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Some Musings...

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Offline quentin

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« on: September 29, 2014, 10:30 AM »
Seasons in the Alpujarra, Granada

As September fades the heat of the summer has finally been replaced with the uncertain temperatures of autumn.  The first rains for many months have come so once more the river below the town is  worthy of the name.  During the summer the ancient irrigation systems of the Alpujarra channel river water to hundreds of small plots of land so long stretches of riverbed become nothing more than dry rounded stones.  A few deep pools remain, barely connected by trickles.  These pools provide homes for small fish, frogs and viperine snakes as well as being much appreciated by my three very hot dogs as they pause to gulp, wallow and swim.

The end of the summer is a time of major activity for birds. Many species migrate across the Mediterranean Sea, continuing south over the Sahara, to spend the winter months in Africa.  Southern Spain is a great place to see flocks of swallows and House Martins gathering together before setting off. Other non-migratory birds begin to flock up for the winter so now is a good time to see Spotless Starlings gathering over town, swirling and wheeling like shoals of fish, before settling down for the night in the fir trees in the streets. Our town is also the roosting site of choice for White Wagtails. Sitting on our terrace during the evening we can watch them bounding by, coming in from the fields in ones or twos and then four or fives. They prefer the small Orange trees by the church and settle in mostly unnoticed by the human inhabitants. Goodness knows what these birds will make of the five-day fiesta that starts on Thursday this week!

With the lower temperatures I have been more active so have seen more birds in the last couple of weeks than I have seen all summer. A long walk up to an area
called “The Siete Lagunas”, just below Mulhacen in the Sierra Nevada, recently provided me with sightings of resident birds that have been denied me due to heat induced summer apathy. After three hours of relentless up-hill climbing a flock of Red-billed Choughs appeared against a cliff-face. Their distinctive calls alerted me to their presence long before I latched onto the birds themselves, instantly mesmerising me with their deceptively skilful flight as bird and shadow became indistinguishable.  Overhead three Griffon Vultures idly circled.

It was on the same walk that I last saw a Short-toed eagle. It may be my last until next spring but, as I have seen one in November, I remain hopeful. I often wonder if Short-toed eagles have an inbuilt sense that detects imminent colder weather. It would certainly be a useful asset for a bird that depends so much on cold-blooded creatures. Talking of which, it hasn’t been a particularly “snakey” summer for me. I’ve had a few sightings and even managed to get a reasonable photo of a Montpellier snake but mostly it’s been a bit quiet and I don’t even remember the last time I saw a Ladder snake. Hopefully this is just me being a bit unobservant and not an indication of a general decline in the reptile population.

Coming from Cornwall, one of the best places in the UK for rare migrants, I regularly check to see what is happening in the bird world there. It’s interesting to note that a lot of the species I’ve recently been seeing here have also been seen back home. Whinchats and Wheatears for example. Also Spotted Flycatchers and Common Sandpipers. Of course I often wonder if the very same individual birds are being seen in both places. Taking into consideration the huge numbers of birds involved it is extremely unlikely especially as not all birds that appear in Andalucia would have come from Britain. Trapping and ringing by trained volunteers worldwide (eg The British Trust for Ornithology) has enabled accurate records to be compiled over many years that show the routes and times taken by many species. Almost a million birds were ringed in Britain and Ireland in 2013 alone! It is well worth taking a look at the BTO website - http://www.bto.org/

It will only be a few weeks now until the summer visitors are gone so we had better make the most of any sightings before they set off for their winter holidays. It is unfortunate that some of the most spectacular, colourful birds will be amongst those that head south. Bee-eaters and Golden Orioles, Rollers and Woodchat shrikes will already be thin on the ground by now. Thankfully their place in the countryside will be taken by Chiff-chaffs, Blackcaps and Song Thrushes while Black Redstarts will once again occupy the town roofs. While I will miss the swifts and swallows flying overhead it’s good to have a change and it is especially good to always have something to look forward to. I’m pleased to live in a temperate climate where seasons are as much defined by the passage of birds as by the variation in the weather.  Soon, when the mountains are capped with snow, another year will be gone and another about to begin.

« Last Edit: September 29, 2014, 13:59 PM by quentin »

Offline Clive

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« Reply #1 on: September 29, 2014, 13:03 PM »
Thanks for that... It's lovely to hear news and thoughts from other parts..... Exactly what this forum was created for all those years ago! :)
« Last Edit: September 29, 2014, 13:08 PM by Clive »
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Offline Maria

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« Reply #2 on: October 08, 2014, 12:48 PM »
Nice write up Andy.