I keep a very occasional journal, in which I write notes about the garden and what I have seen around the place. It tells me that things are happening more slowly this winter than last; for instance the first mimosa to bloom in the garden last year was around the 12th of January, and this year it was nearer the beginning of February. So, too, with the first, delicately blue irises to appear under the bushes by the kitchen door. It will be interesting to see whether the bird life will be similarly affected.
The same journal tells me that in the next couple of months, our few chaffinches should be joined by gold- and green- finches, who certainly brighten things up. Then the local goldcrests will start to sing with all their tiny hearts from the tops of the trees. I spent ages checking up on these, feeling somehow that this far south they should maybe be firecrests, but was convinced that, in fact, they are the goldcrests which which I am more familiar. The firecrest has a back and white eyestripe which I never managed to persuade myself I could see- will have another go this year! The last little birds to appear should be the rather beguiling black redstarts.
This valley- Vallespir- is actually quite densely populated; there is a string of attractive small towns and villages along the main road which is across the river from us. Despite being so busy, the river corridor is used by birds which I sometimes see in the distance from the garden. These include the occasional heron and some gulls, and , once or twice, some fast -flying duck, although these were too far away for me to identify. And quite a number of raptors fly across the valley, too. As we look south, these are often against the light, and a little bit tricky to sort out. I am pretty sure that they are mostly common buzzards, another sight familiar from the Scottish Highlands, but there is another biggish bird about which I am less confident, partly because I have not yet had that perfect view that all birdwatchers long for!
These are probably simply sparrowhawks, but, if so, they are always big and female. ( The male is quite small and really very colourful-surprisingly blue- backed with a rich, orange- reddish breast). Is there any chance that they might be goshawks? On a quick view, size would probably be the determining factor, and I have never had any other bird to help give me some idea of scale. But maybe the fact that I see them over the houses and gardens of this suburban setting, rather suggests that they are sparrowhawks- the books seem to indicate that goshawks are seen in wilder places.
Other birds flying over at intervals are great- spotted woodpeckers, and at night I hear tawny owls, again very evocative of the years I spent living in a long, wooded Highland glen. I have heard jays, too ( they were moving north into the Highlands in recent decades) but my strangest garden bird was certainly not something you might ever expect to see in Scotland- a green parrot, sitting calmly and quietly in a pine tree. I can only presume it had escaped from some aviary, but have no idea what it may actually be, as none of my books venture that far into the realms of the exotic!