Category Archives: Algarve

Passagem de Ano: The Passing of 2017 into 2018 in Portugal. Our thoughts for those who work to care for all creatures big and small.

The ‘Passing of the Year’ is the expression in Portuguese as the old year finishes and the new one begins. A time of hope and it seems nowadays fireworks to celebrate. We have now enjoyed the fireworks and a walk on the beach for the third year running in Monte Gordo on the Algarve. There is a strong sense of families celebrating together whether in the hotel, the local bars and the marquee for dancing in the New Year.

However, the sun rose on a sad sight on New Year’s Day but also an incredible sight and an occasion to see how we as human beings in Europe in the 21st Century feel for the plight of a stranded whale. There were tears, attempts to push the whale, common sense and finally the Portuguese lifeboat service with the maritime police all wetsuited up came and towed the whale out. It was spouting and alive. The last photo shows the boats out in deeper water trying to ensure the whale heads out to sea.

After being close to the whale with crowds of people on the beach and a strong desire for the whale to return we then watched from our hotel with binoculars the boat rescue. The hotel staff were all very moved to tears too and we were relieved and thought it was a happy ending. However, I research too much. The whale was a cachalote in Portuguese, a sperm whale, of about 9 to 10 metres long. Many sperm whale can live up to 70 years, mainly on squid, in those cold seas. However, they do suffer from diseases and can get washed up ashore because of this or disorientation. It did seem unusual for a whale to be so near the coast but they do live in the Mediterranean and Atlantic and could migrate through this more narrow stretch between Africa and Europe.

My ongoing research led me to a news report about 24 hours later. A cachalote had been found washed up dead on Isla Armonia near Olhao. It was about 10 metres and believed to be the same one that had been rescued at Monte Gordo. Cause of death? Not old age it was not fully grown and possibly a young adolescent male.

Thanks to Becky and her blog about living in Portugal I also researched the Portuguese word Presepio. These are the miniature Natavity scenes that are popular in houses and also on a more public scale. I found out about the one put together by the Bombeiros of Tavira, the fire and rescue service. Above is the entrance to the fire station with beautiful wrought iron doors. Inside were really interesting miniature scenes. As well as showing the bible story set around the birth of Christ it’s also common to show scenes from Portuguese rural history with mills, ovens, windmills and plenty of animals, water and miniature local boats. Worth going to if you are in a Tavira from December to January 7th. But don’t expect baby Jesus to be in his crib until Christmas Day!

One of the largest presepios in Portugal is just at the end of the N125 not too far from Tavira in Vila Real. This is called the Presepio Gigante and it was certainly long as seen from the photo with all the blue lighting.

The actual crib scene is quite small but around are many rural scenes. Some were more Portuguese but at the far end the Roman influences and boats being built were more evident. It is interesting to note that at the time Jesus was born there was a lot of Roman influence and empire along the Algarve and near Seville where there are some amazing amphitheatre ruins called Italica and a bit further north, Merida. All easily accessible from Rome by sea and river routes. Rome ruled the seas and made the roads then!

Animals did feature in this Presepio too. Wild white birds with an eagle flying above, storks nesting and a rabbit being caught by a lasso! No guns then? However, the fun part which is supposed to amuse children is the ‘man with the red cape or coat’. He is to be found behind a tree or a bush ‘ doing his necessities’ in Spanish or Portuguese and translated as ‘having a poop’ in English! My new camera was quick enough to catch that!

As now its almost two weeks from the year passing over from 17 to 18 I have to explain my delay in posting. I struggle getting the photos from my new camera onto the laptop and I then struggle to upload to WordPress. I have also been submitting my novel to some more literary agents and it really seems like making a job application, which it is and I find each agency sufficiently different in the structure needed. At least these ones have an automatic response email and guarantee a short reply if not successful. Let’s hope for a phone call or positive email soon. One has 100 submissions a week so that does make for a lot of work. Thinking about it though I would mark at least 30 English GCSE essays a week, 20 A level and at least another 30 of the younger classes and all mainly in the evenings after teaching all day. Comments needed!

Here’s some of the last lights of the festive season from Vila Real, Portugal  and wishing you all well for 2018.

A walk around the fort at Cabanas. Unwelcome Autumn Changes.

Some of my gloom in this ‘post truth’ world was not just the cloudy autumn weather in Cabanas,  Portugal but the very intimidating fence put up to prevent locals and visitors from walking along the small cliffs at the end of the Cabanas broad walk. It took some time and discussions with some exploration to find out about this no access fence.

These are photos I found from a sunny January a few years back where there had been open access and an established path along the cliff, around the fort and down to the far end off the beach by the majestic old pine trees. We have always enjoyed taking friends along this route too. It is part of the natural beauty at the edge of eastern Cabanas.

Along the Ria Formosa it is designated a nature reserve and national park but the edges along the cliffs do seem to be privately owned. We ventured cautiously along the fence and the cliff edge and came to more space in front of the fort. Here it was the path again but just past the fort there was a fence with big signs up again restricting the route along the top path by the pines.
At the end of the pines there is a route down to the beach area of the river lagoon and another leading back past a farmhouse. No one tends to use that path as there is a farm building and barking big dogs at the end of it! It seems it is the owner of this land who after many many years and at least 15yearsmfor us being in Cabanas, has decided to assert his territorial rights. There have been public meetings in Cabanas and there are also rights of access paths. Sadly, battle lines seem to be being drawn.


We walked by the prickly pear border and the fort and met the manager from the fort. The Cabanas fort has been renovated inside and is a delightful place to stay. We were shown around and I would recommend it as a holiday. The owner has a passion for these old buildings and it has been lovingly restored and the visitor rooms are in keeping but modern. It is also a safe place inside for children to play and have adventures.


As you walk out from the fort there is a way back along the road and back to the board walk. Here there are still the signs of the changes in Cabanas. A little old and neglected traditional house is still there. And behind it are the new but unfinished and unsold developments of a garden village. A swimming pool facility and garden was also supposed to be built. The scrub land provides some opportunities for the wildlife. This is also part of the Eco bike route from Tavira. It is worth walking or cycling from Tavira to Cabanas on this route. It then goes up and back to the main road and then back down to the coast to the charming old village of Cacela Velha.
It is also possible to walk along the beach but the closed path does mean you could get cut off when the tide is high. It seems there are some resolutions in place for this ugly and divisive fence to be moved back a bit to return access to the path in front of the Cabanas fort.

It seems a pity that the coastal cliff path has been broken up by landowners wishing to fence off to the cliff edge. Further up from the fort there are some developments with portocabins and fences to the cliff edge. It is near here that I once stood for ages watching a hoopoe preen itself. The natural world has to cope with the challenges of development, irresponsible tourism, our lovely dogs unleashed also can disturb birds and other creatures too. And the rubbish we leave behind.

Could this cliff path ever become a nature trail? Could it be looked after by conservationists and respected by walkers,dog owners, cyclists? The beach below is protected but the cliff edge awaits exploitation of varying kinds.
I have just experienced a very different kind of fence at Donna Nook in Lincolnshire in the UK and a triumph for the conservation of grey seals on the mudflats of the Humber estuary.
That’s for the next post as I arise from the gloom of wintry weather and political uncertainties for the planet. I have focused a lot of time on revising my novel and the chestnut harvest from our very fruitful old trees at Navasola.

Sharing Becky’s Hidden Delights of the Algarve blog. 

Please check out Becky’s blog on the hidden delights of the Algarve. We are here in the Algarve for a few days and have seen a few different birds; stints, redshanks and greenshanks and maybe a curlew sandpiper. ( can travel 15000km!) And the best view was being close up to a hoopoe preening itself with its long beak on a tree. But no camera with us. Becky has been a bit further north from the Algarve into the  Alentejo to see these amazing birds, the great bustards. No miss spellings please and these birds need protection.

Source: Thursday was incredible; observing Great Bustards

Karma Chameleon in the Algarve. A walk round the Quinta Marim reserve by Olhao.

We spent some final days of a September summer in the Algarve. One walk, before my daughter flew back to the UK from Faro, was around the nature reserve just east of Olhao. We had visited this place some years ago and seen plenty of birds on the salt marshes and a vulture flying close by. It’s mate was recuperating in the bird hospital there. A famous line of friendly Portuguese Water Dogs were also kept there. This time the visitor centre wasn’t open, no sign of the dogs, and all seemed rather run down. Just as this walk around a nature reserve seemed to be a bit disappointing, a chameleon slowly and leisurely crossed our path. I was so pleased that my daughter could also experience such a close encounter. No binoculars needed!

Chameleon in Olhao nature Reserve
Chameleon in Olhao nature Reserve

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Bird Biodiversity Poem 0n the Sea Shore

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.

Ringed plover
Ringed plover

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.

Grey plover in adult winter plumage. Pluvialis squatarola.
Grey plover in adult winter plumage. Pluvialis squatarola.

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

Words we never knew
Words which are a sign
Words in different languages
For birds at the end of a line.

Will we never know
How many we have lost
Far out at sea
Can we count the cost?

Cabanas Sunday 032curlew back

The curlew is out there
With its haunting cry.
The whimbrel is whimpering
The waters have run dry.

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
Or lose a Stint or two.

Cabanas Sunday 013

Misstery Bird, Missing binoculars, Missing Birds. How many birds will we miss?

My first ventures at bird photography with the LUMIX was more successful than the dear old iPhone. It was also quite good to zoom in on birds to identify them as our binoculars have gone walkabout. In this photo I was trying to identify a large looking  egret but missed seeing the other two. It was only later, on the computer, I spotted the two other birds.

Photo of egret but includes a mystery bird camoflaged on the shore; largish with possibly long beak; curlew? and small wader paddling. Perhaps the zoom on the camera is better than the binoculars we have left in London!
Photo of Little Egret  but includes a mystery bird camoflaged on the shore; largish with possibly long beak; curlew? and small wader paddling!
Ringed plover
Ringed plover little, Charadrius dubius

I never thought how important binoculars would be some years ago when I tried using them and couldn’t focus at first. But the distinct colours and antics of birds became so vivid that now I feel lost without them. I remember the little brown bird in my garden, a dunnock,with its tawny golden streaked feathers.

Grey plover in adult winter plumage. Pluvialis squatarola.
Grey plover in adult winter plumage. Pluvialis squatarola.arden.
Another curlew on a sand bank
Another curlew on a sand bank, numenius arquata

In 2010 we walked along this stretch of the Ria Formosa by Cabanas Fort. This is a sandy dune habitat and a protected place for conservation of a range of habitats and seabirds. My eyes were opened to the variety of birds and trying to look for the leg or beak colours. This was another eye opener to the amazing range of birds I had never really thought about before.

But the curlew had always been a part of my imagination. A book read long ago in childhood described the haunting cry of the curlew. Now we need to listen to their plaintive cries and protect their habitats. Maybe the mystery bird is a curlew?  But could it be a whimbrel, a godwit or one of those green or red shanks… .? It was far too far  away to see and when I saw the photo it was also well camouflaged on the shoreline.  A bird to haunt me!

Now for the missing binoculars, not just one but two pairs. Is this what happens travelling between UK, Spain and Portugal? Unfortunately am still looking and having to use the camera to zoom in and capture a little bird.

More of a concern than the binoculars are the decline in bird numbers. How many different birds will we miss if we have never known the amazing variety that there are?    Just for starters…. Kentish plover, Ringed plover, Little ringed plover, Golden plover, Grey plover, Dotterel and let’s not confuse Dunlin, Sanderling and Knot or take a Stint or two.

Maybe they all deserve a poem or a shipping forecast with their amazing names.

First bird shots with lumix bridge camera

A kind of Egret in the almond orchards with Bermuda buttercups
A kind of Egret in the almond orchards with Bermuda buttercups

My hat goes off to all those bird photographers out there. I am often amazed by the clarity and closeness of the images. I will persevere but spotting these rather large birds and then zooming in on them wasn’t easy.

Along the shore of the Ria Formosa in the Algarve at this time of year is a wader’s paradise. Of course some of them like the meadows nearby and on one of our walks we heard a lot of croaking. So the frogs are busy along with the bees in the almond blossom.

we have been without our binoculars so the camera helped with some identification and we think we have seen the following : turnstones, dunlin or knot, ringed plover and grey plover, curlew and cormorant, and maybe some green shanks.

Egret on the shore at Cabanas de Tavira, Algarve, Portugal.
Egret on the shore at Cabanas de Tavira, Algarve, Portugal.