As a kid I remember spending hours flicking through my book of European birds and marvelling at all the exotic looking ones that could be seen in mainland Europe.
There was one that particularly caught my eye, a Red-Rumped Swallow (Spanish, Golondrina Daurica), a close relative of our widespread Barn (common) Swallow and a rare visitor to our shores during migration. For several years, I wasted hours checking all the swallows I saw, just in case it was a Red-Rumped. Needless to say, I didn't get a glimpse of one!
It wasn't until 30 years later when my wife and I were holidaying in Spain that I finally saw one. We were walking along the ruined battlements of the castle in Trujillo in Extremadura when a strange looking Swallow flew alongside us on the ramparts. I can still remember the excitement I felt on realising that I was watching the elusive bird of my childhood dreams. Now, I am much more blasé about them as these summer visitors come to drink from our swimming pool.
When you see a Swallow make sure you have a second look to check if it is our normal Barn Swallow or a Red-Rumped Swallow. However, be careful as the Red Rumps aren't always that red! They can be identified by a creamy pink patch on the back of the neck and the rump. The Barn Swallow is a uniform colour on its back; a very dark bluey black. For beginners who sometimes struggle to pick out Swallows from swifts and house martins, a useful pointer is that if it is flying fairly low hunting flies (up to 3-4 metres), it is more than likely a Swallow.
Besides being a bird of my childhood dreams, the Red-Rumped Swallow is fascinating because of the amazing nest that it builds. It constructs its nest under an overhang such as the ceilings of old buildings, or under bridges or archways.
It is an almost semi-circular nest with an entrance tunnel (looks a bit like a sample jar!) that is glued to the ceiling of its chosen site; all constructed with mud collected in its beak! The effort and skill required to build such a nest is very impressive. The photo shows a nest under a bridge (it is about a foot long) that I came across recently.
On the subject of amazing nests, last summer I found the nest of a Penduline Tit (Spanish, Pájaro Moscón) near the village of Ulea alongside the River Segura. Despite being resident, it's an elusive little devil and has taken me a number of years to find it. It likes to nest along riversides, especially if there are White Poplars or Willows. The male weaves an impressive suspended sphere from the ends of fine branches to attract the females. The nest has an entrance hole near the top and is pale and downy looking because of the interwoven seed hairs from the Poplar trees; a real work of art! The bird itself is tiny; about the size of a Blue Tit (4 inches), with a black mask which gives it the appearance of a highwayman. Unfortunately for birders, it tends to wander from place to place, so it isn't always where you think it should be, but it does always favour riverside and wetland sites. Keep an eye out if you have a walk along the side of the River Segura, especially if there are Willow and Poplar groves!
In the last few weeks I have been carefully watching a Song Thrush that has set up territory in the Huerta de Ulea. It spends a huge amount of time singing from several posts within its territory. Unlike our UK birds, Song Thrushes in Spain tend to be shy and secretive, but not this one. Some of you might be thinking, why such interest in a common or garden Song Thrush? Well, although it is a familiar garden bird in the UK, it definitely shouldn't be here at the moment. In Murcia, it is a winter visitor or passage migrant and has never been recorded breeding this far south in Spain, so it is a bit of a mystery why it is still here. Up until now I haven't seen another one, so I think it is probably a very lonely, frustrated bachelor that sings every day, trying to find a partner. However, I am keeping an eye on it to make sure that it isn't fooling me with a hidden girlfriend somewhere amongst the lemon groves!