Birding in the heat of summer

Just when will we get rains, our spring has been one of the driest and hottest on record producing parched landscapes that would normally have remained dressed in their green finery until the beginning of June, as alluded to later in my article. In all my years of living in Spain, I have never seen such an early dry and diminished landscape as we witness now. At odds with the current threat to our valuable water resources, I see more and more plantings of olive trees, all requiring irrigation to become established and producing a landscape devoid of wildlife. Of course, Spain is used to droughts and people have adapted to living in dry conditions, but the current trend of hot and dry seasons is producing a critical situation to the levels of water reserves. And yet, we see an ever-increasing amount of water used for agriculture to plant insanely thirsty plants such as Avocado and Mango, just madness and a situation unsustainable in these times of drought.

Rant over, onwards and upwards with a more positive outlook on how we can enjoy our provincial wildlife during the hot days of summer.

We are all so very fortunate to live a wonderfully diverse region of Spain where nature reflects this diversity in a richness of habitats and animal life. Each of our 8 provinces has much to commend them to those with even just a passing interest in nature, from Europe’s only true desert in Almeria to the National Park of the Sierra de Grazalema that has the highest rainfall in Spain, and from the highest mountains in Spain to the undisturbed forested natural park of Los Alcornocales, a richly wooded park declared ZEPA reserve (zone of especial protection for the birds). We have so many real wildlife gems within Andalucía that contain huge varieties of both fauna and flora that should encourage the intrepid explorer among locals and visitors to our region.

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly the greens and colours of spring turn as the heat of the dawning summer takes a hold of our region. It is almost like a switch has been tripped and with almost immediate affect our panorama turns to golden browns made starker in contrast to May and early June’s colours and much of our greenery is only now represented by the remaining evergreens of oak, conifers, and olive trees. With most of the flora resting my focus now for the summer will be on our colourful breeding birds of the region and I intend to concentrate on areas with easy access as summer heat makes long hikes uncomfortable, I also seek out areas where there is plenty of shade, although some of my summer targets frequent open habitats such as Blue Rock Thrush in the mountains and the spectacular European Roller which can be found in steppe type habitat with the nearest site for me being around the Osuna area.

There are so many beautiful woodlands to visit, we are spoilt for choice, not only is shaded woodland attractive to us, but cooler temperatures within forested areas also offer respite from summer heat for birds and other wildlife. Those of us from northern Europe can find many familiar birds in these woodlands and some more unusual ones that do not reach those northernmost regions of our continent. Familiar and popular birds will include our Robin and Blue Tit together with a host of others, but a word of caution if you see a Treecreeper, common in the north, be aware that we only have Short-toed Treecreeper in our region so you can be sure of your identification here. Also, the colourful and noisy Green Woodpecker has now been classified and renamed here as the Iberian Green Woodpecker, so a recent change and now becomes a new species for the serious bird lister. The woodland canopy is a good place to spot the colourful and diminutive Subalpine Warbler as well as Firecrest, a tiny warbler that can be easily overlooked.

Birding in the high mountains can be hot work during the summer months, but I like to make a few excursions to count the breeding pairs of a few special birds such as Common Rock Thrush (not so common) and Black Wheatear. Normally my visits entail being ensconced in my vehicle complete with air conditioning, pampered birding according to my wife and certainly not carbon neutral, but it allows closer views of the birds and causes less disturbance to breeding pairs in these high areas. These visits are limited to a few sites as most access tracks, caminos forestal, are closed to vehicles due to fire risks from the 1st of June until 15th October depending on rainfall, so not something I will be doing often during the summer. There are one or two drover troughs in these high areas that in most years will have water and these can provide excellent places to find a wide range of birds visiting from a wide area and attracted by this scarce water resource, places to sit and observe from a distance and just enjoy our birds.

I must admit that riverside wildlife is a favourite of mine and certainly in summer it is a habitat I visit frequently. Most of the major river systems are tree lined, usually with Willow, Ash, and Black Poplar each provide essential shade and capture the cooler temperatures of the flowing waters of my local rivers. Here I can find many colourful and beautiful birds such Hoopoe, Kingfisher and Golden Oriole, whilst Bee Eater will often burrow into the soft banks providing a real spectacle as colonies busy themselves darting in and out of their nesting holes, truly a superbly coloured bird and I believe the most colourful of all our European birds. These rivers also have the added bonus of dragonflies and damselflies, colourful inhabitants of rivers and their margins, plus many butterflies are attracted to marginal vegetation including, in my area, the large and colourful Monarch Butterfly. So, visiting our countryside can be an absolute pleasure even in the heat of high summer.

Article: Peter Jones
Photos: Peter Jones

Note: The views expressed in articles are those of the authors, and are not necessarily those of the Society.

Article first published in Costa Connection Magazine June 2023 edition.

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