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At the beginning of spring, I am often struck by the thought I might be a strange old birder or more than a little weird as I get impatient, anxious, and more than a little excited at the prospect of finding early spring migrants. The spring had seen me chasing around my favourite local birding sites in search of either the sounds or sights of some of the birds I am most anxious to see again.

The same as many other birders, I had been constantly looking skywards for raptors as they appeared in their thousands during their return to Europe. The odd swift, many swallows and House Martins were a feature of looking up, but I had been increasingly cocking an ear for giveaway sounds of some of my smaller and mostly elusive birds. It has become almost a springtime ritual to track down these smaller birds and especially those skulking and well camouflaged warblers.

Forays into the diverse habitats of my mountains had been many during the spring and some had been frustratingly disappointing, whilst others had given me rewards for my efforts. Early birds included one of my most treasured favourites the Black-eared Wheatear, whilst another beauty the Woodchat Shrike made an appearance, both would arrive in greater numbers later. In fact, both birds could explain my anxiety as they are in decline, and I worried how many would return to our shores for the breeding season.

Woodchat Shrike. Left: Male Right: Female

And so, the search went on, that adage of ‘if at first you don’t succeed try and try again’ kicked in. Surely persistence would pay as I doubled my efforts during the spring. My searches had become more difficult in my dotage as diminishing hearing, especially detecting higher frequencies, acted as an inhibitor to my detective work. Note to self, put vanity aside and get a hearing aid if only for birding! My hopes of finding some newly arrived warblers were taking a hit after so many unproductive visits to prime locations.

Bonelli's Warbler
Such a great experience to up close to so many birds and especially this Bonelli’s Warbler.

I decided to settle down and spend more time in suitable habitats and be more specific for each warbler I wanted to find. It turned things around and paid dividends as an Orphean Warbler appeared at a watering place in Sierra de Las Nieves, it might have been my earliest record and alongside an early Bonelli’s Warbler that was seen in the same location. It was perhaps less surprising to find Subalpine Warbler in the woodlands of Algaba, near Ronda, always a great place to find early spring migrants.

Many more early spring birds had remained to be found and so the life of an aging birder could always have something to look forward to. Aren’t birds wonderful.

Article: Peter Jones
Photos: Peter Jones

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