12 April 2012

'Twas on one April morning, I heard the small birds sing ...

Nightingale (Ruiseñor in Spanish)
There can be few nicer ways to be woken up (at my age, anyway) than by the song of a nightingale.  One has stationed himself in the giant eucalyptus behind our house, a resting place on his long voyage from Africa to his breeding ground in Northern Europe.  He starts trilling around daybreak and carries on through the day - he's at it right now. It makes a change from the sparrows that sit on the window railings, chirping the same note over and over again (each year they nest in our electricity junction box, right outside the front door).

I haven't heard my nightingale at night though; according to Wikipedia, only unpaired males sing at night, in order to attract a mate.

Listen to his song here

The ruiseñor will be on his way soon, but Alcalá is a birder's paradise all year round.  An ornithologist friend who has a house here writes in his blog, Birding Cadiz Province:
 [Alcalá de los Gazules] has a good population of Lesser Kestrel and on spring evenings 60-70 or more may hawk over the village. Spotless Starlings are present and, although most of the swift are Common, there are a few Pallid Swift mixed in amongst them and Alpine Swift is also regular. Barn Owls nest in the church tower at the top of the hill. Around the ruined castle – a nesting site for many Lesser Kestrels –are the derelict mirador gardens from which you can get superb views across the Alcornocales. Blue Rock Thrush sometimes nest here. Birds of prey frequently overfly the village, particularly in spring and autumn. In addition to Lesser Kestrel I have recorded Griffon Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, Golden, Booted and Short-toed Eagles,Osprey, Red and Black Kite, Honey Buzzard, Common Buzzard, Montagu's, Hen and Marsh Harriers, Sparrowhawk, Goshawk, Kestrel, Hobby, Peregrine and Merlin. Bee-eaters are common on passage when both White and Black Stork may be seen.
Visitors to Alcalá can't fail to spot the big birds; griffon vultures, cattle egrets, storks and various birds of prey are everywhere you look.  But we have an impressive variety of small birds too, especially in the migration period.  To the untrained eye, the "little brown jobs" that flit amongst the bushes could all be sparrows and the ones with forked tails could all be swallows.  Only when you learn to distinguish their song and their flight patterns do you appreciate how much diversity there is: stonechat, goldfinch, siskin, serin, greenfinch and several varieties of warbler, bunting and lark are all common.
Bee-eater (abejaruco)

Last week I spotted two bee-eaters, just up the road from our house.  These are also migratory, and I haven't seen them in the village before. They might not be great singers; in flight they sound like a bunch of kids given a bag of referees' whistles to play with.  But they are stunningly pretty, and they eat wasps as well as bees, removing the sting before eating them by repeatedly hitting the insect on a hard surface.  They will also take lizards and frogs.

Goldfinch (jilguero) - the poor man's canary
Sadly, although  illegal except under strictly controlled conditions, it is still common practice round here to trap songbirds.  They are either eaten (see Thrushes for tea) or kept in ridiculously small cages on windowsills and patios.   Local writer Juan Leiva describes how when he was growing up here in the 1940s, he and his friends would get up before dawn and go down the hill to the Prado, where they would spread sticky resin called liria on the branches to trap the birds.  They would return at lunchtime, bundle the trapped birds in a sack and take them home to their mothers.  The goldfinches and linnets would be sold as songbirds, and the rest were destined for the pot.  Memories of Alcalá 7: Liria at Dawn

I'll take my birdsong au naturel, thanks all the same ...


tobyo said...

such an informative post, thank you! I love the colors on the bee-eater.

Tumbit - Mr Grumpy said...

As much as I enjoy the spanish wildlife in the spring and summer, I just wish that flocks of various birds wouldn't nest in my Naya !

Goldeneye said...

A few days ago I thought it strange that I wasn't hearing the usual 'dawn chorus' I am so used to... I actually thought of the movie with Demi Moore in it that I 'd seen years ago, can't remember the name of it..

Sadly I discovered there is some sort of virus among birds in our area, yesterday my husband found a dead bird with a piece of seed in it's mouth in our bird box.. Today a friend told me of a news story in the area she had read..


It's so strange not to hear the usual birdsongs in the