the seed capsules remains in view. It is exposed on a mossy bank, with the rest of the colony now hidden under the deep blanket of coppery leaves covering the ground in this grove. The trees stand dormant and a winter's silence now clothes this hilltop. Until a Jay screeches and somewhere through the trees a Roe Deer barks, making me jump. A frosty trail (Martin Kelsey) There is still colour in many of the Sweet Chestnuts and Pyrenean Oaks. I am at about a 1000 metres above sea-level and the temperature is hugging freezing point (but in the frost pockets lower down it was down to minus 4º C) and autumn just about perseveres here, although there is a distinct wintery feel to the birds. Walking along a ride, where the s


Alcollarín Reservoir (Martin Kelsey)   A blustery late afternoon in mid-November and I pause to watch a large flock of small birds that zing like a wind-blown sheet pegged to a washing-line. They gather on the ovine-nibbled sward beside feed mangers in a small paddock populated by some ewes and lambs, under the shade of broad holm oaks. For no apparent cause, a "dread" sweeps across them and they retreat into the trees, like the sheet torn off the line. A minute or so later they calmly descend again, as if the sheet gently floats back to the ground. This woosh of panic and then calm happens every few minutes. Most of them are sparrows, both House and their chunkier Spanish cousins. But there are also Chaffinches amongst them, and where there is a large winter flock of these, then there is always a chance of their northern counterparts: Bramblings. I settle down with my 'scope to pan across the groups of feeding birds once they are on the ground. It is frustrating - it see

An Orchid Odyssey

Sawfly Orchid Ophrys tenthredinifera : one of the most widespread species in Extremadura   Orchids are compelling. Even the most botanically-challenged birders will stop to admire one in flower. Simply being an orchid commands attention. The name is instantly recognisable, sounds special - although how many will know that it comes from the Greek word for testicle, thanks to the pair of tubers that many orchids have underground? The flower itself is attractive, usually held aloft on an upright stem, gorgeous and intriguing to those curious enough to get on their knees for a closer look. Beyond their appearance are fascinating life-histories and ecologies. They have an association with fungi which provide nutrients and sometimes have highly-specific pollinating agents. The bee orchids are sexual traps that lure young male bees by pretending to look (and smell) like female bees. A long wet and mild winter for growth and a long hot dry summer for dormancy is what suits the orchids growing

Hidden birds

Great Bittern (Martin Kelsey) Birders will know that birding is as much about bird-listening as it is about bird-watching...probably most birds are detected by sound first. So when birds are quiet, their detectability is hugely reduced. Many factors will be at play. The activity patterns of birds vary during the day (and night), small birds are more likely to be calling, singing and actively feeding in the first few hours of the day. Large birds like vultures will be most visible from late morning as the air warms. Detectability will vary by season. I can see one of my favourite birds, the Hawfinch, in the garden throughout the whole year, but in April and early May, they become very hard indeed to find. This is when they are nesting. They must be nesting somewhere close (perhaps even in the garden itself) because a male sings close to house in early spring and a family group with recently-fledged young appear in mid-May. Weather conditions will affect detectability considerably, espec

Sounds of spring

Male Barn Swallow (Martin Kelsey)  The invitation comes from just outside the bedroom window. It is joyful and instantly uplifting. Sliding and rising, rhythmic and textured like honey, the song of a Barn Swallow is like a conversation with a friendly neighbour, ending with a teasing mechanical twizzle.  The sound opens a box of memories, of childhood holidays on farms, brought back to me this morning after more than half a century. One swallow does not make a summer, or so the saying goes, but for me there is no surer sign of spring.  The swallows have been around since late January, but a pair have been checking out my toolshed for a couple of days now and today sang for the first time from the old satellite dish just below the window. Their favourite perch. It marks the change, because spring reaches us in mid-February.  This has been a challenging transition for me. Still under a municipal lockdown thanks to persistence in COVID infection rates locally, I have been missing the cues

Counting time

Common Cranes (Martin Kelsey) Returning to Extremadura after caring for my mother during her final weeks is like turning a page and starting a new chapter. With the passing of one's parents, life is never again the same. A reminder of mortality, but also the urge to commit to never taking things for granted, to appreciate what we have around us. Let nature flow! January here is counting time. Counting birds that is, and most of my time in the last few days has been about doing that. So here is my counting tale, which ends with an owl and a duck! On my return, what better than to take the walk from home, taking in the hill behind the house in circular route along a lane, amongst old olive groves, pasture and patches of evergreen oak dehesa ? This is a favourite of mine and one which I use to contribute every winter to the bird population monitoring work of SEO/BirdLife. During two hours I record every individual bird. I have done so twice for each of the last eleven winters. Overall