February 1 2016, Monte del Renegado, Ceuta
The Long Spring begins today, here, on Monte del Renegado. Unscrolled to southward is the rest of Africa. From this northern tip of the continent, an enclave of Spain, and with the sun behind me I see across the Strait all the cool colours of Europe. This is instantly the difference between the two continents. Africa white and platinum and etiolated purple, Europe reflecting Africa’s sun in uncut sapphire and emerald.
I look for the first signs of spring among the birds. In their hundreds of millions, they are on their way, and some may have already reached this coast. Such is their metabolism, that while they may be European by breeding, they are by now African in make-up. Every sinew and muscle that will propel them here, all the fat gained as fuel for the journey and most of the feathers of their aero-architecture were replenished in Africa. The ones that end their days in some English field or Finnish aapa will bring a morsel of the rainforest to the northern soils; and their progeny will return it some future autumn.
There are no early swallows today. But as the air warms, we are joined by a handful, then dozens, then hundreds of migrant hawker dragonflies. They are relatively local in origin, but are preparing to cross the Strait into Europe when the time comes, when wind direction and warmth allow.
Laurence Rose is a conservationist, writer and composer. He has worked for the RSPB since 1983.