We are right into spring now. On my morning walks the countryside is a riot of green. The olive green is with us all year as is the green of the pine trees but now they have been joined by the green of a wide variety of oaks including holm, kermes and the ubiquitous Portuguese oak as well as the slightly different shades of the hawthorn and strawberry trees. As well as taking in the greenness of the trees we also have our eyes combing the ground as it’s also the orchid season and we always see at least a dozen species. I must admit to being a bit of a wild flower nerd as well and have compiled a list of almost 200 species of wild flowers found in these parts.
But this year I’ve also been trying to attune my ears. A couple of years ago I couldn’t tell the difference between the song of the Robin and the Blackbird so I made a concerted attempt to identify the common birds we get around here by their calls and songs. The tea-cher, tea-cher of the Great Tit and the calls of the Wood Pigeon and Cuckoo are obvious but there were many birds I could hear on my daily dog walk and without seeing them I had no idea who was making the sound. I therefore made a real effort to remember and if possible record the songs I was hearing and then check them on various websites when I got home. Fortunately there seems to be a progression from winter through to spring. Winter is pretty quiet on the whole but we get a few thrushes who are winter visitors to mid Portugal and they are the only ones singing, certainly in February and luckily they have a distinctive and clear song.
The Robin is famous for singing all year round but on my walks in March I was hearing loads of them and they are not shy so you can often see them singing as well which helps. Later, another group of birds started up. After concentrating on this song, I identified it as the Chaffinch. I think of its distinctive call as reminding me of water tumbling over rocks rising to a crescendo. We don’t get many in the garden but this at least told me there were plenty in the countryside.
A week or two later I started hearing another very distinctive song. This turned out to be the Wren. It is supposed to be the most common bird in the UK. A bit surprising as you don’t see many but its song is so distinctive, once you hear it, you know it’s the little bird with the strong voice.
Another distinctive call we hear is the Green Woodpecker. Almost never seen but its call can be heard from distance with its distinctive laugh, or yaffle. I remember Professor Yaffle from Bagpuss (UK TV series from the 70s) and remembered it was a woodpecker.
Jackie’s favourite is next. They arrive within a few days of 1 April every year and are of course distinctive for singing at night – the Nightingale. This year when I take the dogs out last thing at night, I can often hear three of them. Although they often sing from the top of a tree during the day, if you get anywhere near, they disappear so are also rarely seen (by us at least). Also at night, I nearly always hear the Barn Owl with its distinctive screeech. Again rarely seen (as they are out at night!) but I was lucky enough to see one at close quarters a few years ago perched on a wall right above me. I know they live in the abandoned house next door so hopefully we will hear the higher pitched screech of some youngsters sometime soon. We also hear the distinctive Twit, twooh of the Tawny Owl but these always seem to be quite far away.
Lately there is one songster that has been loudest of all on my daily walk but I never see him. He repeats his call which is very distinctive. Jackie thinks they are singing, “I don’t want to have lunch with Ed Meeeel iband”. Strange that we don’t see them in the countryside as they are highly visible in the garden – the Blackcap.
Every year we get Blue Tits nesting in our nest box and I know we have already got some eggs this year, however, I have never identified their song. Listening to recordings it just seems like a high pitched tweet but I’ll keep trying. Lastly but not least, the one bird we always hear in the garden rather than on our walks is the Blackbird. They are around all year but have only just started to sing. No doubt they will already be building nests in the garden. And after all my research, I think I can finally distinguish it from the robin.