The fading colours of summer

The season's flicked her switch and as if by magic a patchwork of greens and vibrant colours have been transformed into golden browns. High summer and high temperatures conspire against those of us who enjoy outdoor pursuits; walking boots are replaced by sandals and my outdoor activities consist of searching for birds from the comfort of an air-conditioned vehicle or finding shaded areas to explore, ideally close to a water source. Like us, birds feel the heat and avoid open exposed places in the middle of the day; they seek shade and of course an area with a reliable source for water.

At this time of year, I like to visit mixed woodlands, areas where conifers are joined by the many oak tree species and where both combine to provide dense shade and respite from high temperatures. It is a time I search for some elusive and wonderfully bizarre small birds such as common crossbill, with its crossed bill adapted for extracting seeds from pinecones; and the amazing hawfinch with its heavy and strong bill that can crack open a cherry stone. Both birds are common in suitable habitat, but both are also elusive as they blend into the leafed canopies of woodland. And so, a water source becomes more important in tracking down these two birds.

Most commonly I visit the mixed woodlands in the national park of the Sierra de las Nieves, but I also love to visit the typical Mediterranean forest at Algaba near Ronda. I am fortunate to have many areas of mixed woodland in my local region and some have the bonus of water troughs. Some of these troughs are well over a hundred years old, having been sited by drovers for their wandering herds of livestock. These old troughs have become traditional places for many birds to visit during hot summer months, especially when other water sources have run dry. It is here I settle to spend time waiting for hawfinch and crossbill to appear and, although sometimes I am forced to wait for an hour or two, their eventual appearance is inevitable.

Have you seen a hawfinch? Well, if you have you will understand my summer madness of enduring extreme heat to see them.