Saturday, 18 February 2017


There are subtle changed afoot.  I sit looking at the black-headed gull flock by the lighthouse, trying in vain to count accurately the Mediterranean gulls amongst them.  There seems little change since last week, but a few black-headed gulls are beginning to acquire their brown heads.  Only one has completely changed, but the transformation is under way, and it won’t be long before most will be wearing their smart summer garb.  Mediterranean gulls are changing too; a very tame and stunning summer plumage bird a with jet-black head obliges a photographer from London who can’t believe his luck.

Other birds are showing signs of summer; jackdaws with shining silver-grey necks and glossy black caps remind me of silverback gorillas.  Starlings too are loosing some winter spots, glinting iridescent in the sunshine.  Woodpigeons sport neck-patches as though decorated with brilliant white paint; I wish we still called them ring doves.

In the bay I check out the oystercatchers; all still have winter white neck-collars, which will disappear before they disperse to northern breeding grounds.  I detect no changes in the other waders too; curlews, dunlins and sanderlings all look wintery and an amazingly white little egret looks superb in the bright sunshine, also telling me nothing.  The glossy green back of a lapwing reminds me that we used to call them green plovers.

Back in the garden I look closely at male chaffinches.  Like many other small birds, they acquire breeding plumage by gradually abrading their crown feathers.  As if by magic, dull blue-brown hues turn into the bright electric blue of summer.  Most other small garden birds are just getting smarter; blue tits, great tits and coal tits all look brighter and male blackbirds have striking yellow bills.

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