Category Archives: Nature

26 Poems. Poem 3 The Hawthorn Tree

Here is poem no 3 of my charity challenge and with thanks and links to Dverse poets that inspired my poetry path and gave knowledge of many different forms of poetry. The prompt is open link  night but will be interesting as there is the idea to share about our lives and what we may depend on in this crisis. There is also a beautiful Mary Oliver poem on their post. Their link is below.

www.dversepoets.com

This is my attempt at a haibun. A Japanese form of descriptive prose ending with a haiku. My format for my challenge is 26 lines. Please don’t count! There were 26 in pages. Word press changes too much for me when writing lines! It describes my conservation dilemmas and good fortune to be outside in our woodland home where we are both well but the sadness of others loss is real and close. Stay safe, protect your health workers and protect the natural world so much depends on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Haibun Prose  Poem In Honour of Hawthorn Trees on whose lives so much depends.

The hawthorn tree stands near our Navasola house. It is rooted within the granite rocks of a ridge along the eastern valley slopes and must be decades old, young in comparison to the century old chestnuts and olives but wild and has freely chosen its niche. I once sat beneath it, in its shade to meditate. I heard a slight fluttering and dared to leave the peace inside to look out and see a tiny mother wren and her even tinier young spaced outa along a branch. My stillness and her quietness crossed a gap. I was in her home. The hawthorn tree is a special tree for it profits many. It may defend itself with sharp thorns but for hundreds of others it protects and nourishes while it propagates itself.

Time is being spent for me between the inside and outside of this virus ridden spring. Outside I follow the wild boar paths and become like the wild bison clearing a greater space. I hope the destruction I create will make way for the more vulnerable species that need more light, or that’s my plan, like my fire plan. I clear away a lot of life in hope of more. But I always leave the young hawthorn trees that break out amid a stranglehold of bramble and undergrowth of viburnum that becomes impenetrable canopy with woven strands of sarsaparilla. Dead bramble poles still reach up surrounding their young with protective thorns. Not much can enter, not much can grow here. My desire to protect the hawthorn seems to combine some vague awareness of its fairy connections to other worlds. In fairy and folklore, I later read it is sacred and if cut down, there will be some price to pay. So much depends on a hawthorn tree. So many species.

I was scrambling up the rocky path in a tired bramble scratched frenzy and a spiky branch was in my way, in my face, on my path. I was about to chop. I stared, not recognising the blossom heavy branch, each flower packed with deep vibrant pink.

This was the first time ever I saw so close the hawthorn flower, with its anther caps on, waiting for the right time to dust the insects, blow the pollen to the wind, and then look worn out, brown and wispy thin.

Storm clouds dark spring skies

My eyes caress your burst buds

Pink lips love propose.

 

 

This link shows some close up photography of hawthorns and was the closest I got to understanding what may be happening with those sexy lipped anthers. Hawthorns are also known for herbal remedies that improve the functioning of the heart!

Hawthorn. http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/indexmag.html?http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/artapr08/bj-hawthorn.html

The other link is for anyone who would like to sponsor me writing 26 poems for a well known nature charity, the RSPB. All charities are struggling with loss of income now so this is a small way I am encouraging myself and others to help. I also hope my poems can inspire and inform about 26 of our species here at Navasola.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/georginas-26-challenge-i-am-going-to-write-26-poems-about-the-wild-flora-and-fauna-here-on-our-woodland-finca-in-spain-i-will-post-these-on-my-blog

26 Poems for Nature. Poem 2. The Woodmouse Mother.

The poem of William Carlos Williams that begins with ‘ So much depends’ comes sadly to my mind this week. I  discovered it first in a wonderful book called ‘ Love That Dog’ by Sharon Creech. A beautifully simple book for young and old about poetry and loss with the young boy finally being able to express happier feelings and memories of a loved dog. I have also just finished listening to Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible, a long but well worth the listen or read. ‘So much depends.’..is quoted and used by one of the characters who also becomes a poet and doctor studying disease outbreaks after growing up in the Congo. She bears witness to the struggle of ordinary people there to survive in a country being exploited by outside interests and also suffers her own tragic loss.

So much has happened within a few months that is life changing for so many and for a close friend. We will have to learn to live within an uncertain world as many already do in parts of Africa, give support to each other and ensure we look after the natural world on whose healthy state we depend.

This  poem was written about the same time as the blackbird poem and for my charity challenge of 26 poems. Each verse is 26 words! Please don’t count them. I have several times. The illustration is by another good friend and neighbour who is a a botanist, naturalist and was a conservation specialist in a previous life in Africa and many other parts of the world. Thank you to Nick Clarke for allowing me to use your drawing. Here in the Sierra there are many wood mice, with slightly larger ears than the house mouse. But similar enough if they come in the house or as some of my close friends and followers know even take a car ride.

A Wood Mouse Mother; so much depends on where you make your nest.

By Nick Clarke

You come so close to us.
You leave your trail of our
Chestnuts, quickly nibbled,
But really, yours.
As these are from your woods
Not ours.

You make your nest within our car,
Well  under the bonnet.
You leave your naked new born
Deep within the engine fold
For just a minute.

 

While you forage
Your nurtured nest has gone.
Just a space under the tree.
Will you know to wait
Within the bramble bush
For our return?

If you would like to help me sponsor the restoration of nature through the RSPB here is the link and on the previous post on the blackbird.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/georginas-26-challenge-i-am-going-to-write-26-poems-about-the-wild-flora-and-fauna-here-on-our-woodland-finca-in-spain-i-will-post-these-on-my-blog

 

April Showers and Walks around Navasola West

Our splendid isolation has included not having any internet connections for long sessions throughout April. It now seems a bit better so  am hoping this is an opportunity to post and also catch up with you all across the world in these strange and difficult times. I hope and pray all is well and will be well  but know that we all may be affected in some way at some point by knowing someone whose life is deeply affected and changed by this pandemic. Much support and care is going to be needed for each other and the natural world we do depend on.

The rain here is blessing us with water if not wifi. The mobile phone company call the problems ‘atmospheric’ meaning I guess, it is again those powers beyond human control.

Here are some photos of our walks around Navasola.

We have taken this time as an opportunity to rediscover some of the wilder parts of the finca. It has often seemed like an adventure and I have been to areas I have never seen before. We tried to follow some of the boundary stone walls too and found ourself clambering over some of the stones the wild boar have knocked down. Boars know no borders too. Last week we saw a small group, yearlings probably, going about like a teenage gang, from my sanctuary window. At first it was interesting to watch them, scratching backs against the rocks, snouting around by the path. Then one crossed the patch by some of my roses and some wild gum cistus and lupins I have been nurturing. I opened the window and hollered before even thinking of picking up the camera! They shot off so I hope they know to steer clear of ‘my’ rock garden. To be fair till now this area has always been left unploughed by the boar. Too much human smell.

Walking anywhere at the moment there are some lovely wild peonies. These are not bothered by boar activitity and as we do not plough or clean the fields intensively there are more and more peonies each year. They are known as the queen of herbs and do make a fantastic and natural display. The insects also love them. Another of my favourites is the yellow palmate Anenome and again there are often pollinators within and other insects that seem to half eat the petals into ragged shapes. I have never seen one completely destroyed and they are very delicate looking flowers. It is hard to get    a good photo of all the flowers in a patch. The yellows are winning out at the moment with the yellow rock rose or cistus,halimium trifolium, the Spanish broom, gorse and another yellow plant that likes the drier ground by the studio hill.

 

Palmate Anenome

 

The studio is an old container that the previous owner installed for her sculpture work. It is on the south west side of the valley and is a warm and light place to work in in the winter. The old house used to be very dark and gloomy. However, the studio, as it is metal, is a hot box for when the temperatures rise. This area has lots of different wild flowers, some tiny white ones, tall asphodels and there is always a lot of bramble, sarsaparilla and some stunted fig trees.  Last year we discovered the orebanche and a very tall but pale type of orchid.

 

 

 

Along this stretch of the valley side are lots of rocks and tall pines. It is not an easy to cultivate area and is now how we like it. Quite wild. There is a badgers den within the rocks and a dangerous drop and caves here where possibly other creatures live too. Above this rocky recess are the pines that have grown very tall but there is also a lot of madroño, viburnum and the tough wiry and thorny sarsaparilla. Some of it is like a jungle with hanging vines of vicious thorny strands. There are also some stands of oak. At Navasola there are several types of oak; mirbeck, faginea, and pyreneus. There are also cork oak and holm oak. This stand is the quercus faginea or lusitania, Portuguese oak.

I have also been clearing some paths on the other side of the valley, Navasola East. Here I can now walk above the old era, the place for threshing grain, and through a very rocky olive grove. Here the olives have been planted many years ago but are very majestic and mossy, with amazing trunks. And hiding holes. We have just discovered a wild bee hive at the base of one. It is all very green and mossy on the rocks and the stone walls have lots of different ferns.

Solomon’s seal around the chestnut trees

Further down towards a Navasola East there is the pond we worked hard on restoring last year. The wild boar had managed to wallow too hard in it and put their tusks into the lining. Now they aren’t allowed in! There are plenty of other places for them to find water and wallow. Our prize animals at the moment are the two Iberian water frogs we have spotted. More on these in a later post as I will devote a poem to them. It’s there in the picture, camouflaged with its thin green,reed like stripe down its back.

I am going to try and complete a challenge for one of the wildlife charities. In the U.K. This is called the 2.6 challenge instead of the London Marathon which usually raises a lot of money for many different charities.It was supposed to take place on April 26th and of course couldn’t. Charities are suffering from lack of funding now and not able to undertake some of the work needed. 26 or 2.6 is the magic number. So instead of running round our finca, which is difficult anyway I am going to try and write 26 poems on the different species that live around Navasola. There will be a Just Giving link to sponsor me if anyone wishes for the RSPB and Birdlife International. So hopefully my internet will work well as I will post 26 lines or words for each poem!
Just setting myself up so I have to get this done!

February Fun, Fotos, and Short Walks.

It has been a busy February and so I am glad of the extra day in the shortest month when winter can turn to spring here in Andalucia. The photos below are from our short local walk with Lotti the tibetan terrier. This joins the main sendero/footpath from Castano del Robleda to La Pena and Alajar. At the beginning of the month it is very wintry and all those autumn leaves featured in my Autumn walks post have blown onto the red sandy ground. But it is now so much wetter and the green moss is alive and well after its summer’s rest. Nature is resilient and adapts to many changes and with so many problems facing our planet I would like to focus on that determination to keep on trying and surviving.

 

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We have also enjoyed more walks around our own little valley but with a caveat to avoid falling into badger holes. We have discovered quite a few and also their very clearly marked latrines, carefully excavated to fit their poo. Sorry, I missed taking a picture of that.

 

Winter is also the time for visitors. Some who want to get in from the cold. Our dear old car is a favourite habitat for wood mice nests. We were waiting for the mother to return to rescue her naked, fairly new born babies before we could go shopping. They may even have been with us on previous trips.

 

Other visitors came and not expecting warmth as we have a much colder climate than their home in Portugal. We went to discover our frontier town which we have only ever driven through on the road to and from Seville. However, our day walking around the town of Higuera was full of welcome sunshine and blue skies. There were also lots of storks nesting too and of course the ones with the highest status on the church steeple. Higuera would have been full of people on the 5th of January for their most famous processions for the Three Kings celebrations. Hence the statues and a lovely avenue of orange trees. Higuera is 200m lower than where we are in Fuenteheridos. It was warmer and the Viburnums tinus and carpenters bees were out and about. See featured image.

Another favourite short walk is by the now closed Aracena campsite and source of the great river Odiel. We went on a Sunday when all the families were out for picnics but the walk by the river and  old cork trees was fairly quiet and full of birds but all quite artful and not easy to identify. The rocks by the stream were quite amazing in the sunlight and the old tree with some life at the top.

We have also visited Donana again and I will devote a whole post to that but it was again a marvellous day full of storks, flamingos, a very large flock of coots and some spoonbills that I finally managed to photograph.

The last day of February, when it is the 28th is a holiday for all in Andalucia. It becomes a long weekend a puente, bridge. Our local town was full of visitors and some posh cars. This seemed to be an attraction for photographs too. So there is one of me with my favourite car, Jud, now 24 years old and still going strong over our rough rocky track.

I think I might have to take the view that the old car has done much better on carbon emissions than these new ones. We didn’t stay too long to check whether these were electric but they were certainly worth a lot of money and on show. We bought our local bread and went back to our quiet woodland.

Near the town of Cortelezor there is a very rough road and we didn’t see many cars along this one. We wanted to find the river valley where we had walked along some years ago.In a very small area just by this picnic place we discovered some botanical wonders.

The tiny wild daffodil tops the bill among the heathers. But the rock formations were astounding in the background. There was a thorny acacia, a narrow leaved ash, the stripy leaves of thistles to be and a flower we have yet to fully identify. PS And now we have! Anchusa undulata.

And below the wild hoop daffodils; Narcissus triandrus and this mediterranean mystery. We have scoured the book but no match yet. Yes, Anchusa undulata, alkanet is Anchusa azurea.

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And for extra measure and for the extra day we have been to the Cheese Festival in Portugal, about an hour or so from the Sierra. We missed the rain here and my vegan attempts were sorely tested. However, there is an important rural economy here based on quality produced cheeses and I do think there needs to be a focus on supporting small farmers, traditional food and farming. Here is a photo of one of the local Alentejo choirs which UNESCO recognise as part of our world heritage. The singing was deep and powerful from the male choirs but there are mixed voice choirs and female ones too.

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Isle De France rare breed.

I hope this post brings you some of the vitality of nature and rural life here in this part of Andalucia and the Alentejo and can help revive and restore us as we go through tough times.

A Biodiversity Birthday. 6 years of Navasolanature! Looking back and Looking Forward.

The New Year is well under way and I can only wish that there will be hope and happiness for us all and wisdom for those in power who can make the changes our struggling world needs. January is  named after the Roman God Janus, a god with two heads. One head looks back at the past year and the other to the future. So I have decided to look back at my photos showing some of the biodiversity at Navasola and close surrounding woodlands. January is also my blogging birthday and I am now celebrating 6 years of celebrating biodiversity! My tag line began as ‘ nature needs nurture’.  And it certainly needs this now more than ever.

Buff the buff tailed bumblebee, a character in my novel.

I thought of writing  a children’s story about all the animals that come to tea near our house or sometimes into it. I was inspired by the huge grasshopper on the old wet teabags in our kitchen, although at the time it gave me quite a shock. However, I have not fully finished it for a January deadline. Of course, the main inspiration is Judith Kerr, who recently died and the ‘The Tiger who came to Tea’. Writing for children is not easy and I admire fellow blogger Annika Perry with her beautifully illustrated story ‘Oscar’s Quest’. (See links at end of this post.) My first two photos are of two of the main characters in my novel. My novel is about the journey of some animals from our woodland to the distant North.  I am still struggling to revise it after advice on point of view and writing for young adults. I now feel it is very timely as so many young people are now so concerned and more aware of the threats to biodiversity and the effects of climate change for us all. However, I have added and updated and divided the novel into two and hope to find some interest in publishing it this year.

Abe Apio the bee eater character in my novel.

 

With our return to Navasola I am pleased to hear so much bird song and calls in the evening. It is also very wet underfoot and such a change from even two months ago. Water levels have risen and there is some water in the well now but we will have to monitor closely.

Hoopoe visiting Navasola in Autumn

My decision for 2020 is to try and cut my own carbon emissions. This is going to be very difficult because of our need to travel between family and our home here. Here, in Spain with our solar power we can almost live carbon free for electricity and hot water. But our first flight has cost me a quarter of a tonne in carbon emissions. I am going to try and write about this as a new journey this year. My desire to do this and inform myself more is because of the tragic loss of wild species and habitats and climate changes makes this life threatening for so many creatures and for our grandchildren’s future.

Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the acting executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, has implored governments to ensure 2020 is not just another “year of conferences” on the ongoing ecological destruction of the planet, urging countries to take definitive action on deforestation, pollution and the climate crisis.’ ( The Guardian’)

So for January I have also thought about diet and signed up to Veganuary. Over the past 40 years I have been vegetarian and pescatarian. However vegan is difficult for me as I love my cup of tea with milk. I also love yogurt and some cheese. I will try and post more on that and have got a freezer full of my chestnut harvest recipes. Once upon a time the little fellow below was eaten as a delicacy in the province of Extremadura. This species was on the verge  of extinction. This one turned up on our porch for his own tea.

Ocellated or Jewelled lizard

Travelling by car will also be a difficult one for my carbon reduction journey. We really need a car when living in the Spanish countryside so hopefully we will try and keep mileage down. As yet we can’t afford a new car, electric or hybrid. However, hybrids are the top selling cars in Spain at the moment. There is more political will here too as the new government has appointed a Vice President to be in charge of environmental issues and transition to a greener economy. Let’s also hope that the Doñana wetlands can be well looked after.  I posted on this last year and the issues over water management. I also think it is important to visit these areas and to try and encourage ecotourism so habitats can be saved and considered important throughout the world.  Am not sure that eco minded people should cut down on eco minded tourism. There are many difficult calls.

For the sake of all these species and for the future we must ensure a greener and different kind of economy that will secure a world that protects and restores.

Link to Annika Perry’s blog and her new book.

Introducing Oskar!

September 20th Poem for the Young. No More Same Old.

There be whales out there. Vittoria our marine biologist guide

I enjoyed reading Lillian’s experiences and video of the whales off Cape Cod’ with her grandson. It reminded me of my first experience of seeing a whale, 20 years ago, in San Francisco Bay. It was also my first trip to the USA. I wrote a poem for Dverse on this 3 years ago with the prompt of ‘ a first ever experience. After that the next whale watching was in the middle of the Atlantic off the Azores.

Today is the 20th September 2019 and young people have asked adults to join them on demonstrations and strikes for climate action. There will be a UN summit and all the different nations have been asked to bring solutions. All I can offer today is a poem as if I were 20 today.

Same Old: Born in 1999

I am 20 years old, or older today.
So please don’t give me more of your
Same Old.

You tell me you first saw your first whale
20 years ago from today,
In San Francisco Bay.

You tell me you partied with
An 80 year old,
Californian dreamer.

You tell me you cried over
A library full of books and blood.
20 years ago
Columbine
Before you were mine.

So don’t give me
The Same Old
Weapons are MAD
But we must defend our dreams,
Whales are factory processed meat,
But all must be free to eat
Whatever they want.
We need the wood not the trees.

Because we DON’T.

I want to grow old with
Whales in the waves,
Wolves in wild woods,
Birds flying safe and free
Above children with a future
And Elephants in Africa.

I do not want to grow old
In a world worn out by
Broken promises.
20 years ago
You saw a grey whale
In San Francisco.
20 years before that
You sung of the flowers.
Where have they all gone?

I do not want to dream
When I am old,
Of a past world where
Whales breached the waves
Wolves wandered in woods
Diverse birds flew in great flocks,
Elephants roamed in Africa.
Children unsafe without a future.

How long do you need,
To solve the suffering
You caused,
While dreaming,
Working yourself to the bone,
To give me
The Same Old
Future you said I deserved.

Take my hand
Before we both grow too weary.
Let’s bite the bullets.
Finish with the fumes.
Grow the forest.

So I can grow old
And watch with wonder,
My children’s children,
Wonder at whales in the waves,
Wolves in wild woods,
Birds flying safe across borders,
Elephants in Africa,
Children with a future.

 

 

For open link night, Dverse Poets http://www.dversepoets.com

First February Butterfly and the need to deal with the New Green Deal.

Our first butterflies to fly above us with love in the air were two large tortoisehells. Winging their way up into the clear Andalucian blue sky. Hopefully they will mate soon and lay eggs before the next cold and rainy spell is due. With the current news on such drastic decline in numbers of insects it was encouraging to see this particular butterfly. It seems in the UK this species is almost extinct. We are fortunate to live in an area where there is little use of pesticides on crops, the main one being the chestnut trees. However, with the constant fear of fire there is much spraying of roadside vegetation. There has also been much ‘cleaning’of surrounding land and so there will be little for pollinators and other insects to live off. Here they have the ivy along our perimeter wall and hopefully many wild flowers to come. The celandines are just out and although the viburnum is a little late this year, the buds are rosy and ready.

 

Fire Salamander

Another first for me to find was this salamander, known as a fire salamander. [Salamandra salamandra]. I was busy tidying up a wood pile and underneath was this creature. It seems they can live a long time and one in captivity lived for 50 years. The colours are warning signs of a poison named samadarin and it can have nasty effects. This may help its long life as any would be predators keep away from this rather slow moving creature. Salamanders are of interest to scientists as this substance can help skin problems but these amazing animals have the ability to regenerate their limbs and this process is being studied too. Here, this tiny creature which likes moist habitats under wood, mud and leaves  was ready to burrow again and our encounter was deemed over.

 

We began the new year in a rather monstrous tall hotel with views over the eastern Algarve coastline and round to the bridge over the River Guadiana where lies our usual route back to our home in Spain. Here, we were delighted by crag martins who must have decided the hotel was a wonderful cliff face but perhaps not quite right for nesting.

Crag martins in sky over Monte Gordo

Later, on our return to Navasola we made a visit to our local village Castano de Robledo for the Los Reyes, Three Kings festival. We came across more crag martins on the unfinished church now called the monument. This might make a more suitable nesting place but is usually the home of a large colony of swifts yet to arrive from their African wintering lands.

 

We also came across a flock of blackcaps and one was busy pecking away at a rotting persimmon, which is of course when they are at their sweetest!

Blackcap warbler
View of Castano church and orchard which many birds love from the monument

With all the turmoil over Brexit and No Deal it is hard to look at the UK news. It is also hard to sometimes get the main news from the USA too. All seems so divisive and not dealing with reality. So today I was very encouraged to read through an alternative source, Eco Watch about a bipartisan vote in the U.S. on protecting public lands, wildlife and recreation areas.

Agreement across party lines on real issues.

There was also a very informative piece on the ideas of The New Green Deal and historical reference to Roosevelt’s New deal when faced with The Great Depression and the ecological catastrophe of soil erosion for farmers in the dust bowl. Perhaps the U.S.A can begin to lead the world on this as there is past experience but the current changes happening are far reaching and global.

From my understanding there seems to be more public awareness and concern for ecological collapse, wildlife conservation and the impact of the climate changing with more extreme weather across the whole world.

On Friday young people in the UK are joining in with the school strikes that have been held in other countries about the real threats posed by climate change.So many have concerns and hopefully their actions will bring about a positive response from government to listen and lead on these issues.

Cross party cooperation must be the key to dealing with the terrible environmental degradation and  ‘unsustainability’ of our current economic system. A deal with the planet is going to be a tough one but the young are crying out for action, not words and certainly not denial.

The Janus Report. Looking back and Looking Forward.

Feeding the birds at Navasola. Cirl Bunting at our rock bird table

Here are some of the activities we got up to in 2018 and I failed to post about. I will set myself a challenge to produce some more detailed posts on these places around the Sierra Aracena, Sevilla and Huelva that provide good habitats for biodiversity and the places we visited in Ireland and the U.K. too.

For now below is a taster of our year and love of nature.

Arbutus Unedo berries or madrono tree that lives wild and well at Navasola and provides the habitat the two tailed pasha needs.
Two tailed Pasha that loves dung and the madrono tree

We also managed a visit to Cañada de Los Pajaros, a bird sanctuary near the wetlands of Donana. Here there are a wide variety of native birds recuperating and some that can not be released back to the wild. I was lucky to get some close ups of the bar tailed godwit, a wader, that can fly very long distances.I feature one in my novel with a distinct penchant for turning up in many different places.
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Another amazing place was a Celtic settlement on the borders of Extremadura, but as a German friend struggling to remember a long forgotten phrase said, ‘ the flowers stole the show’.

Back in the UK my daughter and I were treated to a Mother’s Day surprise and were taken to Chester Zoo for her first Mother’s Day. The zoo is famous for its breeding successes and there were baby rhinos. Olivia was more focused on her toy giraffe and I focused my new camera on the eyes of so many beautiful,creatures.

In Ireland we visited some good friends at their beautiful thatched cottage with organic gardening, bee keeping, and across the stream to a willow bog woodland. They also do their bit on the beaches nearby. Facing the Atlantic there is so much plastic washed ashore. I was inspired by our friends to get back to my poetry and found a poem I wrote about plastic in the oceans, four years ago.

In between being in Spain and the UK I found a new base for us in the U.K. so we can be a lot closer to my daughter and granddaughter. It is situated half an hour by train from Manchester and close to the Pennine Hills. There is so much natural beauty and history around with the canals and locks. And we must have trees.

But we will still stay as long as we can in our woodland in Spain. We had visitors and went on a heritage train tour along the old mines of the Rio Tinto. Strange beauty where nature reassert itself. Iron and copper is in the rocks here and still being mined close to the old train track tour.
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We went back to the reservoir to check on water levels. We have had so much rain this year, so different to 2017. The reservoir was quite full in the Spring but by November levels had dropped. Who is using it all? Not the beautiful crested lark I photographed nearby or the cormorants, grebes and kites that live close by.

The final part of 2018 has been spent in the U.K.with family and friends. We did manage to visit Kew Gardens and the London Wetland Centre. And a First but wot no Foto! I didn’t take the camera!!! We saw a bittern in the reeds. A Scottish birdwatcher showed us where it was. It was so well camouflaged that even with binoculars it would have been difficult to find. Thankfully he put the hide’s scope on it and it was so clear. We stayed a while just watching.

I have spent some time reading and listening to books. These are three from writers I know who have published theirs. Two are bloggers as well as writers, Opher and Annika. I was going to do some reviews and may do yet. The other in Spanish is a most interesting account of the lives of a Spanish couple from the 1920s to 1990s living in our area of rural Spain. It is written from recordings they gave telling their life and love story through civil war, brutality, dictatorship and their courage, humour and resilience shines through. I will also continue to find a publisher for my nature novel which this year has been on the back burner. But the flame is there.

So it’s goodbye to 2018 and we return to Navasola. I will miss seeing Olivia but she knows the word Nana now among many others including ra ra for the rabbits. She has a keen eye and ear for the garden birds but points to the aeroplanes. And she is walking now! So much change in such a little being. I hope for 2019 we will see the changes needed to protect this wonderful world we live in for future generations of humans and all species.

A very happy and fulfilling 2019 to you all.

 

The Last Post of Summer

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.

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Bee eaters seen on one of our dog walks.

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.

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Close up of large grasshopper, early April.

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.

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Red rump swallow recovering from being stunned and ready to fly off.

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.

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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.

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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!

Mayhem in May: Changing weather and other surprises. A sanctuary for snakes!

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.

Ladderback adult snake in house.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Long snake which was hard to identify but think now is a young adult ladderback snake. Just beginning to lose the ladder and to just have the two single stripes.

 

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!

Horseshoe whip snake photographed by Rosalind Siggs

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.