September gently passed over my mountains, it’s balmy days giving leave for many of our familiar summer birds to depart on their southern passage to Africa. Only a few, foolhardy maybe, lingered and perhaps lulled into believing autumn would never arrive. After such a hot and dry summer (the hottest since records began), you could feel the land crying for rains, dust swirled in the early autumn winds and cracks appeared where once water covered the surface. If September was a continuum of our long summer, then October was to prove the answer to the cry for change and provide life saving respite to the thirst of our plantlife. It has served to remind us how quickly things can change, how unpredictable our weather can be.
October, love it or hate it, can be one of
our most unsettled months, a day full of warmth and clear blue sky, to a sudden
cooler day when storm clouds roll across the mountains. As the sun lowers in
the autumn sky, so do the shadows lengthen and emphasise the contours of the
landscape, softening harsh and dramatic rocky escarpments, giving the
impression of cloth to the rolling countryside. Deep shadows define each tree
in the Mediterranean forests, dark and pale greens glisten in the sunlight,
whilst autumn shades of gold begin to appear and adorn the vast areas of sweet
chestnut forests. The barking of male deer as they announce their pent-up
frustration and desire for a willing consort breaks the sounds of dewdrops
falling upon leaf litter.
|Some Autumn colour|
It amazes me how quickly a parched landscape is suddenly transformed by lush greens and emerging flowers. Autumn Crocus raise their wavering blooms of pink and blue, whilst the mysterious clusters of Mandrake burst into bloom and form bouquets of blue. Hawthorns are covered in swollen haws and act as beacons on bare slopes, attracting a wide variety of migrant and wintering birds. Chattering flocks of Spotless Starling clamor among the bushes and try to gorge themselves, before arriving thrushes compete for this bountiful harvest of berries. Small warblers also skulk and conspire to steal the lower berries from under the noses of their larger brethren, while overhead a passing Sparrowhawk eyes the flocks of feasting birds.
Now is the time for arriving winter birds, a veritable mass of flocking wagtails, pipits, thrushes and finches. Despite the picture I have painted, here it is temperate in comparison to the northern reaches of Europe; mild to warm days will more often than not mark our winter. Snow is rare and is only ever present on our highest mountains, streams will run and lagoons be replenished. It becomes a land of plenty for the winter arrivals. Alpine Accentor will soon be here, escaping the cold of their breeding grounds, with Ring Ouzel gathering in large numbers to feast on berries and probe the now soft ground for invertebrates. It might surprise my fellow birders from the north to learn Redwing, Fieldfare, Siskin and Brambling also make it this far south.
Of course I still have my resident favourites to enjoy, in fact Griffon Vulture are perhaps at their most obvious now, gathering in social flocks, they seem to enjoy being together as a prelude to the start of an early breeding season. Bonelli’s Eagle are also more obvious as the pairs reinforce bonds and can regularly be seen sky dancing, a dramatic display of rapid swoops culminating in gentle close quarter synchronised flying. Then I have my Black Wheatear and Blue Rock Thrush to lure me into the mountains, always so privileged to see, while the antics of resident Black Redstart in conflict with their visiting cousins from the north, provide endless entertainment. My mountains are my life and my saviour, welcome to my world.