There is a lot happening just now, and it is hard to know what you should be doing, or where you should be, except that it is clear that your binoculars should always be at hand! Just recapping a bit: when Isobel and Lesley alerted us to the migration, we duly headed off that same day to the Étang, where it was certainly windy in the early afternoon. We stopped first at the Fishermen's Huts I have previously talked about, where a dozen grey herons were hiding from the blusters and buffets in the shelter of the embankment which carries the road along the coast. Shortly after we arrived, a female marsh harrier used the same, slightly quieter air- space and gave us some lovely views.
By the time we reached the other side, and found the (by now) famous "hillock", the wind had reduced, but so, clearly, had the passing migrants, as there were only a couple of guys waiting around. You get a good view northwards from there, over a large marshy area and part of the Étang, where the flamingos looked beautifully pink in the sun. Below us an egret, presumably male, was energetically displaying to another, while swallows flew fast and low over a channel in the foreground. I had a very brief view of a large bird disappearing into the distance, but never saw it again. My impression was of a sizeable raptor, rich brown on the back, with black tips to the wings; my usual bird-books have not been much help with this, but the cover of the guide to the Emporda Nature Reserve over the border in Spain, shows a male Marsh Harrier with exactly such black wingtips, and as Lesley had been seeing them there, I am inclined to the view that this must be what I saw.
A day or so later, we headed into Spain and went to the very extensive wetland of the reserve. It was a really beautiful spring day, and we spent longer there than we had before, exploring a bit more widely. The place was wetter than we have seen it, reflecting the comparatively rainy winter and spring, and, as usual, there were plenty of birds, including lots of storks. There were several waders; a good group of glossy ibis just in front of one hide, and a real mix in the flooded corner of a field. Among them were several of the improbable stilts, with their long pink legs, and one redshank. Between these in size, perhaps just a bit larger than the redshank, were many, largely speckled brownish waders, which we have not yet confidently identified. They were not large enough, nor their beaks long enough, to be godwit, and they were not as colourful. Some had whitish heads, but otherwise looked rather like the rest. Some had greenish legs, others darkish brown. I am inclined to the view that they were all Marsh Sandpiper, on migration from their wintering grounds just over the Strait of Gibraltar, heading for somewhere north of the Black Sea, which is where they breed-but that might be nonsense!
While we were walking around the reserve, just as last year, we were occasionally startled by a sudden, clear and loud call from the undergrowth close to us. As last year, we could see nothing, and vaguely assumed: "warbler", until there was another of these calls, and a bird burst through the vegetation and perched briefly in front of us on a fence. We had a quick impression of its rich brown plumage, then, with a flick of a long, rounded tail, it was gone. This had to be a Cetti's warbler, and we were pleased to have identified it at last; my book refers to its "startlingly explosive burst of song".
At home, sitting on the terrace with a good view of one of our pine trees has proved quite productive lately. The crested tits, as I have remarked before, are very fond of them, and are becoming quite tame; recently one was in the grass just about four feet in front of us – a lovely sight. One day I was watching the acrobatics of a tiny goldcrest, when I followed it to the righthand edge of the tree, and realised there was something much larger passing in the distance, but of course, quite out of focus. Rapidly twirling knobs, I just had time to see the rear view of – quite definitely – a common crane. Now I do realise this would be unusual, but it may have been the last of a small group, which passed out of sight while I was following the goldcrest, or perhaps one which had become separated from others in the recent gusty winds. Whatever the cause, I am sure that a common crane was proceeding down Vallespir just the other day!
It has been interesting, too, to note how birds change their appearance in the brilliant sun of recent days. The blackcaps have been quite visible, especially the male, who still looks rather fluffed up and round as though feeling the cold; when he flew into a sunny patch of the pine, all you were aware of was white, grey, and the black of his cap. You could see none of the "olive brown" mentioned in my book, and yet I am totally sure of the identification; I saw him very clearly, and the eye was certainly not red- this was not a sardinian. Similarly, a male serin flew into the sun on the same tree, and instantly resembled a canary – all you could take in was an explosion of yellow, with some white. He sang, too, making his resemblance to the canary all the stronger.
Larger birds have been using the same pines, and the air is at times musical with rhythmic calls; in the distance, we frequently hear the sharpish call of the wryneck, but lately, much closer to, we have had the woodwind note of the hoopoe. He uses prominent trees, presumably to advertise for a mate, and I have noticed that each time he calls, he bows his head; sometimes this is repeated for quite a while, and the regular soft call carries a surprising distance. When this amazing bird raises its crest, or flies, showing the dazzling patterns on its broad wings, I truly realise how wonderful this area is and how lucky we are to live here.