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This is a wonderful time of year to see numbers of birds here in southern Spain,when many migrants from northern and western Europe arrive to remain for the winter, or stay for a short while to take advantage of available food supplies before continuing their journeys across to north or sub-Saharan Africa.

On my return from the UK, the first bird I looked out for in my garden was a Black Redstart. This species is resident in Spain, breeding in the mountains then migrating in large numbers during the autumn, when they head here to the southern coastal areas of the country. Many will stay until March, while many more cross the Straits of Gibraltar to winter in Africa.

Black Redstart - Phoenicurus ochruros (Spanish-Colirrojo Tizon). This is either a female or possibly a juvenile, perched on a sun-lounger.

The male Black Redstart is a very striking bird

This will be our ninth winter of living in this house and each year a Black Redstart has arrived to stake a claim to a territory that includes our garden. It is always a bird that resembles the one above, so either a female or a young bird, it’s tricky to tell the difference. I would like to believe that it is the same bird that returns each year, but that may be construed as sentimental and not at all realistic or scientific. I am told that this may simply be recognised as ‘a territory’. Anyway, I look forward to the arrival of the delightful little bird. They are always quite a few to be seen throughout the area, some will stay around where there are buildings, others in cultivated areas, on golf courses and even on the edges of beaches.

For the past two or three years, I haven’t got to see ‘my’ Black Redstart as often as I used to, as we  have also had resident Robins. The two species are closely related and the Robins, that are resident locally all year round, stake out the territory earlier on and defend it vigilantly. So, as soon as the Black Redstart puts its beak over the garden wall, the Robin is there to chase it away.

Robin-Erithacus rubecula (Spanish - Petirrojo)

It is interesting to see Robins as migrant birds, and this time of year sees the arrival of birds from the more northern parts of Europe swelling the resident numbers, with numbers of birds peaking in October-November. As with the Black Redstarts, some will stay here to overwinter while others will travel on to Africa.

Blackbird-Turdus merula (Spanish-Mirlo Comun) with very prominent white wing feathers

Blackbirds are amongst the most numerous bird species resident locally, but at this time of year their presence is especially noticeable. Juveniles disperse in August and September and ‘foreign’ birds arrive or pass through the locality, with numbers peaking in mid-October. Numbers of Blackbirds are attracted to our garden now by the masses of tiny berries produced by the Florida palms. As they are present all year, it is usually impossible to spot ‘incomers’ other than by territorial behaviour, when those I assume to be resident birds chase others away. The Blackbird in my photograph made it easy to spot that it was an ‘incomer’ as he was marked with white feathers. I would definitely have noticed him earlier in the year.

Chiffchaff-Phylloscopus collybita (Spanish-Mosquitero Comun)

There are a lot of tiny Chiffchaff around presently, at one time in the garden early this afternoon I counted ten and there could well have been more. A few will stay here for the winter, most will move on. Chiffchaffs are delightful little birds and very entertaining to watch as they flit and flutter through trees and shrubs searching leaves for insects. On sunny days, when there are clouds of flies or gnats about they perch on the tips of twigs and palm leaves, then dive down and chase the insects, balletically turning and twisting in the air.

It never ceases to amaze me that such tiny birds impart on these long journeys, especially those that are no more than a few months old, and marvel at their innate knowledge of where to go and how to get there and back again. And we call people ‘bird-brained’ as an insult!