Wildlife - Spring Arrives

Wildlife - Spring Arrives
Wildlife - Spring Arrives
Wildlife - Spring Arrives

This has been a strange Spring, with warm sunny days punctuated by some uncharacteristically severe weather: deep snow and temperatures below freezing for ten days in March, and a severe rain storm with gales in early May, with winds of 150kph gusting around Point Bear
Plants flower early in the year here, with most becoming dormant in the hot summer months. We are surrounded by plants typical of the "garrigue" dominated by Tree Heath (erica arbora) which can grow to 3 metres tall, gorse , broom, rosemary, French lavender, and thyme. The first flowers in February and March are the rosemary, the first of the orchids, and the imposing white asphodels (both the single flowered White Asphodel, and the branched Common Asphodel). Hidden away among the undergrowth are tiny narcissus, barely a centimetre across the flower, and wild asparagus which bring the first of the pickers on to the mountain. By April the asphodels are in full flower. There are three cistus species which begin to appear, the pink flowers of Grey-leaved Cistus (cistus albidus), and later on the white ones: Sage-leaved Cistus (c. salvifolius) and the sticky Gum Leaved Cistus (c.ladanifer). As I write, in mid May, there is a profusion of wild thyme (also the target of collectors who sell what they collect), thistles, pea flowers, cranesbills, stonecrops, campion etc, all racing to set their seed before the hot weather arrives in a month or so.

BIRDS
The difficulty in our first year is knowing which birds are resident and which are just passing through. In the cold of the winter there were the birds you might expect but also crag martins among the rocky cliffs, red legged partridge, hoopoe, blue rock thrush, ravens, buzzards and kestrels. The smaller birds were in evidence before the very cold weather, wrens, robins, goldfinch, siskin, stonechat, long tailed tit, black redstarts, rock buntings and dartford warblers, but much less so since then. Their numbers could well have been badly affected by the widespread deep snow and temperatures below -4C.
Spring migration got under way in February and March, often with large numbers of birds staying for a few days before moving on. Large parties of swallows and martins, swifts (Common , Alpine and possible Pallid Swift) swoop over the house. For a week in February every bird was a black redstart. In April there was an outbreak of pied flycatchers and possible collared flycatcher. Nightingales are singing in the deeper garrigue below the house.
Larger birds are on the move too. Six black storks in March, small parties of red kites in April, bonelli’s eagle on several occasions, and plenty more we are not yet able to identify. After a spell of cold and wet weather in May things really got going. Parties of bee-eaters trilling as they flash past in a blaze of colour, and most spectacular of all the honey buzzard migration. We counted over forty in a break from work. Local Spanish birders reported over 600 in a day in early May. They have a lazy, drooping appearance as they glide along the ridge, reminiscent of cuckoos (the honey buzzards, not the birders).

ANIMALS
With the reptiles and amphibians resting, the main winter animal life is provided by the wild pigs. Not that you see them. They are careful to stay in the deep garrigue, (many of my neighbours in Port Vendres hunt them) but there is evidence of them rooting around in mid winter. A beech martin took a liking to the cat’s food, leaving its distinctive droppings , and even appearing in daylight while we were at the house. From time to time Moorish geckos are discovered sleeping among the building supplies in the house, and a disgruntled sand lizard was disturbed as we fitted the front shutters. Once the heat gets going we expect to find much more reptile and amphibian life, and maybe even a sighting of a genet in the trees on Massane reserve.