NOTES FROM A SMALL VILLAGE

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Home, to me, is a lot of places. Having moved around a lot (to give you an idea, this year was the first Christmas I had in the same place for 6 years) it had pretty much come to be defined as anywhere that’s inhabited by people I care about; but that doesn’t mean that the places themselves don’t mean anything to me. One, in particular, means a huge amount- the village I grew up in at the foot of the Sierra de Guadarrama, which was, as it happens, where I spent Christmas this year. It has mountains, it has Spanish imperial eagles, and, like any self-respecting village in the centre of the peninsula, it has a thriving population of white storks.

White storks are of course migratory, and when I was little it would have been a rarity to see them in the depths of winter. Over the years, however, they’ve been coming back earlier and earlier, and now their distinctive bill clattering can be heard even in December. One of the walks around the back of the house takes you not only through some pretty epic scenery but also past a parade of stork nests dramatically set against the  sierra. The path eventually takes you out at the village church, which is the epicentre of stork activity and is home to over 10 nests, each of which can weight over 100kg and can cause some serious structural damage. They’re now encouraging them to use platforms like the ones for eagles and ospreys in the UK- but I hope there will always be a few pairs allowed to set up in the village centre. Having the shadow of a bird with a 1.5m wingspan pass over you before alighting on a nearby lamppost must be one of the ultimate ‘urban’ birding experiences.

Anyway- I took these photos over the course of the Christmas holidays, all from the same route. I hope they give you a flavour of what is one of my favourite places in the world, from which there will hopefully be many blog posts to come.

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