Monday, 30 April 2012

Spring so far



Well it has been a topsy-turvey spring. In mid-March we were in shirt-sleeves and even some brave souls ventured for a dip in the swimming pool. There had not, however, been any rain, as my blogs described. April started with a few showers and then cold windy conditions which have persisted throughout the month. The fresh, sometimes very strong, winds removed any benefit of the early April showers, dessicating the soil even further. Then, just as spring should be rolling into early summer, the skies have turned grey and we have experienced several days of rain. The soil is now truly damp, there is standing water in some of the fields and there has been a resurgence of growth, with some splendid shows of late spring flower meadows. If we are confused, I am sure that the birds are as well. Many have delayed breeding. Whilst some like Long-tailed Tits and Stonechats have fledged young already about, others like Crested Larks are only just started building nests. Generally the cold windy weather prevailing throughout April has tended to slow down the arrival of many migrants. So those species like Roller that start appearing in late March had a few vanguard individuals turning up on cue, but did not really arrive on strength until several weeks later. Species like Woodchat Shrike and Great Spotted Cuckoo were surprisingly thin on the ground even in early April, even though they are normally early migrants. I have yet to hear Red-necked Nightjar from home, which is a good week or ten days later than normal (STOP PRESS: I heard a Red-necked Nightjar last night, an hour after posting this blog), and my first Melodious Warbler was only on 27th April and that was a bedraggled-looking specimen feeding in the quince tree just outside the kitchen window.

However, there have been compensations. Our guests this month have had some wonderful experiences. Monfragüe National Park has been superlative, with I think the best views ever of the nesting Eagle Owls at the famous Portilla del Tiétar viewpoint. In this case, the drought has helped viewing conditions. Last year's wet spring produced a wall of green plants across the nesting ledge, hiding the young from view. This year, the growth died back quickly and the two chicks, often with Mum in attendance have been a delight. Just a few hundred metres away, the resident pair of Spanish Imperial Eagle are nesting and they have performed magnificent shows in front of the visitors: mobbing Griffon Vultures, displaying, calling, bringing in food, perched on trees or rocks, gliding in front of the cliff....again probably some of the most exciting views I can remember.

The cold and often overcast mornings have provided good viewing conditions for birds like bustards and sandgrouse on the plains with no heat haze to worry about and with the height of the meadow grass much lower than normal, birds have been easier to see. Close to the house, a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker often provided superb opportunities to watch this often quite secretive species. So despite the landscape not winning prizes this year, for those prepared to brave the elements (especially the wind)..and birders are a hardy bunch of people...there has been much reward and special memories. One of our guests, Martin Bennett on his first visit here was able to make the best of the opportunities and a selection of his photos grace this posting. Many thanks Martin and we look forward to seeing you again next year! There have been many a memorable evening when guests, some like Martin, on their first visits and others coming to stay for second, third, fourth or even fifth time, share their experiences of the day, ask for advice for the next day's birding, all in a jovial relaxed homely atmosphere. We are proud to have set up this guesthouse for birders, where not only guests are able to get the best out of birding in Extremadura but also to build lasting friendships too.