Autor Dave Langlois
Brambling, male with winter plumage. Picture by Sam Langlois

Probably the most glaring difference between the summer and winter visitors to La Vera is the regularity of the former and the irregularity of the latter. Those birds that come here to breed always arrive at about the same date, give or take a day or two, and in more or less the same numbers; they carry out here their reproductive tasks here and then leave for their winter quarters, also at a pretty foreseeable date, by and large.

Winter visitors, on the contrary, are a lottery. Most years some arrive; sometimes a lot do, sometimes few and sometimes none, and it’s no big deal. Should a summer visitor like the nightingale or golden oriole fail to arrive it would constitute an ecological disaster.

With nothing to tie them down to one particular breeding spot, winter visitors move about much more freely, settling down at each instant wherever it most suits them. We birdwatchers, in fact, have the bad habit of calling a year when a given species arrives in large numbers as a “good year” for that species, when it is more likely to be a “bad year” because the poor buggers have had to fly even farther south to find food and shelter.

Male siskin, picture by Sam Langlois

There are six main wintering passerines in La Vera. Three finches: bullfinch, siskin and brambling; and three thrushes: song thrush, redwing and fieldfare. The bullfinch is a burly, stout-beaked finch with a gorgeous, bright-red breast (the male) and jet-black hood. It’s one of the birds that least lustre loses in winter. Its call is a soft piuu with a falling intonation. The siskin is a much slenderer and agile finch, yellowish green in colour, often to be seen hanging acrobatically from the alder cones like a titmouse along streams like Gualtaminos. The brambling is more an open country bird, gleaning the fields in large flocks with other finches and sparrows. It can be picked out by its eyecatching white rump in flight.

Now the three thrushes. A few song thrushes now breed in La Vera but its presence is much more notable in winter. On sunnier days towards the end of winter some of them give timid, sotto voce renditions of their normally stentorian song. The redwing, which flies down to us from the same subarctic zones as the brambling, is slightly smaller than the song thrush and darker, with a notable white eyestripe. Don’t let the name fool you: the eponymous red on the wing is hardly noticeable with the wing closed, just a slight flush on the flanks. Its call is a very thin, high-pitched tseeep, often to be heard when flocks are flying over by night.

Redwing thrush. Picture by Sam Langlois

Fieldfare. Picture by Sam Langlois

The fieldfare is the biggest and perhaps most eyecatching of our thrushes, boasting an ash-grey head and an orange tinge on the speckled breast. Its call is curious: it sounds rather like a pocketed snooker ball bumping into the already potted balls in the rack: tcha-chack, tcha-tcha-chack.

These, then, are the irregular winter visitors that, some years more, some years fewer, keep us entertained until the regular summer visitors clock on in spring