Friday, 31 October 2014

Sunshine surprise


Hoopoe (Martin Kelsey)
Against the emerald green of new grass, the resting Hoopoe simply did not want to move. The comfort of this unsually prolonged autumn sunshine seemed just to good to pass by. And so we stood too, our backs also caressed by an almost penetrative warmth. It seemed as aware of us as we did of it, and for as long as we stayed put, it was simply a staring game. Hoopoes are with us all year round and from their repetitive song is derived their onomatopoeic name, across many languages and cultures such as Upupa from the Greek (used by Linneaus for its genus although he erroneously included because of their similarly-shaped curiously curved bills species like Choughs and Bald Ibises in the same family) to its name Hudhud in the Quran, This rather hesitantly-paced song can be heard here now and throughout winter. It is always fun to seeing a Hoopoe actually in the process of producing this sound. We watched one on top of the ruined palace of María de Escobar in Trujillo a few days ago, pushing its bill downwards against its temporarily swollen neck and chest as the bird forces air through its syrinx. After the utterance, the head resumed its normal horizontal appearance, like a fine hammer - the bill extending forward and the crest backwards, across a plane. And then the urge to upup arose again and down the bill went.

When not calling or resting, the bird can be seen foraging, making a rather jerky walk across soft ground, pushing its long bill, probing it, into the substratum. This gait, with its head wobbling backwards and forwards is tremendously engaging and no wonder our son, Patrick, as a toddler in India, delighted in running after Hoopoes as they waddled across the parks and gardens of New Delhi.

And it is an Indian summer, with a cloudless sky that invited us after the picnic to head higher still and we drove up a rough old metalled track towards the highest point (at 1600 metres above sea-level) in the Villuercas Mountains. The drive took us through mixed forest, patches of conifer plantations and sweet chestnut groves. At a bend in the road a party of small birds, finches, flew up from the ground and into the trees. There was something about them that seemed different. We stopped and I got out of the car to try to relocate them. Frustratingly they had disppeared into some rather dense pines. There were glimpses of birds in flight but extremely brief. Although out of view they gave a fairly continuous series of rather short nasal calls, not a call that fitted any of the usual species here. We stood and waited, hoping that they would reappear. We did not have to wait long before two or three moved from the pines into the more open Pyrenean Oaks, which were already starting to shed their leaves. On the branches we could see the birds clearly with their yellowish bellies, olive green breasts, greyish napes and bold double wingbars: Citril Finches. This was a major find, the first time they had ever been seen in this part of Extremadura. We watched as other members of the flock also flew into the oaks and then off they went, all together, up the road and disppearing into a belt of pine trees.
Watching Citril Finches (Martin Kelsey)

From the top of the mountain, at 1600 metres, we could not only look down on to the mixed forests on its flanks but beyond, into the distance to the green deshesa where the Hoopoe sunbathed, and beyond again, ridge and after ridge, with diminishing tones of bluish-grey in the afternoon sunshine.

View from the Villuercas (Martin Kelsey)

1 comment:

samuel langlois lopez said...

Otra preciosa entrada Martin. Y enhorabuena por los citrils.

Abrazos verato y aberdoniano