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Showing posts from 2021

An Orchid Odyssey

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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

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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

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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

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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