Sunday, 24 July 2011

Nightingale repertoire and summer fiestas



It is the height of summer here. It has not rained for weeks and although this month has so far been a lot fresher than is normal for July, the temperature in the afternoon is still getting above 30 degrees. It is the time for taking things at a slower pace and indeed everyone and everything seems to be following suit. There is a silence across the towns and villages in the afternoon as people stay indoors and enjoy a siesta. Swallows and House Martins sunbathe on the south-facing ledge of our house, adopting extraordinary postures with wings held up and heads tilted. They are only disturbed by a passing Booted Eagle, which causes them to get airbourne and start mobbing the raptor. The only sound comes from the greenery in the garden, where thanks to watering, there is damp soil in the shrubby shade. From the shadows come distinctive but very different sounds - a croak which sounds as if it must come from a frog (and we do have plenty of those) and a squeak which must be from a rusty bicycle but it is coming from the opposite direction to the lane. There they go again and a slight movement betrays the creature responsible (and indeed, the two sounds come from the same source). A flicker, a tail cocked-up and then showing rufous as it flies into even deeper shadows. It is a Nightingale. And just to prove it there is the briefest snatch of sound which recalls the full, liquid notes of its song. I am happy to say that Nightingales are common here and by the beginning of April I expect to hear the first Nightingales singing in the village as I get up before sun rise. We have them in the garden, sometimes singing right next to the house. Last year one sang under our bedroom window for most of the night. Now they have stopped full song and finished breeding. We have an adult and a juvenile spending their post-breeding period in the garden close to the house. They lurk in the shadows, only coming out to hop on the lawn at first light or chase sparrows away from favourite feeding areas. There are also juvenile Blue Tits, Greenfinches, Goldfinches and Hawfinches around, whilst our two pairs of Barn Swallows have successfully reared their young (one already with two broods completed). This year for the first time a pair of Moorhen appeared on our pond (which is not much bigger than our kitchen). They remained amazingly elusive, keeping under the cover of the bramble and quince bankside vegetation, with only the occasional call note revealing their presence. However, my suspicions were confirmed a couple of days ago when I caught glimpses of two chicks that they had stayed to breed here.



One by one over the summer, the towns and villages here will be celebrating their fiestas. Our hamlet (Pago de San Clemente) is one of the first with the Fiestas de San Juan in late June. This year the party lasted two nights with music and dancing until dawn, with the village then getting together in the shade of trees infront of the church to have a charity auction of local produce. The cheeses, hams, chorizos, tortillas and wine that people bid for are then shared by all, creating a wonderful event that brings all together to enjoy the typical delicacies of the area.

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