A song for the golondrinas and some of my House Martin Survey, Cabanas de Tavira, Algarve, Portugal 2015 to 2022.

 I began my house martin survey in 2015 and each year try to look around the once welcoming fishing village for signs of their nests. Of course now Cabanas is more of a tourist village by the Ria Formosa and the buildings are less kind for the ledges needed. Once there were more house martins on the ‘frontline’ but now most nests have been deterred or destroyed. In one place above various shops and entrances to the small indoor shopping area there were 35. This year there are about 5.

However behind the Spa shop there is a good stretch and the birds can build their mud nests there and avoid the complaints of a mess as a long platform was put up to protect the ground from the delicacies of house martin poo.

Building next, March 2015 Building nest March 2015
Close up, building nest, March 2015 Close up, building nest, March 2015

 

Cabanas Sunday 008

 The art of building a nest must somehow be passed on between the generations. Proximity to water and mud is important. Each beakful is carefully positioned ready to stick to the next.

House martins seem to like to choose the same spots and just refurbishing a nest site will mean that they can get on with the business of mating and laying the eggs from March.

High winds can delay their arrival and the parents to be will be pretty exhausted by the thousands of miles they have flown across Africa. So having to rebuild from scratch or search for another site delays their ability to breed. However many of the parents will try again for a second brood. If these can fledge and build up reserves before the end of September they might make the long journey back.

From the RSPB and SEO in Spain there are requests to help these birds by keeping nest sites in situ over the winter. Of course it is illegal to destroy any nest that is in use or being built.

This year in Cabanas I found 100 nest sites in the Spring. The school still provides for many under the eaves and also in the older part of town there are more. The town council appears to have an interesting extra wall front behind which there were quite a few.

But all the new builds seem very unfriendly to these Spring visitors. In our ‘beco’ there have always been a small community and the trad design of our flats does provide the ledging. But many are prevented from returning by netting and plastic hanging down. More unsightly than the nests.

Song of a small golondrina or andorinha ( spanish/ portuguese)

Dear humans, please leave our nests alone,

And like you

We do like to be beside this seaside.

The sand and tides turning help us out

With just the right consistency of mud

We build our homes close to the sea

Where we can almost have food for free

So many insects to shout out about

Making us and our young strong

And ready for the long flight back.

High above the many folk below

May sometimes stand and stare

In a kind of wonder at our flight

But know too little of who we are

And why we have to come so far.

From June through July and August the first broods gather on the phone wires as if at school all in a line and getting ready for the flight of their life.

From past reading there is little known about where these birds go back to in Africa and house martins might still be too small for satellite tracking.

We believe they flock together to fly together across the Sahara but we do not know if the parent birds lead the way.

Here’s to the wonderful house martins of Cabanas de Tavira and the joy they bring some of us. I only wish more people would notice these incredible birds and make a stand for their presence here among the tourists.

* We think here in Spain and Portugal that golondrina or andorinha are used for both swallows and house martins. But in Latin – Delichon urbicum

Young house martins gathering in Cabanas de Tavira 2020.

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Thanks too to Katharine Otto for making the first move to try and post by phone. This is my first attempt too. So apologies for not many photos but some recent ones from the phone! And oh, some more added from my library!

More on the survey later in the year. At present we await family for a holiday and have been enjoying nights out in Tavira with the free concerts. The band last night called SAL formed in the pandemic and this is their first year of playing live concerts. It is with great relief to find some of the normality and conviviality back again in our lives.

 

Feeding young in August

Feeding young in August

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High wire young ones in August
High wire young ones in August

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One Swallow does not make a Summer

Thankfully there is still water in the well and the pond. The birds love the pond and all the trees, wild flowers and other plants love that there is water deep within the ground. We have had the highest temperatures on record for June in Spain and also in our area but there are now cooler nights. Seville has faced temperature in the 40s much earlier than normal. Young swifts have been falling out of nests in the heat.

Among the Navasola summer visitors are red-rumped swallows. Can you just detect the red in this strong little bird that survived striking fast onto our window? There are plenty of swifts around the monument of Castano De Robledo and here the temperatures have not reached 40 plus yet. This should have given these young a chance to fly out of an overheated nest. In order to keep these amazing migratory birds off the threatened lists their young must not just survive the early heatwaves here which have forced them out of their nests before they are ready but they must fly thousands of miles within weeks of leaving the nest. Lots of insect food is needed to help grow muscle strength too. And yet again there has been some glyphosate spraying of verges poisoning not just the wild flowers but all the surrounding insects and those that fly into the area.

For the young wolves in the north of Spain there have been raging wildfires in one of the highly populated but endangered wild Iberian wolf regions in the Sierra Culebra. Just the wrong time as the young wolves might not have the ability to move far from their dens to get away from fire and smoke.

And the good news. The European Union has just agreed a robust plan for the restoration of Nature. Biodiversity strategy for 2030 – Environment – environment.ec.europa.eu/strategy/biodiversity-strategy-2030_en

The European Commission’s proposal for a Nature Restoration Law is the first continent-wide, comprehensive law of its kind. It is a key element of the EU Biodiversity Strategy which calls for binding targets to restore degraded ecosystems, in particular those with the most potential to capture and store carbon and to prevent and reduce the impact of natural disasters.

And I have finished War and Peace. An epic and an insight into Tolstoy’s mind and Russian issues in the 19th Century. But has helped me understand a little more about the awful war raging in the Ukraine.

And for the first time in years I have read a book I could not put down. I read Bewilderment by Richard Powers within a day. And was star and earth struck. The book beautifully describes how a scientist searches for life way out in the stars while his son struggles to deal with the knowledge that life on our planet is threatened with extinction. The boy feels the loss of many species that have already gone forever. He draws them and wants to save what we have left. His father creates stories of possible life on faraway planets.

And recovered from Covid. So far no long term effects but was really tired and wiped out.

So the glass is still half full. There is still time to act and save our wonderful world.

An attempt at drawing water with light and shade with wild scabious.

We need lots more swallows to make a summer and a planet full of different life forms to make a better future.

Lets hope these EU actions will lead the way.

With best wishes and blessings from Navasola

No Mow May – No Rules Minister

No Mow May is a campaign to let the grass and wild flowers grow in a more natural way encouraging more biodiversity than a closely cut green lawn. At Navasola the attempt at a green lawn is thwarted as ever by lack of rain but in the UK the green grass is ebullient. I like that word. What does it really mean? Overcome with joy or full of energy.

At least I have an excuse for not having a closely cut green lawn so why did I have a go at trying to mow a path through the long grass to reach the monster chard. More later.

Our little patch in front of the house at Navasola has delighted us this year in being a wild daisy patch. Meanwhile the rest of the finca has gone wild again with bracken and some wild flowers as I had to give up my strimming of paths and mosaic habitat building because of a shoulder injury. Along the verges of the old walking tracks there are many of the familiar wild flowers but along some of the roadways there is the sign of pesticide use with glyphosate. some of the local villages ban the use of pesticides but the roadways are governed by the regional government and changing the rules is harder. However it is incredible what plants fight back but unfortunately the local insects nearby are killed off.

NO RULES MINISTER? ( a play on the favourite TV programme ‘Yes Minister’ of many years ago when government seemed genteel)

It would seem that our current government show little regard for rules or are certainly rule averse. EU law is ready to be put on the ‘Brexit bonfire’ without in many cases adequate replacement. The government likes to show off its new rules but then fails to ensure enforcement in really important areas. Some with catastrophic impacts. So which is the worst rule aversion failure so far?

No, I am not referring to partygate and disregard for the rules set for us all during the pandemic lockdown.

No, I am not referring to all the longstanding rules against putting sewage into our rivers and water companies not needing to bother about the pollution as there is a loophole and the Office for Environmental Protection fails to act too.

I am referring to the government COP26 flagship of creating more Marine Protection Areas. But not protecting these areas by enforcing the actions needed. The rule of law seems easily broken when out at sea. The Guardian and Greenpeace have information about how much of the sea bed is still being destroyed by the fisheries industries in Marine Protection Areas. We know now that the condition of the sea bed like the condition of the soil on land is crucial to the ecology of the sea and for ensuring restocking of fish and other creatures.

We are on the brink of ecological crisis and with a government that says one thing, creates new rules and then appears to turn a blind eye to the actions needed to ensure the rules are followed.

Below are some photos of the Algarve where the Atlantic meets the European shores. We are all connected by the sea. The dunes and coastline here have been protected but we still have to defend against human activity that can destroy the fragile dunes and habitats. These and Donana are part of the EU habitats directives and should be protected fully.

Back to No Mow May and the humble bumble bee.

So I decided to mow just a pathway through the long grass before the end of May. And was promptly attacked by a bumble bee, I think with red on it. It was small and managed to get inside my glasses and sting my nose. It hurt. I should have kept to the rule I had decided upon! Husband was more to the point. I thought you were the friend of bees. The bumblebee probably had a hive under the ground in what had been undisturbed land for the last few months. And I disturbed its hive and so the normally non aggressive bumble bee attacked me. I did read that bumblebees do not have barbs like bees so can live after a sting. And so did I after finding some apple cider vinegar in the cupboard and a dose of anti histamine.

It is worthwhile in the long run keeping to our own rules, setting the bar high and to do what we can to allow the natural world to recover from our human onslaught.

A Poem of War and Hope for Peace.

Here is a poem for my April  post that I wanted to try from my book stack challenge response to the war in the Ukraine. I will also try and post it with my favourite poetry blog although am a day late.

Dversehttps://dversepoets.com/2022/04/28/openlinknight-315/

I thought about taking the titles of the books that chose their place in the book stack as the concept of a ‘Blind Assassin’ from Margaret Atwood’s title really spoke to me. Blind can often be a metaphor for the inability to see the truth or suffering. We say to ‘turn a blind eye’. Saul was also blinded by the light. Those who really are physically unable to see often develop different ways of perceiving the world around them and may have the inner intuitive sight so many lack. TS Eliot in his poem the Waste Land uses the metaphor of blindness and a land without water to show the spiritual decline and alienation of the human spirit about 100 years ago.

A Poem of War and Peace

The Blind Assassin moves his tanks across the frozen lands.

Are not all assassins blind? Blind to human misery.

Blind to the brutal blows of deadly hands.

And so we all enter into those Dark Nights of the Soul where we cannot see

Where it will all end

Until we find the Kindness of Strangers

Arising from those roots of that other tree.

El Otro Arbol de Guernica. Where bombs rained down

For the first time on the ordinary man, woman and child

Around their tree of democracy.

In fear children sent alone to other lands.

In the hope one day their return will give birth

To A New Earth.

So I will now try and brighten up as the contrast between the news and the nature around me is both stark and ironic. The earth here in our part of Andalucia is responding well to the very many rainy days we have had. We have been blessed with some torrential downpours but not enough so we must all learn to conserve this life-giving resource.

After the cherry blossom comes the apple blossom. And here in April the ‘May’ which is one of the English rural words for the hawthorn flowers is out in full bloom to the delight of the carpenter bees and many others.

April 29th is also a day for me to remember my mother who died 21 years ago now to this day. I did write a poem in 2011 as it was a hard day to reflect as the UK celebrated the wedding of William and Kate and I posted it for Dverse last year at this time.

https://navasolanature.wordpress.com/2021/04/29/april-poems-and-april-showers-april-is-the-month-mixing-memory-and-desire/

These books are the ones in the poem which were discussed in my last post. And my reading of War and Peace has got stuck in the war parts as the French army finally retreats but there is a lot of desperation and destruction for both sides. For me Tolstoy very much stands for peace, understands the futility of war and certainly does not glorify war.

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Dark Nights of the Soul by Thomas Moore

The Kindness of Strangers by Kate Adie ( her autobiography as war correspondent for the BBC)

El otro arbol de Guernica by Luis de Castresana ( about being a child refugee sent to UK during Spanish Civil War)

A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

March Madness and Reading Inspirations – War and Peace Part Two and Bookstack challenges.

We have definitely had a mad March with all the weather and political changes but the rain is thankfully and finally falling. Let’s also hope for a peaceful and just outcome soon.

As many of you know this area of Andalucia should have a high rainfall in the mountains but there has been a nine month drought and less rainfall in the Autumn time. How the plants and trees survive is a wonder. But under the ground there are vast aquifers and the water table is rising again. We must not overexploit this and I will post further on our community’s local demonstration and the plight of the UNESCO biosphere, the Donana Wetlands.

This March we have seen the plum trees blossom at the beginning and the cherries near the end. Other plants flowering are the wild viburnum and yellow gorse along with the yellow rock rose – Halmium trifolium. And a good variety of birds are now busy. My husbands sharp eyes spotted a small bird of prey from the window. It was neatly poised on a overhanging bare branch of the ivy clad oak. Ahh.. very beautiful but was near the water bath we leave out where there had been a flock of pretty long tailed tits. He has also spotted a mistle or song thrush preening itself in the trees. turdus viscivorus or turdus philomelos. These have become quite rare in the UK and we have not seen many here either so that was welcome,

Below is a beautiful festoon butterfly or l’arlequin in Spanish – Zerynthia rumina. We saw this on the ground and just missed treading on it thanks again to my husbands sharp eyes. He is definitely a bird and small animal spotter. This butterfly is now quite rare in Spain. Its caterpillar feed on the rather dainty dutchman’s pipe or aristolochia pistolachia. A plant quite easily missed but very important for this butterfly’s lifecycle. One of our naturalist friends was very angry once when trying to raise the chrysalis of these butterflies to improve numbers. Just on hatching near her lab there was a lot of gylyphosate spraying where the plants for the eggs ad the caterpillars grow. Hopefully now there is more awareness of the needs of different animals and their ecosystems and use of such pesticides is being phased out.

With March being wet we have spent a lot more time inside and so I have read on with War and Peace and am now halfway through this tome I read all those years ago. There is so much more to understand now and I am always googling the place names to know where everything is. Although when I first read this in the 1970’s the Nuclear Arms Race and Mutually Assured Destruction were key concepts and real threats.

I began re reading this before the invasion of the Ukraine by Russia and will admit was a little bored by the opening with the high society of Moscow and St Petersburg. War and Peace is set during the Napoleonic wars of the early 1800s, just over 200 years ago. As I invest again in the characters and am reminded of some incidents I am more aware this time of the sections about war. For one of the main characters, the idealist Pierre Bezuhov his desire for a universal truth and humanity still shines as he is undermined by fellow freemasons who belong to the order merely for self advancement and not for ideas of universal peace. It is also about War and Love as there is a lot of falling in love and betrayal in the high ranks of Russian society.

But does this book give me insights into the Russian mindset? I think not but it certainly portrays the society of the rich and powerful and the personal and public politics are something Tolstoy does comment on in many different ways. At the moment I am gripped as the Russian army retreats to Moscow and the devastation brought by armies and war affects all of the people in its path. Tolstoy did not like the politics that drove these wars and I feel clearly puts this forward and also shows an understanding of those with no power – the ordinary soldiers and the peasants. The character Pierre has large estates he inherited in the regions around Kiev/Kyiv and his desire is to give freedom to the serfs who work on his land. Tolstoy shows how Pierre’s idealism can be corrupted by those ready to take advantage. It took until the 1860s for this feudal lord and bonded worker/slave/serf to be overcome.

The bitter irony now is the impact of modern warfare on people in the neighbouring Ukraine and who once would have fought as part of the Russian army against Napoleon and Hitler. Tolstoy’s War and Peace is a call for both peace and justice.

Reading for me is a way into other worlds, places, people and I have always enjoyed fiction books about the places I have visited or lived in. In that respect good translations are needed so we can have insights into different ways of being and thinking in this world,

I wanted to refer to Margaret21s Bookstack Challenge in response the war in the Ukraine and chose 5 books from my shelves.https://margaret21.com/2022/03/09/bookstack-challenge/

And https://bookishbeck.wordpress.com/2022/03/07/solidarity-with-ukraine/

It turned out like this.

The Blind Assassin followed by The Dark Night of the Soul. These two might speak for themselves but as like so many books on shelves I have not read this Margaret Atwood novel…yet! But have dipped into this psychology book of the suffering mind and soul. El Otro Arbol de Guernica- The Other Tree of Guernica where Hitler ‘practised bombing civilians in the town of Guernica – as a warning of modern firepower from the sky and support for a military coup. After this trial came the Blitz and the new warfare against civilians which tragically continues today.

Kate Adie as a well known journalist and often on the frontline this book does show the compassion of humans often in very difficult circumstances. Tolle’s book has a spiritual consciousness based slant towards the kinder world that we need to work towards within us and without us. Let’s hope that we will come through this madness of March 2022 and really work towards the change needed for peace and prosperity for all life on earth. War and Peace went missing from my shelves and am reading it with kindle but it would be there!

And in order to end with a celebration of the natural world below are 5 books from my shelves that have influenced my writing about nature.

Tarka the Otter was a book I read as a child and did reread while I was writing my novel about the animal world. Williamson was suffering from trauma from WW1 and cared for a wild otter that disappeared one day. In his search for this loss arose the novel about Tarka. Not an easy read but well worth it for understanding the life and trials of otters as they were hunted to extinction in the UK. There is recovery now and even a few beavers.

The Cloud Spotters Guide was given to me by a good friend and it does balance understanding the technical formation of clouds and their names with art and literature. So we were well suited.

Spiritual Ecology is a collection of essays about our relationship with the natural world. Joanna Macey has an article and one of her workshops inspired me to write this blog about nature.

The Genius of Birds was another gift from a friend who read my novel in one of its early drafts. The book takes you into all the latest research on birds and their intelligence and social groupings.

Weeds and Wild flowers by Alice Oswald was a major inspiration for me to write poetry. Ms Peony Broteri is the poem in its first form featured early on this blog and about this time as the wild peonies are just budding and ready to bloom for April and May

.https://navasolanature.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/a-fertile-feeling-ms-peoni-broteri-getting-ready-for-rebirth/

The missing book is Wildwood by Roger Deakin and must be on another shelf in the UK or I gave it away. Roger Deakin spans walnut wood for Jaguar cars, the wood sculptor David Nash, the wild origins of apple trees in Kyrgystan and Australian aborigine culture. This book led me to Robert Macfarlane’s writing and in particular Wild Places and the beautiful Lost Words for children and the young at heart.

In difficult days when all seems mad there is much to inspire us and give hope and each little drop of kindness to others will give rise to a more peaceful and just world. Solidarity with all suffering from war and the after effects and all those needing climate justice.

Wild peony forest January/February
Peony bud March to April

War and Peace – Fiction, Truth and Reality

If I had just chosen to write my February post before the invasion of the Ukraine last week I would have written about my peaceful but busy existence on our Navasola woodland. And the coming of Spring with lots of bird activity, a range of butterflies and the rare wild daffodil, the Angel’s tear. I have also embarked on a reading challenge to read or for me re read War and Peace by Tolstoy. As I read it many years ago in my youth it was interesting to revisit and is also giving me some insight into the current crisis and the history of Europe.

View of Fuenteheridos and below a wild angel’s tear daffodil

One of the reasons I like the blogging world are the different experiences and connections that build up. One longstanding one is with Steve Schwartzman and Portrait of Wildflowers. Botany was the first link and then his incredible knowledge of Spanish and the research he did trying to find the origin of the name of our local village, Fuenteheridos. On the surface it looks like wounds- heridos and fuente, a source of water, spring. Inddeed the village is a source of much water through twelve springs. Steve found the old word ‘feridos’ which is to do with irrigation and taking turns and sharing the water. I am going to share Steve’s recent post as he suggested to show solidarity with the Ukraine. I found this very moving and beautifully written by his father, Jack Schwartzman about leaving his homeland. Lilacs for me were part of my childhood home and they will now also remind me of those who have had to leave their homes because of war and tyrants.

This is the link to the War and Peace 2022 reading Challenge of Rebecca Budd.

The characters and the Russian high culture at the time is as intriguing and involving as I found it when younger. Tolstoy is certainly so skilled at writing and can immerse the reader within these different worlds. However, I have been intrigued by the narration about the battles of the Austrian and Russian Army against Napoleon in 1805. There is an ease of moving between characters and events. I have selected a quote below as Tolstoy shows such insight into truth and integrity. And as we know ‘the first casualty of war is truth.’

“Rostov was an honest young man who would never tell a deliberate lie. He set out with every intention of describing exactly what had occurred, but imperceptibly, unconsciously and inevitably he drifted into falsehood. If he had told the truth to these two, who had heard as many descriptions of cavalry charges as he had, had their own clear idea of what a charge was like and were expecting something similar, either they wouldn’t have believed him, or worse still, they would have assumed it was Rostov’s fault for not managing to do what was normally done by narrators of cavalry charges. He couldn’t just tell them that they’d been trotting forward together when he fell off his horse, sprained his arm and then ran as hard as he could into a wood to get away from a Frenchman. Besides, to tell everything exactly as it happened would have demanded enough self-control to say only what happened and nothing else. To tell the truth is a very difficult thing, and young people are hardly ever capable of it. His listeners were expecting to hear him describe how he had felt himself burning with excitement, stormed the enemy’s square defences, oblivious to everything, hacked his way in, mown men down right, left and centre, tasted blood with his sabre before collapsing from exhaustion, and all the rest. And that’s what he did describe.”

And as we know ‘the first casualty of war is truth.’ It seems also in our 21st Century that peace has also created a culture of lies, mis and dis information and there is a need for truth and integrity. I think Tolstoy gets quite a lot right about his character Rostov but later we do find out that Prince Andrei Bolkonsky appears to see through this fiction that Rostov is compelled to make up.

But I do not think young people today are incapable of telling the truth. Many of the young climate activists are trying to get the adults to understand and take on board the truth about climate change. Today marks another warning about how the climate crisis is going to bring more of the chaos we are already experiencing if we do not act together.

https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/news/ipcc-climate-report-updates-un-b2024751.html

Lilac with pearls and house and solar panels in background.

Blog Biodiversity Birthday Bird Watch

January is a special and busy month with two special birthdays and lots of New Year greetings and meetings to make. It is also 9 years since I began my nature blog as a record of the biodiversity around me and with the hope that this will not disappear. The warning bells have been ringing for a long time now and for most people there is a desire to see the natural world flourish. But the big but is the way so much productivity whether food or goods harms nature through intensive farming, pesticides, mining for our mobiles etc. And then the pollution. Sometimes it all seems overwhelming but with a new year there must be hope. I hope my blog helps celebrate that diversity and in doing so helps us be stronger in our efforts to protect our precious world.

For one special birthday we were sitting on an Algarve beach with a picnic lunch. Coats needed but sunshine and a good breeze. In January there are few tourists on the beach just locals and dogwalkers. On the Manta Rota beach the surf was quite strong and we watched a few sanderlings with their fast moving legs dodging the waves coming in but ready to dig into the sand before the next wave. I wonder what their food is as it was hard to see.

There must also have been an abundance of fish close to the shore.as there was a lot of angling going on with long rods and some catches. We then watched some cormorants flying quite fast along the surface of the ocean dodging the waves. Thankfully we had brought the binoculars and noticed something different to the cormorants. There were flashes of white as these birds turned catching the light. Gannets. We were then rewarded with some very high speed dives dropping into the ocean. The cormorants seemed to be surface divers and the gannets deep divers but both seemed to be more successful with their fishing than the men standing along the shore.

In 2014 I wrote a post about gannets as we visited Bempton Cliffs in the UK. This area and Scotland are the main nesting sites for the European gannets. We also saw some very close by when we visited the Skelligs just off the coast of County Kerry Ireland. These birds have an amazing design to allow them to dive at high speed and protect their brains.

The Algarve and these southern European regions have an amazing diversity of flora and fauna. A little later on we walked around the salt pans between Cabanas and Tavira. The light was failing so I have used other photos but we saw quite a variety as I had seen once when I wrote a poem about all the birds along this coast. I have also put in an extract from that poem as we couldn’t decide what a certain pair of pretty brown birds were. It tied us in knots. Probably Calidris canutus or or knot in winter plumage so not very red. Sorry no photos yet! But we have these from the poem. Bird Biodiversity Poem 0n the Sea Shore

Grey plover in adult winter plumage. Pluvialis squatarola.

Today we are going to do identification of birds,
Birds on the seashore, birds out at sea,
Birds whose names meant nothing to me.
I must now make a spell and chant out the words.

Kentish plover, Ringed plover,
Little ringed plover too,
Golden plover, Grey plover,
Dotterel make a few,
and let’s not confuse
Dunlin, Sanderling, with Knot,
Green Shank with Red Shank
Or take a Stint or two.

That’s just the start
of the spell we need to weave,
If we go to the seashore,
Where there’s a chance to breathe.

Breathe deep and wonder
The vast variety of birds.
Stand in awe and thunder
Storms brewing words

And for me a first – Avocets but I only realised afterwards when studying my poor camera photo which at least zoomed in more than my eyes to show up the differences between avocets and the black legged stilts. And way into the distance was a lone spoonbill.

We are now back in the chestnut woods of the Sierra Aracena and here the diversity of the woodland birds deserves a poem. They are mainly singing away at the moment and the woodpeckers tapping out more holes in old trees. Today I look out from the kitchen window and spot two high in a tree. How do they make such perfectly rounded holes?

We were going to go out to some of the wetland areas to the north of us where the cranes overwinter but this for various reasons might be next November when they should come back. Winter can bring a different diversity of birds.

It would be lovely to hear from you as to what birds you might have seen in January. After all in the UK its been the Great Garden Bird Watch. What about a blog bird watch for January?

A Poem, Art and Birds for Christmas

The Art exhibition of Ruth Koenigsberger at the Teatro Aracena has just finished this December. We were really fortunate to be in the Sierra for this and we have many memories of times spent with Ruth visiting the Donana Wetlands for bird watching and photography. For those who follow this blog closely Ruth has featured many times with her art and photography. She has also drawn some of the characters and places in my novel and then turned her creative talents to painting birds during these past pandemic years. I intend to show more of her Bird Art and talents in the year to come.

For now I will give you a poem I wrote for Christmas inspired by the paintings below by Ruth Koenisgsberger and the European Crane, (Grus grus). This incredibly large and beautiful bird migrates from the North of Europe to the South during the winter months. We heard a story of a Spanish writer who as a child looked out of his window and saw the cranes calling and flying in the moonlight. Childhood experiences of the beauty of nature can stay with us and inspire us.

A Child’s Christmas in Southern Spain

Stories are told of the olive and dove

While high in the sky in the dawn’s new light

The children look out to the sky above

To spot long necks and great wings in flight.

The Cranes are coming for Christmas

The Cranes are coming for Christmas

Fe Li Ci Da Des

Fe Li Ci Da Des

 Na Vi Dad

Great bodies descend to the earthly ground

With wings outstretched they graciously land

Their calls sing out the most heavenly sound

Long legs extend to the beat of a band

The Cranes are marching for Christmas

The Cranes are marching for Peace

Gathered together on the rich wet earth

Their journey long to a climate more mild

In pairs they now dance for a special birth

A gift they bring to each precious child;

The wonder of the wild.

The Cranes are dancing for Christmas

The Cranes are dancing for Love.

Fe Li Ci Da Des 

Fe Li Ci Da Des, Na Vi Dad  –

Congratulations,

Happiness, The Birth of Christ.

Wishing you all a very happy, peaceful and safe Christmas as we continue to live through these anxious times. I also feel inspired to continue in 2022 with more about Ruth’s exhibition, paintings and her flight into the light with such a variety of colours and different techniques inspired by birds and the beautiful nature in the South of Spain.

Here’s to 2022, Hope, Light and our dedication to nurturing nature in all its beauty and diversity.

That Old Chestnut

That old chestnut is very apt for the Sierra Aracena which on the north slopes is full of very old chestnut orchards. Some trees must be over 200 years old. For visitors November is a major attraction because the changing leaves of Autumn are a rare sight in these southern parts of Andalucia. The chestnuts, poplars and fruit trees all add to an intoxicating colour spectacle. There are coachloads of tourists and the plazas of the small white villages are full of people enjoying local food after some walks around the area or just views from a coach tour. However, the local people who historically have some land are busy with the chestnut harvest. Except it is difficult to really make this profitable and each year seems to bring a different problem.

Last year it was a raging storm called ‘ Borrasca Barbara. Due to Covid and the birth of my second granddaughter, Jessica Rose, we were not here to witness the devastation to the old trees. On our return most of the fallen branches had been converted into firewood. I am sure I would have been more upset but friends helped clear the worst of it.

This year the price of chestnuts is very low at 1 euro a kilo so this has not made it worth paying to collect and it is backbreaking to do this all myself. I managed some at the rate of 3 kilos in about 20 minutes!

Then there is the peeling to do. And there is always some advice on the best way to do this, Mine is revealed if you read on!

At Navasola we have many old chestnut trees and each tree can deliver up to 10 kg of chestnuts if there has been plenty of rain in both spring and autumn. My main tasks in November is to prepare and preserve as many chestnuts as I can for my own use. This involves the tedious task of trying to peel off the inner skin. I believe chestnuts do not intend to be eaten by humans. The wild boar and other creatures do not seem to mind and can continue foraging or inhabiting these belligerent nuts for many months. However for humans there is a procedure to follow.

First here is the outer spiny case which is referred to as a hedgehog in Spanish. Gloves and good boots are needed to get the chestnuts out of these if still in them on the ground. Am sure this makes mechanical picking impossible.

Then once picked, beware, these are fresh fruits of the earth which can be infested with a maggot or go mouldy very quickly. I think commercially they are dried but for my own use it is good to keep some in the fridge. This year I was told to then put them in the sunshine in order for the peels to come off more easily.

Ah ha, I sat in the warm sunshine about two weeks ago, not possible now as the chill has set in, and began peeling off the outer layer. Not too bad but the inner thin brown skin which is so bitter was still pretty reluctant. But it was a very meditative and pleasant sun filled serotonin inducing time. I sat for about two hours and had some beautiful whole peeled chestnuts at the end of this. About 20. A labour of love and certainly not profitable. I felt privileged to have the time to experience this but my aching hand that night rebelled. Two years previous to this (as 2020 was lost to this chestnut experience) I developed a chestnut callous on my finger from peeling.

So why do this? Well I feel the chestnuts are a good and sustainable source of protein and make good additions to stews, and chestnut rissoles. And there is this desire to pick them up all glossy and shiny. And roast them.

We hear from some friends in Tenerife that they are enjoying walking down to the plaza and having roast chestnuts and red wine. Mmmm. I must retire to a place in the sun where that is the only way I experience chestnuts.

Well, this year we have discovered the secret to removing the inner brown skin is steaming. After roasting, cover with a cloth to allow the steam to remove the thin skin more easily. Using a steamer was also much quicker than anything I have tried before. Still takes some time but easier!

And the olives this year have been amazing but very high up in the old olive trees which makes collection more difficult. But the olives and the different types and different methods for preserving must be another post.

One of our major issues post Brexit seems to be the changes to our roaming data and use of our mobile Wifi. So until we work out another system I cannot use up too much data. But soon I will catch up with you and all those wonderful photographs on so many amazing nature blogs.

With good wishes to all from Navasola for Thanksgiving time.

Nature needs Nurture

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