This August we have been in Spain, Portugal, and then the UK and in various counties, Oxfordshire, Lancashire, Northumberland, Yorkshire. Holiday time for the grandchildren has been busy and also catching up with friends, family and a wedding after those two quiet years.
And so this is a quick post to catch up with myself and with the blog on the last day of August.
Finally family can visit but now has to be August because of school holidays. Water is becoming problematic even in our ‘wet’ Sierra. Some villages now have water shortages. The water levels are low and there is no way to pipe water from the reservoir. So Seville gets plenty and no restrictions but many here do not. Fuenteheridos springs still flowing but down in the important wetlands of Doñana so many lagoons are completely dry which is devastating for birdlife there.
Exploring Navasola and the local villages where each have a municipal pool with good showers and a bar. ‘Encanto’ the film was a bit of a theme. Did this link us to ‘building a house with the help of the village’!
We were also lucky in Portugal to see wild dolphins ‘playing’ off the Algarve coast along the Ria Formosa. A first for me. They stayed awhile and it was as if the whole beach were given a spectacular show. Sorry no pics just in the ‘inner eye’.
And we loved the gecko in our bathroom.
And it was also so good to have so much open air music; in the local village squares, in Tavira and back in the UK at Cropredy with Fairport Convention. I finally get to use my ticket after a two year wait.
Bee eaters visit Norfolk, build a nest in a sandhole and at least two babes have now fledged.
In London German Shepherds ‘parent’ a rescued kitten.
I hope August has brought some happiness and holiday time in spite of all the news and for us the problems with drought and wildfires in Europe. It is time for governments to act on climate change issues. Our grandchildren deserve to inherit and enjoy a nature rich world where extremes of climate do not destroy lives.
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.
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.
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.
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 –
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.
At the turning of 2019 to 2020 there was hope. For so many it has been a life changing year and with challenges for all of us. January 2020 was a milestone as my younger daughter turned 30 and celebrated in style with many friends. She was one of the lucky ones of her 1990 compatriots. Then in March, all changed and she was sent her shielding letter. In many ways she has been isolating since but with the good fortune of her wonderful partner and their dogs.
I was going to write a post about pre lockdown at Navasola. We had two very full months with our visit to the wetlands of Doñana and walks around our local villages.
My plan was to post on each of the villages of the Sierra Aracena. It was soon too eerie to do that and no walking outside was allowed under the very strict Spanish lockdown. I was fortunate to have acres to work in and clear new paths like a wild bison and and to have an indoor sanctuary for writing.
I was also ready to post about the art classes our friend Ruth Koenigsberger started for her friends. We were first learning about how to use light and shade. We went and sat by the marble rocks of a disused quarry. There were some worrying news items but at the time in Andalucia there were few cases and all seemed contained. Then it seemed sudden as we were all put into ‘confinamiento’. The photos are from the post I never posted at the time! We have been fortunate that Ruth has continued to share her skills with us and her latest paintings.
I worried about family in the UK. My older daughter was pregnant and a nurse. We talked and agreed how many close family and friends had health issues that made them more vulnerable to this virus. She came through a more anxious pregnancy than in normal times. We were blessed with a beautiful baby girl in October.
From March to May we followed from a distance a very personal and difficult encounter with this virus. My close friend’s husband became ill. At first perhaps, it was like a flu and shingles but it changed to terrible difficulty in breathing. He did not want to go into hospital but was encouraged to by all, including my older daughter who knew him well. We were relieved he was in the best place. He was helped with oxygen for his breathing and he never really lost consciousness but his lungs were severely damaged. Two weeks after his 70 th birthday on VE Day he passed from this life. This leaves that unfathomable loss of a close partner and soul mate for my friend but his work as a writer and academic, his astute wry understandings, friendship and warm hospitality are a loss to us all.
I found myself with very ‘tight’ finances and some loss of income. I reluctantly cancelled some charity giving. But in April I responded to the London Marathon Charities appeal. So instead of running 26 miles I decided to write 26 poems for Nature and fundraiser for the birds whose songs brought a lot of joy to folk in lockdown. I have been fortunate to have many fellow bloggers, friends and family contribute to this. I will keep the link open a bit longer as ever in hope of more contributions to the much needed restoration of our natural world. This challenge certainly kept me blogging and writing poetry when I was not fully minded to write much.
Ruth allowed me to use some of her paintings which also inspired poems. Nick and Trevor also gave much information on many of the plants and creatures around us in the Sierra.
As the year ends we can look back and we do miss seeing and being in close contact with all our friends. Perhaps we have made more phone calls and zoomed but we do look forward to hugs, bear hugs and lots of real reunions. Thank you all who follow me in the virtual world and for all your inspiring posts, photographs and creativity.
I have spent a long time trawling through photos and trying to save those on Whats App. I also looked at drafts on my blog and was surprised by many I forgot to post or it was well past the post it date. The memorial writing below comes from a draft post in 2015. It was about our Quaker wedding and the different perspectives on the Quaker ideas of Light, God and Love. I also listened to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi speak about light and love being increased within us when we expand our conscious mind by transcending in meditation. I was thinking about a more philosophical blog at the time and then started on writing a novel.
One close friend was absent from our wedding. She was a devout catholic who died from leukaemia within a week of her 60 th birthday. This was on her memorial card and I love the way it makes the connections between light and love. In a very divided and wounded world we hope to find ways to restoring health for all life through love and understanding our complex world. Enlightening ourselves. Or as Quakers say ‘holding each other in the light’.
As many of you will know I am trying to finish this 26 poetry challenge I started during our Spanish lockdown experience. We are currently entering back into that phase here in the North of the UK and I still have three poems to go. However, we have managed to spend time with Jessica Rose, our new arrival and focus of my last post. All is going well.
This poem is forDverse poets open link night, always a source of inspiration and able to kick start me. http://www.dversepoets.com
This poem is about the very successful and world wide species of black kites. The drawing is by Ruth Konisgsberger and is part of the portrait of the character of the black kite in my novel. I will do a post on this as soon as I finish these poems! Black kites do visit the Sierra on their migration, some breed here. However, nowadays the red kites seem more common.
It is the equinox, the official end of long summer days. It is thought that this rather than any change of temperature is the way the migrating birds know they must leave for Africa’s warmth and food. The swifts usually go in August but house martins often have a second brood and will leave as late as September. The bee-eaters gather together too around this time. At Navasola there have been storms so perhaps some are still waiting to go. Here are two poems to two of Navasola’s summer visitors. One who has become a character in my novel and this drawing of him by my artist friend Ruth. His name is Abe Apio and he flies north in a quest to find a cooler place for a Navaselva buff-tailed bumblebee.
Abe Apio the bee-eater of my dreams.
Abe Apio you never leave me
Your brightness stirs my words
As your story moves me to write
Of your struggle to save
Not just bees.
You Can Not Keep a Swallow in a Zoo
This child delights in her own toy zoo,
A gorilla and tiger stalking through
A mat of savannah tufted strands.
A plastic fence surrounds a zebra.
A lion lies down with a flamingo.
The sun beats through a round bay window
Of a neat corner house with stained glass
Swallows at the front door and on the wall.
All this made the warmth of summer kind
In a chilly northern seaside town.
And this child did not know
What she knows now.
You can not keep a swallow in a zoo.
Now she counts the swallows as so few fly by.
The ones with red rump feathers preened
Prefer these southern lands with barns,
And ruins of long ago times,
Where with martins and swifts.
Built nests under old tiled roofs.
With holes and a rural disregard
For cleanliness that bleaches bare all life.
We thought some swallows might adorn our porch
But one hit a window and took a time
To fly again high enough to see
The windows of heaven
Where the ark is waiting.
Each poem conforms to my challenge to write 26 poems for the 26 miles of the London marathon which was not run this year and many charities have lost vital funds. A poem will either have 26 words and be haiku inspired or 26 lines. Each poem will be about different species found around Navasola.
My charity is the Royal Society for Protection of Birds and their links with Birdlife International. Please help them help the birds that know no borders. Much work has gone on to protect habitats and raise awareness of the importance of birds to the balance of nature. The decline in bird numbers and in particular swallows is worrying.
There are brown birds, blackbirds, multicoloured birds, white birds. Sometimes it is the brown birds that are easily overlooked, not colourful enough. But when you look closely, the browns are so varied and so beautifully marked, full of different tones and hues, perfectly adapted to their life in the woods.
This post is in memory of George Floyd who can no longer be with us to hear the winged creatures of our wounded world. May he be at rest and his family find solace in God, friendships, the beauty of nature and justice.
And there is a link to an article that I found very moving published in Sierra Club,an old established American conservation organisation. We have to understand and act against the kinds of thinking that allows our natural world to be destroyed and for many brown and black lives to not matter throughout the world. https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/racism-killing-planet
To the beauty of the brown bird whose name we do not know. A japanese style painting by Ruth Koenigsberger.
These are poems about some of our local birds seen from our porch. All woodland birds but very wild, cautious, shy perhaps and not easy to photo. The serin stayed just long enough balanced on a thin stem of wild cress that was left on our ‘lawn’ for pollinators to enjoy. And they did gather. We wish we saw more but we hear them and then they hide if we start to look for them. Wild birds do not seem to like eyes staring at them.
On Not seeing the birds for the trees
Somewhere in the woods
Behind a branch, beyond our gaze.
Birds are heard
If you dare to fix your eyes
Let the leaves dazzle your days.
10. Blue Tit or Herrerillo in Spanish, Parus caeruleus in latin
What’s in a name?
A titter or two?
But not in Spain
Where more rare
the tiny herrerillo
Is a sight to see.
To paint perhaps.
11. Redstart, Colirojo real in Spanish, Phoenicurus phoenicurus in latin
Not seen for so long
You fly into our life for water.
Fresh feathers feel cleansed.
Dash of red dips and dives.
Stay a moment more.
12. Goldfinch, Jilguero in Spanish, Carduelis carduelis in latin
Gilded gloss on olive trunk
I see you for the first time.
Once you lived in pines
B graves of the long dead
In a far off place.
13. Firecrest, Reyezuelo in Spanish, Regulus ignicapilus in latin
Slow flight up each branch
Of the young cork you dart
Looking for something
That you will find
And I will not.
14. Serin, Verdecillo in Spanish Serinus serinus in latin
Hello, who are you?
Upon the fine stem
How do you pose,
unswaying, long enough?
Camera shaken, book taken
To discover the name
You already knew.
If you would like to sponsor me on this 26 poem challenge the link is below and on the previous poems too. These poems are all written in my 26 word format. This time more freestyle than haiku and other Japanese forms with certain syllables to each line.
Was from a rickshaw, bald heads gathering around a corpse
A photo taken, a memory forgotten, no remorse
Until those eyes met mine and I finally heard.
Perfectly poised to penetrate death
A holy land where human harm leaves only dog
To scavenge the remains of a very manmade mess
The vultures gone to save the sacred cows distress
Slow painful death by inner unknown toxic smog.
Perfectly poisoned by human kind
And then a vulture of a different kind arose
Above the canyons of an ancient world made new
Condors with wingspans lifting in the thermal flows
Photos to remind us that now they too are few.
Perfect flight, sight, smell to search out death
Within a classroom Africa’s vultures I undermine.
Love of a feathered mate counts the human cost
To pass exams, context, effect, unthread that line
Where one key word shouts out what has been lost.
Perfect partners raising young
Here, the vultures rise again in Spanish skies
Mostly griffon with pointed feathered wings
Black, maybe, if really large, the vulture kings
Alive, hanging on that human thread that tries.
Love protecting life
This poem is about my own encounters with vultures, from my early years in India, where I took many sights for granted as vultures were so common then and such perfect scavengers. In my middle years I had a wonderful trip with my daughters to Peru where we saw condors in the Colca Canyon. In my teaching years the poem Vultures by Chinua Achebe would haunt me, not because of the vultures but because of the concentration camp name which none of our students had heard of. English lessons then would become history lessons too.
Vultures are endangered and face many threats, electrocution, poisoning, loss of habitat, and in India because there was no awareness why the vulture population was dying off until the link bewtween drugs given to sacred cows was found to be lethal for vultures.
Here in our Andalucian skies we can see vultures above our house. Some may be the very endangered black vultures from the Aroche colony, or more likely the griffon vultures, which from one of the links seems to suggest there has been some conservation success because of the joint efforts of different groups and laws to protect these amazing birds.
The poem has been constructed according to my 26 poem challenge for the conservation charity the RSPB who also support Birdlife International. There are 26 lines but the italicised lines are also 26 words in praise of the important place vultures have in nature and in human lives. The feral dogs in India that have moved in to take over the place of vultures are more dangerous to humans than vultures have ever been.
If you wish to donate to my challenge the link is below.
I have few words this month and although I hope for everyone to be safe and well I know that there is much worry and suffering for so many. Our life here goes on much the same but without the social contact and nature trips like this one from February. We set out on our annual pilgrimage to Donana wetlands where we hope to see great flocks of flamingos. One of our favourite places en route is by the bird sanctuary of Canada de los Pajaros. Many storks gather and nest here. So we stopped to see storks flying high together in a very bright blue sky, nesting in the pines, and making their wonderful bill clapping sounds.
After being quite stork struck I wandered up the path. There was bird poo all over the prickly pear, so I looked up. There were lot of large stork nests. I saw a bird move so got the camera on it. I thought it might have been a young stork or egret. The first photo told me very little but the next few meant that I had got on camera the birds that had eluded me last year.
Yes, indeed, the beak gives it all away and I finally got some good photos of a spoonbill.
Hope this may have made you wonder a little bit about nature and the amazing diversity of birds and beaks. For everyone lisening and looking more at the wonderful birdlife around us. Lets cherish the birds and keep them safe too with good conservation of the habitats they need.
Rushing to update now as this all ran ahead of me and published with a mind of its own. More on Donana and explorations around Finca Navasola next time. Love to all.
We took a day out to the Doñana Wetlands a week ago and for this week the 21st of March is a decision day in the European Parliament for securing the future sustainability of this most important habitat. The wetlands are becoming drier because of more use of the underground water table and rivers.
We took a short walk around the Dehesa de Abajo reserve on the edge of the Doñana wetlands.
We had a wonderful day out and come back feeling ‘filled up’ with birds. The closeness to storks nesting in nearby trees and wild flamingos swimming with necks underwater in the lake all made for a very bird fulfilling day. We also saw spoonbills, glossy ibis, egrets, linnets, black kites and buzzards.
The only shadow of the day is the knowledge that Doñana is at risk, with very low water levels but there is some action and Doñana is at the centre of a political battle for its survival. Local groups have taken the issue to national and European levels. There will be a decision made on the 21st of March at the European parliament that will hopefully outline the measures needed to protect this very special place. This could be an example of how the EU can be used to support and negotiate between different local and national interests.
The Doñana wetlands have been at risk and the water levels becoming unsustainable since at least 2013. There are a significant biodiversity of species that need these wetlands, including the iconic and threatened Iberian lynx. This area was designated a natural park by Spain and is also under the European Network of protected areas for nature.
We have been to visit on various occasions and in particular we like to walk around Dehesa de Abajo. This is more on the edge of Donana and quite accessible from Sevilla. It is also near the bird sanctuary of Canada de los Pajaros. This is only open at the weekends but is worthwhile to visit and support their rescue efforts. There is also the International Bird Fair being held again at the Visitor centre of Dehesa de Abajo from April 26th to 28th. These are birds without borders that need our support. http://www.donanabirdfair.es/home-2/
There are many pressures on this area of wetlands situated between the cities of Huelva and Sevilla. It seems there are many illegal wells extracting water for various reasons and there are four gas projects which are about to begin fracking for extraction of gas. Environmentalists and others have taken their concerns to the European Parliament as this should be a protected site under Spanish and EU laws and is also recognised by UNESCO as a unique habitat and important place for migratory birds.
One comment in a Spanish newspaper was about the need to balance the social economic needs of the region with those of the environment. The point of the International nature reserves networks is to protect against these pressures where the wildlife sites are crucial to many species across Europe. It is the first major wetland after the long migratory journey from Africa and across the Sahara Desert. Any further deterioration and loss will affect too many migratory birds. It is true to say that the Huelva region has suffered greatly economically in the past 10 years but the way to address this is not to pit this against these protected areas. Sustainable economic policies are much needed. Doñana could be a flagship as to whether the wetlands can be saved and measures taken to restore it where needed while also looking into the local economy and ways of improving this without drawing on the water table that supports these wetlands. I read recently how the Galapagos Isles were saved for the many unique species and restored within three years. It can be done.
The area has long had a rice growing economy, river transport and boats. Some of the new agriculture seems to stretch further away from Donana but does include vast strawberry growing. This kind of agriculture is very dependent on water throughout the whole year. Traditional Spanish agriculture is referred to as ‘dry’ and involves most growing taking place before the normal Mediterranean dry summers. This new business of fruit crops throughout the year, along with changes in the climate, more erratic rainfall and longer periods of drought will impact on the water tables and the wetlands if there is more unsustainable methods of agriculture. Changing to more use of renewable energy instead of new projects to extract gas from an area where the fragile water table could be disastrously affected should also be the way forward.
Unfortunately we see in progress a major threat to important wildlife habitats through the old ways of ‘business’ and economic growth. Spain could lead the way on this one with the support of European initiatives. Meanwhile students ask for a climate emergency to be declared. One Spanish poster and cry was ‘ Ni un grado mas ni un especia menos ‘ Not a degree more or a species less. The ideas of a Roosevelt style ‘green deal’ are thrown up into the air. The UN report gives 12 years to ensure global temperatures are kept from rising too high. Will there be action for a circular economy and not ‘business as usual’? Doñana and the future for its biodiversity is at stake now.
So having filled you up with the complexities of nature conservation and economic growth let me finish with some more of the birds that filled me up with such delight.
We came for the large flocks of flamingos before they leave.
I can only hope that in the years to come I can take my granddaughter to visit Doñana so she too can have the joy of being filled up with birds. And the birds can have safe places to stop at where they can fill up with food and create their next generation.
And here are more storks and other birds peacefully coexisting surrounded by an ecosystem supporting all kinds of life.
Lets all be like this egret and keep a watchful eye on what goes on around us. Our survival and that of this beautiful planet and all its inhabitants may depend on this.