Winter has encroached on my mountains; autumn’s soft embrace has released its hand on the landscape and submitted almost unnoticed to the cold of winter. The unpredictable has returned, from warm days to biting cold nights, to strong winds, which can herald the long awaited rains, to ashen clouds cloaking the high mountains later to reveal white peaks on the most grand of my mountains. It is a welcomed respite from the searing temperatures of summer that had parched the landscape, turning the views to golden browns for as far as the eye could see, though the large forested areas of evergreen oak beautifully frame the golden colours with their shades of green.
Yet through November and December, during the onset of winter, there are so many interesting features to my natural world here in the Serrania de Ronda. These months see the main rutting period for Iberian Ibex Capra pyrenaica hispanica, a time for keeping a sharp eye to the mountainsides. Males now actively seek females, who themselves are now divided by those able to breed successfully and those immature of 1 to 2 year olds who attempt to avoid contact with active males. Ibex are an interesting animal, many things attract me to their lifestyle and to give one example they have a special mechanism in the kidney that stores fat in order to be used as energy in the colder winter months.
From the every present, high flying and soaring Griffon Vulture, other birds too are more noticeable, as they flock and are concentrated in areas where food remains plentiful. Haw Berries and Rose Hips still glisten red in the day’s sun and are a much favoured food source for thrush and starling species, of course other birds too are attracted to these berries such as Blackcap, who are present in their thousands during our winter. The more open lower slopes and valleys attract huge finch flocks; ground feeders such as Meadow Pipit, White Wagtail and various lark species join these, whilst Corn Bunting too is now seen in large, highly mobile, flocks.
It is in these low lying areas I tend to spend more time during the winter months. The wild grasses and other plant life are emerging, recovering from the lack of rains during the summer months, in turn insects are plentiful as well as fallen seeds from the autumn. Birds are numerous; altitudinal dispersal also brings flocks of Rock Sparrow to these feeding grounds, with Blue Rock Thrush appearing around waste grounds. Another attraction is the small stands of water that appear on these open, flat and uncultivated sites. Here many birds will visit for bathing and drinking and if for no other reason I love to visit these sites to witness the bobbing and scuttling behaviour of the hundreds of White Wagtail, coming to perform their pampering before departing to their roosts.