|Common Cranes on the move (Martin Kelsey)|
It is mid-February in Extremadura and all it seems to take is a calm day, sunshine and an almost cloudless sky and the message from nature is loud and clear: spring is here. As we stood in the expanses of rice and maize stubble fields of the Vegas Altas of the Guadiana river, spirals of ascending cranes could be seen, discovering invisible thermals. Around us, many thousands of cranes continued to feed and a lot of these will remain for another ten days or so, but without doubt the north-eastern movement of these emblematic birds was starting. I do feel that spring does start here now. Yes, we have had Barn Swallows and House Martins around since January, and I saw a pair of Great Spotted Cuckoos in early January (although so far not since). Mild January evenings have also encouraged choruses of Natterjack Toads and I already seen several species of butterflies. But the combination of indicators bring irrefutable proof. I saw my first Lesser Kestrel of the year (a rather damp looking female) in Trujillo on 13th February, but this morning as I drove past the old Bull Ring, there were about half a dozen on the wing there. Pallid Swift have also been seen over the town. Black Storks are now soaring over breeding areas in rocky gorges, Black Kites are arriving.
|Sand crocus (Patrick Kelsey)|
Mid-February marks the cut-off time for the winter survey programmes of SEO/BirdLife and what we can expect over the next two weeks will be further arrivals of spring birds such as Short-toed Eagle and Red-rumped Swallow. Whilst there remain many thousands of wintering duck, especially Shoveler and Pintail, some waterfowl (such as the wintering Grey lag Geese) have been leaving since late January, and we can also start expecting to find passage Garganey arriving. This emotionally-charged period of change is now upon us, in many respects the most exciting time of the year. Despite knowing that sooner or later the full set of migrants will arrive, the timing of each arrival keeps all birders in suspense, every year, and news of the first appearance of even the most common of spring birds will be followed feverishly. Deep down in all of us, spring represents a surging triumph, and since our earliest beginnings cause for celebration.