September and October have passed in a flurry of activity, visits to the UK and Ireland have filled the days. But now we are back we can stand and stare as we did this morning. A cat still, poised up on the cork tree was there for a good 10 minutes. We were surprised by its behaviour, its ears, and finally tail when we saw it. This cat was fitting so much of the identification features of a wild cat. Here they are called gato de monte, cat of the mountain. They are similar to domestic cats but the ones we have here that are to some extent feral have quite different faces, colours and markings. We know the local cats but had never seen one like this one.
After remaining in the tree for such a long time it delighted us by descending crossing the new grass and then seemed to pose for photos. We saw its teeth quite clearly, tail and markings. I have also seen what I thought to be a wild cat some months ago, much bigger than our usual moggies round here and with the tail. And a larger version of this one which was quite young. When we first moved here we were told there was a wild cat living near the studio where there are some rocks and caves. We suspect this one is a hybrid but are fascinated to see such a different type of cat and are fairly sure it isn’t just a beautiful tabby on the hunt.
There are a lot of autumnal colours at Navasola at the moment as the leaves of the oaks and fruit trees are well advanced with their colour changes. The chestnuts are the last to bud in May and the last to fall. The chestnuts are not quite ready to be picked yet. We will have that pain and pleasure in about a weeks time.
The weather has been warm and mild until this weekend and the red ladybirdlike beetles are intent on mating perhaps.
But for this bumble bee we think it is near the end of its life and was found struggling to fly. We offered sugar water and a safe place but many bees and bumblebees begin to die off in late Autumn or the Queen is looking to hibernate.
It was good to walk around the finca and enjoy the autumn colours and the sunlight through the trees and the rocks covered in green mosses again.
I seem to do well with the fruits that I do not cultivate or irrigate.I enjoyed blackberry picking in September from the wild parts of the finca, that is most of it! The Madrono or Strawbeyy trees always give a good show of colour in autumn with both flowers and fruit apppearing at the same time. The flowers will be next years red berries. The berries are gritty but we have managed jam from them but not found the means to prepare a madrono liquor.The quince goes well with apples and creates a good contrasting taste and also makes good membrillo jam which the Spanish eat with cheese. There’s quite a harvest this year as we have had so much rain and the chestnuts too should be larger than last year.
Mushroom foraging is a popular and possibly lucrative activity in these parts. We have found a variety this year as shown in the photos. I am not hurrying to pick or eat these as identification is hard work but we do pick the tall ‘gallipiernas’ as shown in the photo below.
And to leave you with the cat. Is it or isn’t it a Gato de monte?
Time to officially say goodbye to summer. All the migratory birds are getting ready for their long journeys. Although this year there were many swifts around the village of Castaño de Robledo we had not seen any bee eaters perched high on branches around the valley of Navasola. Occasionally we would hear some high pitched calls high in the sky but there were no bee eaters ready to pose as in previous summers. Finally, we saw a great host of golden wings, at least 30 or more, above the track by the campsite. I am not sure what a large gathering of
bee-eaters might be called but we had witnessed this before in Portugal. We think it happens as lots of birds gather together, travel together, finding good food sources before their journey back to Africa for the winter. I think an angelic host could be fitting as their wings whirr and flash golden light in the Andalucian blue skies. We wish them safe journeys and look forward to their returns.
What happens to all the grasshopper, crickets, cicadas at the end of summer? We can still hear them in the trees in the evenings but the noise of their whirring legs against their wing cases seems less intense. Perhaps the summer work is almost over. More young will be ready to develop and hatch out at the end of this winter.
Does one red rump swallow a summer make? We saw quite a few swallows in early spring in the Algarve but haven’t seen that many in the villages of the Sierra Aracena this year.
Here are some House Martin young from a previous year. They seem to be imprinting their surroundings and gathering for their long journey back. This year they arrived late in the Algarve and usually we see them here in late September and October. We are by the sea at the moment waiting for my grand daughter to arrive for her first and possibly last trip as a European citizen. Brexit looms and glooms. Perhaps it is the conjunction of Mars and Saturn so clearly seen last night in the summer sky over the Atlantic that makes me edgy about the future. How much time is being wasted on the politics of arrogance, exclusion and supposed greatness? Meanwhile the planet warns us with temperature rises we can do something about and constant degradation of the natural world and its wild places and inhabitants which we can prevent, now. Those in power who cannot focus on this agenda fail the younger generation.
We have had a wonderful summer of beautiful nights out with stars and full blood moons. I wrote a piece based on my first night sleeping at the finca. It was often so dark and remote but we build up fears about the dark rather than celebrate its beauty and in Mediterranean culture its coolness. So much happens here late at night and early morning in the summer. We have had plenty of good music from the early music festival in my previous post to rock, jazz and flamenco. Also in the Sierra there’s has been a feast of art exhibitions, theatre, acrobatic drama and a book festival too. Unfortunately we missed our friends Ruth Koenigsberger and Sol Fernandez Coll. But we managed to hear our local writer Margaret Van Epp speak about her book about the historical stories local people have told her. I have also enjoyed some summer reading and love the short stories of Annika Perry, a fellow writer and blogger. I am building up the rejections on my novel but I will press on as I think it is an entertaining and imaginative approach to understanding the value of biodiversity in the 21 st Century.
In the U.K. we enjoyed the annual Fairport Festival at Cropredy and even danced to Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and their band reliving Pet Sounds and the Beach Boys under a more stormy British sky. The rains decided to come as we camped in middle England. We slept in the van we would use to move house! Here is Olivia helping drive our hired VW transporter full of books and stuff for our new base in the U.K. She seems happy we will be nearby.
For now I have a terrible desire for a camping van( hybrid, electric, solar powered?) and will also head to the beach with the crowds for this last day of summer. I haven’t been swimming in the sea yet! I keep thinking life will slow down so I can write and blog more but this Grandma business seems to take over!
The May in May. The beautiful hawthorn near the back of our house and its may blossom in the sunshine.
Wild peonies after the rain.
The mayhem here in the south of Spain is not just of the political kind as Spanish democracy votes in a new Prime Minister. Here the weather has remained cool, cloudy but with some beautiful sunshine and thunderous storms. May has gone, the month and as yet not the long suffering UK Prime Minister! Our month of May has been full of wild, wet and windy weather but with some glorious moments. Weather forecasters here in Spain seem to blame this on the USA and Canada. Well,it seems there has been a meeting of a cold front and a warm front and that’s blown over to us across the Atlantic!
Don’t cast a clout till May is out, goes the proverb.But June too began with cloudy, thunder threatening, days.With this inclement weather some wild ones arrived seeking shelter near the house. The feral kitten population seems to expand around this time but we rarely see them again. They will not come near and I fear many give up their lives to the foxes, mongoose, and snakes that live or should live outside of our house.
My day in May began with the need to photograph the very green mosses on the rocks and experiment some more with my new camera. I wanted some close ups before the moss dries out and I had become fascinated by these ‘micro forests’ since reading the book ‘The Signature of All Things’. The main character Alma specialises in mosses and ‘discovers’some of the principles of evolution through a detailed study of adaptation. She talks about’moss time’ and the very slow evolutionary changes that take place. However, on reading the book ‘The Emerald planet’ about how plants have changed and adapted to planetary conditions, it seems it took over 40 million years for leaves to come into existence and changes in carbon levels in the atmosphere affected this. Human evolution in comparison to this took minimal time.
So after the sunny morning taking photos of mosses, wild flowers,camelia and lilac,the clouds came and then dramatic storms.
It was thunderous and torrential rain. Dramatic change. And then T discovered a 3ft long snake disappearing behind some of my plant pots. We were struggling to identify this and it was very difficult to take a clear photo.
And then another day, a month later, we had more torrential rain and another visitor. I had taken shelter from this downpour inside the house in my sanctuary but on the storeroom side T saw a snake’s tail. We identified this one quite easily.
Snakes in the South of Spain and Portugal.
We are lucky that there are few venomous snakes here and none with particularly fatal bites. I think more people in this area might be hospitalised for eating the wrong kind of wild mushrooms.
Snakes are a vital part of an ecosystem and like most wild animals would rather escape from us humans but can be dangerous if trapped or threatened in some way. Snakes may have a bad press but we can learn to live near them if we take a few precautions.
We identified the snake in early June as a ladder snake with two distinct stripes. Just visible from my yet another failed attempt to photo a snake. These snakes have markings like a ladder when young. As they become adult and much larger the ladder rungs disappear and leave the two stripes along the length of the snake. Snakes will certainly help control a rodent population. We think there are some bumps to be seen. Perhaps a swallowed mouse or small rat.
On looking at the snake in May I have begun to think that this was a ladder snake but it looked a bit circular or even zig zag like a viper. Perhaps the rungs are just beginning to disappear on this one. It certainly did not fit any other similar snakes for our area so think this is the answer. We couldn’t see its head either; a triangular shaped head and vertical pupils indicate vipers and therefore poisonous.
One amazing fact about ladder snakes is that the females stay with their young for a few days. A more sanguine fact is they can be aggressive and bite and these bites can be painful even though not poisonous. Snake bites contain anti coagulants that prevents the blood from clotting and so can take time to heal too.
So what to do with a snake in the house, over 3 feet long, possibly a good rodent killer but with a painful bite if suddenly disturbed. Well, the internet and some helpful advice. We thought about the blanket option of covering over the snake and then gathering it into a bag. I didn’t quite like the idea of the broom to guide it to the door and this was the upper part of the house and no door to the outside! Our ecologist friend sent a note about providing a black bag or box as snakes like dark places. Well, there were plenty of dark spaces behind all the boxes and it had gone under a bag near the pipes. In this area we left one of the natural rocks and built over it. We thought the snake would hide there.
Too much deliberation. When we came to look under the bag by the rock the snake had gone. After some thought we think there may be a natural hole in the rock and the snake has left the house. I did check under the bed that night though.
Here is a good phone photo of another kind of southern Spain and Portugal snake. This was taken by a friend in Cabanas de Tavira. It has distinct markings and is a horse shoe whip snake. Photo opportunities of wild ones are all about good observation, quick thinking and fast shutter speed, and luck with the light!
Most of our days in May have been spent on exploring some local walks suggested by a bird and wildlife guidebook to our part of the Sierra Morena. It has been good walking weather and an abundance of wild flowers. Hopefully I can run some posts on these when I return from another visit to see my grandchild, now trying to stand! She is growing so fast but with all the changes in my life I just about manage a blog post a month. I will try and keep posting and keep up with all your posts too.
The human world seems to be distracting me from blogging. But I have been out and about at Navasola and also able to try photographs with a friend’s lumix camera. It was quite disturbing at first as all I wanted was an ordinary still photo and it was set on 4K! It’s been quite a learning curve and I have also been busy in my veg plot trying to create some beds which will retain moisture. I am trying out Hugel Kultur as I have lots of wood and have laid down branches at the base. More on that another time.
April and May have seen Navasola full of wild flowers so here is a glimpse of that glory as the heat from Saharan Africa has already reached us and the Spring flowers have given way to the more drought and heat resistant scabious and mulleins.
First the peonies. There were the most I’ve seen on the Finca this year. It was hard to photograph the overall effect so there are some close ups with the new lumix camera.
Some of my favourites here in Spring are the tassel hyacinths, palmate anemone, celandine and the knapweed.
But there’s always the Spanish broom and Spanish lavender or French unless you are in Spain! Photo angle courtesy of Steve Schwartzman’s very informative blog for photography tips and botany.
I also had difficulty cultivating one of the vegetable beds. It was full of poppies and a first for me. I couldn’t then remove these beauties! Dig up the ground and they will come!
We have had had plenty of birds around too but it is our water bath that is the draw not any food we put out! One day red rumped swallows checked out our new porch but didn’t return. Another day the sky was full of vultures. There must have been over 30 gathering and some flew so low over us you could hear the wing beats.
Greetings to all those bloggers out there who follow me. I have been keeping an eye on your posts but needed to get back in gear. A new blogger and follower from a place I lived in 30 odd years ago sparked me to return to share. Landscaping Nature from Hyderabad in South India. I have got further with my novel about the wild world and hope the blog can also help inspire us with nature and it’s diverse wonders.
From a very lush and wet warm summer in London, through the beautiful greens of France, stained glass of Chartres, Cloudy heights of the Pyrennes, Cool air of Bejar, to the hot and dry Sierra Aracena. However, the Sierra is always green in summer because of its varied trees; chestnuts, oaks and various poplars and willow.
The red admiral landed happily on the sunflower planted by my daughter in London. She loves the garden, birds but is not so sure about the flying insect world! The wild bit at the back with nettles helps the red admiral thrive.
Arriving at our finca there were few wild flowers. It’s the wild carrot time and a few yellow mullein. Most was quite dry. Apart from my garden areas where Ruth had admirably kept the plants well watered from the drought and heat of July and August.
A pretty wall brown landed for a while on the echinacea near the house. Bees and other pollinators seem to like this cultivated flower.
Another long journey. This cricket was on the windscreenwipers. We thought it would jump or be blown off. It stayed on its green home, our car, while we collected our freshly baked bread from our local village. It is an alternative bakery with organically grown wheat or rye flour. A large traditional clay oven is used. The cricket waited.
And the cricket returned for its photo opportunity and chance to be a celebrity in my animal stories of Navasola! We think its pholidoptera griseoptera, a dark bush cricket. There are so many, and then there’s the true crickets. And the cave cricket. And a camel cricket! It was light brown and the Dominion guide suggests there are several similar species in Southern Europe.
There is certainly a cricket with a high pitched chirp and it keeps me awake at night too. At least its not aircraft noise and it is rather soothing.
In April and May it was so wet. The rainfall in May filled our pond to overflowing. We went down to investigate the water level in the pond now. There was nothing. Last year it had retained water at a lower level through the long dry summer. Why had it dried out? The evidence was before us. That wild boar family that loved rolling in the mud in May. I guess now they’ve scored an own goal. No more water in the pond. Tusk marks in the strong, expensive, plastic base. Without this, the water did just drain away. We will have to rethink on this one. Seems a shame to put a boarproof fence around a water hole.
We’ve also just been reading about reports of wild boar, jabeli, visiting the beaches in Spain. At dusk I think and still not quite sure which beaches.The report in Spanish was about the increase in the wild boar population. Not enough hunters? I say, not enough wolves! We’ve got 7 more baby boar on our small finca. Perhaps some will move to the coast?
Apologies for not much blogging recently. I think I have been suffering from my own drought. I have been trying to re edit the first chapter of my novel.It’s been quite a journey writing it, literally as it has taken in a quest through Spain, France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Holland and the UK. A nature quest! I have also spent a lot of time struggling with rewriting the beginning and becoming anxious about the next stage. There have also been the chores and the DIY and clearing of beloved brambles and the heat! Most needs to be done in the early morning!
Thank you to all who read this far and have been following my journey. I look forward to some more catching up with you all. The weather is a little bit cooler. I have re edited my first chapter!
We are on the move again! This time we have stopped in Chartres to finally visit this most elegant and spiritual cathedral. With its stunning stained glass, lofty towers and the very special labyrinth, it is a a must to visit. And I feel to return to. The son et lumiere on the rose windowed portal at night was also delightful. Quite a show.we have chatted with visitors and tried a bit of French! There seem to be less visitors at present but our hotel is full. Whenever we visit France there is always something so beautiful to see. On our way to our London home we saw the Osprey in Orleans Forest. Now we see this special place for the first time instead of just passing by. Soyez courageux. We should show our friendship with France and make sure we visit when we can!
On the other side of the fence the grass is always greener.
Post BREXIT it MUST be for the sake of our green and pleasant land!
I have been grappling with the consequences of the referendum vote and have attempted to share with you my understanding about the EU directives for Nature and Farming subsidies. We all need to be more clued up as our government will begin to frame new legislation or perhaps include EU ones. We must ensure that the UK becomes Greener however muddy the grass looks now. Nature deserves the best from us.
By 2016, the EU under the direction of Member States and the European Parliament has achieved the world’s best record of comprehensive directives and legislation to ensure the environment we humans live in and the rest of the biodiverse species that live in or visit Europe are protected. Protected from habitat destruction, air and water pollution, climate change. Considering the EU started out as an elite club for business this record in my mind and that of many British conservation organisations had been a good reason to vote remain.
Profit before planet or planet before profit is a way of deciding actions in a very complex world. Dare we continue to decide profit first? There is a terrific decline in the numbers of migratory and farmland birds. Add to that the decline in our diverse range of pollinators. We will all profit if we protect the diversity of the natural world.
The wildlife trusts made a statement about why they advocated remain but also stated that whatever the outcome it would need all organisations that care about nature to step up and ensure environmental protection is continued and improved. The cliff we are really on the edge of is a climate that will make supporting diverse forms of life more difficult. Habitat destruction, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, reducing carbon emissions and preserving water are paramount to all life on earth. The EU directives attempt to address this.
In Britain we should be proud of the role we have played in this within the EU. As a public we support many conservation organisations like the RSPB and have a love for the British countryside and nature. Even political parties at different ends of the political spectrum; UKIP and the Green Party, their MEPs voted against any relaxation in the EU directives and legislation which protects our rapidly dwindling natural world.
David Attenborough expressed his concern about the environmental effect of leaving the EU. It is now the time for all of the public, whichever way we voted, and the charities that look after our beautiful and green England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to hold our politicians to account and ensure that our precious natural places, wildlife and countryside are at the forefront of new legislation and will abide by the EU directives for nature.
BUT we also have the thorn in the side of farm subsidies. Subsidies to support hardworking farmers manage when crops or markets fail may seem a good idea. However, these payments to farmers, landowners have not been without controversy in the history of the EU. From an investigative journalism website there were details of where this EU collected money went to in each country. Now I knew some of this but when I began to look at the ones that had benefitted from very high amounts I was shocked. From a farmer in Romania being given a subsidy of 400 euros to the Duke of Westminster( considered the third richest person in the UK) receiving half a million. His Polish distributors, Cogent received over 8 billion in dairy subsidies. Now, this might mean support for many farmers in Poland but it seems a lot. Finally, there has been a drive to reform these subsidies.
Examples of EU work to reform aspects of farm subsidies
Luxembourg (2012) ‘Greening Instruments – menu for
Member States within the EU framework’. Presented to the
Special Committee on Agriculture. April 2012.
European Commission (2012) Concept paper – May 2012
Agricultural Council – Greening
IEEP (2012) Agriculture and Rural Development –
European Parliament rapporteur reports and conference on shaping the future CAP
Defra feedback at CAP Greening Workshop held on 5 October 2012.
The National Trust & The Co-operative Farms – ELS+
in England post 2014 – Report
Cumulus Consultants Ltd & IEEP – CC-P-570
The Common Agricultural Policy ( CAP) reform is intended,
to address the challenges of climate change
and sustainable management of natural resources,
look after the countryside and help
make these subsidies …GREENER!
The E.U. pays out more than half its annual budget, around €53 billion, in farm subsidies, four times as much as the United States. The subsidies cost each European Union citizen around €110 a year, according to the European Commission, a healthy chunk for a family of four. The money is raised from customs duties, sales taxes and a contribution made by each E.U. country based on its wealth.
In order to make Farming and Environmental concerns link up and be more accountable there have been a variety of initiatives. Environmental Stewardship, Ecosystem Services and general Rural Development funding.
With the Brexit battlebus and the millions to be saved in money to the EU there has already been cries from various recipients of EU money to ensure continuity. Much has been invested by EU money through CAP, to charities like the National Trust with environmental concerns and other rural development funding. It seems in Cornwall there has been major investment in rural development and the plans were for this to continue into 2020.
I have read some interesting blogs on these and on ecosystem services and new ideas from the EU. Miles King Miles King
Jeff Ollerton Jeff Ollerton
The New York Times reports
At the same time, the E.U. was shifting more funds away from farmers to a rural development plan that paid out €8.5 billion last year. The idea was to wean the countryside off its addiction to subsidies by encouraging it to diversify.
The money, according to E.U. guidelines, could flow to any number of development objectives: organic farming, farm tourism, infrastructure, renewable energy products and rural businesses. National governments were given great leeway in choosing recipients.
e.g that is how a gravel manufacturer like Arids qualifies for farm subsidies, as did Pasquina, which collected €1.13 million for its new asphalt factory in Spain. The Spanish utility Endesa also was eligible — it received €466,000 for installing electrical connections.
Cargill — the mammoth food producer that is the largest privately held company in the United States, with revenues of €120 billion in 2008. Last year Cargill received at least €10.5 million, collecting subsidies in eight E.U. countries.http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/17/business/global/17farms.html?_
Other sources for this blog
Lawton, J.H. et al. (2010)
Making Space for Nature: a review of England’s wild
life sites and ecological network
Report to Defra.
The National Trust & The Co-operative Farms – ELS+
in England post 2014 – Report Cumulus Consultants Ltd & IEEP – CC-P-570
The UK government with our pressure MUST
1. Ensure the same if not better level of environmental protection and strengthen the EU nature directives. The UK helped create them. 2. Ensure any subsidies for farming is linked into the already good work achieved by many landowners in Environmental Stewardship. Have high standards for nature, farm animals and sustainable farming. 3. Public accountability and transparency in how this becomes UK law and is abided by. 4. Involvement of a wide alliance of environmental organisations in the development of any new regulations, use of tax payers money for farm subsidies, and further progress in keeping England greener than green.
We must ensure we are not ‘fracked off’ into the sidelines of environmental progress. I am not sure but I believe our role in the EU has helped lead on this. We can still help and support other countries in the EU and elsewhere through e.g Birdlife International and other groups but we will have lost the power to really influence the way the EU moves forward on the environment. We may just be too busy dealing with the outcomes of this post brexit world on our own environment and lives.
There is the loss. Nature has no Borders. There needs to be cooperation and leadership at this time in the world’s history. Joined Up thinking.
SO we must ensure we are GREENER on all sides of any fences. Then maybe, just maybe there would be no need for fences.