The Joy of Spring

Our rivers are in full flow as part of nature’s self-sustaining lifelines. They are such an enormous asset, a valuable resource here in our mountains and beyond. Unfortunately, many of our lagoons are depleted, and I really do wonder if illegal extraction for irrigating crops is mostly to blame? There is no doubt water, such a valuable resource for us all, is being used in huge quantities for olive growing. It is of real concern, but more about that in a future article. Right now, I am rejoicing in the gift that is Spring!

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, on this Earth more precious than nature. And for me at least, Spring is a celebration of our natural heritage, a time of renewal and wonder. Here in Andalucia, we live in a migration bottleneck for birds, where they make their way to and fro on journeys that involve huge efforts between continental Europe and Africa. It is one of life’s spectacles, a time to catch your breath as you witness the arrival of so many different species of bird. A time where you can stand amidst nature and just feel a kind of spiritual sensation that raises the hairs on your neck. As an encore, flowers emerge and grace the landscape with carpets of colour, you can feel the energy being released after a long winter’s slumber.

As a flock of Bee Eater fly overhead, their merry calls greet you and you really feel their joyful sound is one of relief, having successfully navigated the amazing migration from the southern reaches of Africa, crossing the Sahara Desert and finally making it home. Others such as Short-toed Eagle greet each other and make excited honking calls as if to celebrate being home, I suspect too that some of these are already paired before arriving here, which would give a different meaning to these excited exchanges! Name a bird and it seems it is on migration over our mountains at the moment, sheer numbers add to the joy.

A bonus to the rainfalls in the winter and early spring should have led to good water levels in most lagoons this summer. Most lagoons here are water table fed and so the fact many have mediocre levels is testimony to the unsustainable increase in agricultural practises here using this valuable resource for irrigating olive plantings. So, it will be a case of win some lose some, waders, terns and other water loving birds will compete to achieve a successful breeding season. Even the ill-fated Little Ringed Plover, who’s first attempts at breeding on dry riverbeds often get washed away in times of spring floods, soon will be able to brood and successfully raise their young as more seasonal dry weather returns and river levels drop.

How many times do you catch yourself saying “It’s that time of year”? Well, for me at least, it is that time of year, a time of change and hope. Nature here is shaking off the slumbers of winter and the promise of the newborn is just around the corner. Our mountains surrounding the town of Ronda, reflect the seasons in a way that is breathtakingly obvious. Autumn and Spring produce long and deep shadows across the rock faces and soften the drama of crags and sheer limestone cliffs, but now of course the greens of grasses and cultivated areas are now giving the impressions of velvet drapes enveloping the countryside. Yellow blooms dominate the early spring, but also blushes of pink and white cascade on light winds as almond blossom shake free from leafy limbs, soon blues will replace the yellows and thereafter carpets of colour will adorn mountain pathways.

Our wildlife now rewards our observations with an array of pure spectacle, from the rapidly changing colours of our landscape to the cranky and amusing spring behaviour of animals indulging in their pre-nuptials. Many of our finches and buntings, after spending most of the winter months in large social and amicable flocks, are now turning on each other as they compete for the attentions of their mate and also to establish their home territories. Crazed males chase and harass encroaching potential upstarts, then retreat to a favoured song-post to advertise themselves with beautiful renditions of proclamation. Winter birds are now departing in earnest and those that congregated in prime sites are dispersing, our summer residents are appearing and replacing the void left by those heading northwards. The sadness of losing wintering birds such as Chiffchaff and the amusing antics of White Wagtails is tempered by the chattering and busy swarms of Swallows as they arrive to revisit their traditional nesting sites and promise warmer weather will soon be here to stay.

Mirror Orchid

April and through May is a time for rejoicing in the abundance of plantlife adorning our mountains. The tapestry of colour is dazzling, a kaleidoscope to overwhelm the senses. It is always a time when I am never certain of whether I should be looking above me for birds or cast my eyes to the ground in search of elusive plants. There are so many wonderful plants to find, but among my favourites is the Mirror Orchid Ophrys speculum, not only a spectacular looker, but also has the wonderful story of being pollinated exclusively by a single species of Scoliid wasp, amazing. As I wander through open and wooded areas, searching for plants and birds, it is the time of year when frequent encounters with female deer accompanied by foals are a part of my days. Whilst mountain walks can lead to views of skittish female Ibex being followed by their confused young. For sure it is a time of abundance and an opportunity to celebrate the joys of nature, a time to contemplate our good fortune of having so many wild places to visit in our region.

I hope you will make time to enjoy the natural world during this spring and visit those wild places so close to you. Have a great spring, Peter Jones

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.

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