People come from all over the world to watch birds in the Sierra de Grazalema; I can do it from my bed. Yes, now we have moved in, yet not fully resolved the window situation, I can watch swallows swooping over head from around 6am onwards. Without wishing to be anthropomorphic, I’d say their mood appears to be deeply indignant, after all, they were here first. I know this only too well having, having waited with a great deal of patience until each egg in each of the seven nests had hatched, and the chicks had grown and finally flown off, first around the room, and then then out of the big hole in the wall created by Ivan. At this point I had removed the nests – and the subsequent mud ball attempts at rebuilds, along with a lot of bird shit – with faint disgust, a heavy heart and a deep sense of guilt. (I wondered perhaps whether we could manage without the use of an upstairs floor, but was persuaded this was both impractical and excessively extravagant). Since I’ve added a clothes rail (for practical reasons, not the clothes) they’re laughing.
The nests in the chimney are also providing an ample opportunity for birdwatching. There is a lot of action at the top, and from time to time the muffled cheeping from deep in the recesses is replaced by an ear-splitting shrill, urgent, and as time passes, ultimately mournful noise from just above the metal plate in the living room fireplace. A few days ago, a plucky yellow-beaked gorrión – house sparrow – squeezed through a small gap and dropped into the hearth from where it stared at me balefully. Bird fans look away now. I decided the best course of action would be to put it in a shoebox on top of the scaffolding in the hope that a parent might spot it and feed it. I didn’t really think that one through too well. We had to go out for silicon, screws, and timber, our usual glamorous shopping, and on the way back, knocked a hole in the sump, and had to abandon the car and hitch back via a bar. When we got home, the sun had moved round and, as Dave put it, the bird did not look well at all.
When the next one fell through, I stuffed him back up the chimney. I then felt so bad, I spent four hours lying on my back in the soot coaxing him towards the gap and got him out again about midnight. He was nice and feisty, drank some water off my finger. I put him in the shoebox with some soft straw, and Dave kindly agreed (after some persuasion) to climb up onto the roof and put the box on a ledge just inside the chimney. All I can say is that when we needed to use the box a couple of days later there was nothing in it. I don’t want to give that too much thought, but I’m chalking that up as a victory.
Dave risked his life teetering across loose tiles summiting to the top of the chimney with a third bird, which promptly flew away, and I found a fourth, blinking up at me from inside my shoe. I’m so happy I spotted it in time.
Personally I don’t think birdwatching gets any more interesting than this, but it’s the area’s raptors that draw most ornithologists to the Sierra de Grazalema and the Serrania de Ronda, collectively considered to have the highest concentration in Europe. Four species of eagle breed here, including large numbers of Bonelli’s eagles, and plenty more birds of prey migrate through. It’s a rare day you don’t stop and watch a kestrel or hawk riding the thermals. Giant griffon vultures, casting the shadow of a light aircraft, are the star attraction, and the nights are filled with low soft gliding, and low, soft woohoo-whoos of many owls. Aside from those, I only recognise the choughs, and the wood pigeons which hang out making the sounds of an English country churchyard in the pine forest.
There are several well-regarded bird experts offering guided walks in the sierras (including some English speakers, for example Peter Jones, founder of the Andalucia Bird Society, and a resident in Ronda). Once the house is finished, and my work is finished, and the grapes are picked, I’m going to find someone to help me identify the smaller birds flying around the farm, most of which – after Costa Rica – currently just seem brown.