Wings are clipped by summer heat

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Okay, it is confession time, as the accumulated wisdom of this old fella finally overcame July’s unreasonable behaviour of heatwave birdwatching and succumbed to the far more sensible option of spending more time at home and in the comfort of an airconditioned office. It always feels like a defeat when I concede my unreasonable behaviour to wisdom and common sense, not to mention the accompanying disappointment of not having my own way to indulge the pleasures in my life, even if they might well be excessive in the furnace that has been high summer. However, and busting out of self-confinement, I did manage a couple of sorties to the trusted old drover’s trough, a veritable oasis in an otherwise water free zone of my area and given the drought I am amazed it still had plenty of water to satiate the needs of lots of local fauna that included so many different birds.

During August I counted my blessings, despite being largely confined to home, that my house is on a major migration route. Given favourable winds I had days when raptors wheeled above the garden as they circled the thermals making their way south on their long journey to the south of the Sahara Desert. Mostly these spectacles consisted of Black Kites, but both Short-toed and Booted Eagles occasionally joined the exodus on odd days. On the eastern boundary of my garden, the neighbour’s bushes are normally covered in greenery but most now are just denuded of leaf and stand as bare branches due to the lack of water. Normally it is difficult to observe smaller birds as they flit through these plant highways as they use linear routes via planted hedgerows to reach areas of dense cover such as woodlands, but with no leaf cover I have had an easy time being able to identify these small birds. Mostly the smaller birds tended to be Bonelli’s and Subalpine Warblers, but I did manage a single sighting of a Melodious Warbler and these sightings were complimented by the resident Firecrest as these tiny birds’ leaf hopped around in the round leaf oak trees that overhang part of our garden.

Of course, one of the upshots of not being able to venture often into my local wilderness has resulted in not being able to write my usual meanderings on life up here in the mountains, but I am excited about my brief visits to the saving grace of the old drover’s trough where so many different birds have been coming from a very wide catchment to drink and bathe. To be able to sit quietly in the first few hours of daylight and watch a procession of many kinds of birds coming to drink and have a wash and brush up has been a real bonus and watching the interactions between these different birds was amusing as well as an education. I always knew when a Jay was making its way to the trough as a variety of alarm calls would be followed by a mad dash to cover by the gathered smaller birds. Normally, Blue and Great Tits would be first back to drink as the Jay departed and these small colourful birds appeared to give many other birds the courage to also return. Of course, resident and summer visiting birds had long since learnt of this reliable water source and their activity around the trough no doubt attracted many migrant birds as they passed through the area. Willow Warblers, arriving from their northern breeding grounds, had arrived in good number and a few Common Chiffchaff and Iberian Chiffchaff were also seen as autumn migration began to display an urgency by those birds anxious to be on their way to wintering grounds.

Iberian Chiffchaff
Here an Iberian Chiffchaff in song, really the only reliable way to identify this bird and also by its call.

I am hoping, or maybe it is just wishful thinking, that September might be kinder to me weatherwise and allow for a carefree approach to my excursions into the wild. I have so missed being able to get out and about to enjoy nature after my imposed exile during such forbidding temperatures of our high summer. I have a routine during September involving visiting a few conservation projects and doing some migration watching on the west coast, so I will be keeping everything crossed high temperatures will relent sufficiently to allow me a joyful autumn.

Keep well and enjoy our nature.

Article: Peter Jones
Photographs: Peter Jones and Pieter Verheij

Article first appeared in Costa Connection September 2023 magazine.

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

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