It has been a busy spring, full blown tours and never a dull moment on my local day trips around my mountains here in the Serranía de Ronda, no complaints from me, its been a record year for bookings, but it certainly made time fly by and already we are in the summer months under blue skies and a very hot sun. Certain things stick in mind from April through to the middle of May, namely the unpredictable weather, a strange year so far. Flowers were late, orchids were patchy and some of our migrant birds also chose to delay their appearance, or at least in anything like their normal numbers.
Cold days and rain punctuated the passing of April and a tragedy unfolded as the month wore on. Sure the rains were welcomed by all, the flowers certainly livened-up and the countryside began the transition from multicoloured hues to more greens, but together with the rains, the cold meant a severe lack of insects. I picked-up several dead Bee Eaters around local areas, all showed signs of starvation with breast bones needle sharp and no visible fat, I can only surmise the lack of insects, after such long uninterrupted journeys, led to these beautiful birds perishing at the final hurdle of their migration.
Other bird events of note were the late arrivals of such species as Red-rumped Swallow, Golden Oriole and some of our more common warbler species such as Bonelli’s and Orphean Warbler. Although certain species appeared to be passing through in normal numbers, those returning to breed here seemed reduced. Black-eared Wheatear, Rock Thrush, Booted and Short-toed Eagle have been absent from some of their regular summer territories, also the elusive and increasingly rare Egyptian Vulture seems to have been lost as a breeding bird in my area. I wonder how much poisoning in Africa is to blame for the demise of this rather handsome member of the vulture family?
Plants certainly were stimulated by the long awaited rains and although certain species put on their customary colour extravaganza, they lacked the normal longevity of previous years, except that is for the blood red poppies which have been simply stunning. Hillsides and meadows were swathed in red with wild mustard, fennel and echiums adding to the spectacular colour show. My spirits were further lifted by the late but numerous arrival of both Bonelli’s and Melodious Warblers, Subalpine and Spectacled Warblers occupied their customary territories as they skulked and flitted in deep cover with Nightingales seemingly singing at every stop on my routes.
After a worrying beginning, the spring continued to improve and virtually everyday on tour produced some highlight. Rock hopping Ibex accompanied by playful kids, Rüppell’s Vulture and Long-legged Buzzard put in regular appearances and all my Bonelli’s Eagle nests successfully raised two young to fledging. Spanish Sparrow, normally a rarity in my territory, was discovered in good numbers at two sites and Olivaceous Warbler arrived late but at least in numbers as good as previous years. For the second year running Great Crested Grebe bred on our local reservoir and Black-crowned Night Heron bred on the Rio Guadiaro for the first time, compensating a little for a down turn in the fortunes of Lesser Kestrel, whose numbers were down on previous years.
All in all an interesting spring in my mountains and capped off by discovering an albino Stonechat on a regular route of mine. Time now to wind down, time to write a few articles and generally prepare for a busy autumn. I hope you might be inspired to join me sometime in the Serranía de Ronda.
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