Category Archives: Nature

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.

May to June 2015 and House MArtins 046
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.

  • house martins sept 2015 and faro beach 002

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.
 

 

Spring in the Sierra Aracena

On the 30th April in Sweden it is Walpurgis Night and time to celebrate the beginning of Spring for the First of May. Anna’s blog has some interesting insights into this festival and of course her wonderful art work.
https://fargaregardsanna.wordpress.com/2018/04/30/walpurgis-night-valborg/

Even though this April seems to be going on the record for Spain’s coldest since 1974 , here in the south of Spain we have had glimpses of Spring. The variability and size of Spain means that there can be variation in the weather but this year the news is showing snow today in Cantabria and people sunbathing on the Mediterranean coast!

Iberian frog enjoying plentiful water and sunshine.

At Navasola we are lucky to have had so much rainfall after the drought that lasted throughout the summer and into the winter. Spring has brought much needed rain. One Spanish programme seemed to be suggesting that the reservoirs were now back to capacity. And there’s still some more rain due! These photos are from early April and at a friend’s finca on the warmer south facing side of the valley. Signs of butterflies, bees and blossom are always welcome.

The Easter celebrations went smoothly in the town of Aracena and it is amazing the dedication and work that goes into the Holy Week processions. The story of the Passion is brought onto the streets and is both a religious and cultural occasion.

It takes at least 5 x 5 pairs of feet to carry the float. And all around the town too!
And the band keeps playing!

Continue reading Spring in the Sierra Aracena

Our Wild and Wonderful World

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!

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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.

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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.

Photos taken with Panasonic LUMIX FZ300

100 Days almost of Blogger’s block!

April is here in Navasola and the warblers have arrived and in full song. There seems to have been so much happening that I have lost the routine of blogging but have often taken photos and thought of posts I could write! So here are some images of my nature journey at Navasola and nearby over the past three months. There have been other journeys and certainly there is a lot to think about in the world today and particularly for the environmental health of the planet we and so many other species depend on. But for now this is about the beauty of nature and perhaps this is a way for me to do some ‘warm up’ writing Continue reading 100 Days almost of Blogger’s block!

Frosty days at Navasola. Dog days and more plumbing!

Take a photo of me not those frosty plants and hurry up and get on with the walk.
Take a photo of me not those frosty plants and hurry up and get on with the walk.

When there’s a dog about, an early morning walk is required. I have just spent a week looking after my friend Ruth’s adorable Tibetan terrier Lotti. I think I do miss having a dog but this is a gentle reminder of the responsibilities. It was one of those glorious sunny early mornings. There was so much frost on the ground too. So I set off with dog and camera. At times no one believes how cold it can be here at night in Southern Spain but we are high up at 740m and on the north side of the Sierra Aracena. I have lost some good plants to the frost; an hibiscus, kalanchoe and aloe vera. However, the native plants are the survivors and the viburnum is always half in bud and flower at this time of year.

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Hurry up it's cold sitting here!
Hurry up it’s cold sitting here!

We walked up to the Era where the grain used to be threshed. It’s also where I have taken photographs of the butterflies in May. It was very frosty. Lotti was eager to walk on but I was busy trying some close ups of frosty plants.bl frost on leaves frosty days end Feb march 2016 037

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We moved on to reach the gate. The sun was beginning to get a bit higher and warmer.

early morning sun by the entrance to Navasola
early morning sun by the entrance to Navasola
The gorse keeps flowering through the wintry frosts.
The gorse keeps flowering through the wintry frosts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Project.

Trevor has been working on a method to heat the water when the weather finally warms up in Spring and lighting a fire will no longer be necessary. Hopefully then I will also be released from the endless trips to the wood pile and the relentless work with the many branches of wood, fallen or from pruned trees. Over the last week he worked with a friend and plumber on putting a radiator, painted black, on our roof. It needs quite complicated controls and a pump. The two worked together discussing the intricacies of this system and the financial markets. Most people we encounter in the Sierra have interesting histories and ideas! Hopefully the solar radiator will add some heat to the tank. It can reach up to 100 degrees so the system has to prevent boiling.bl solar thermal radiator frosty days end Feb march 2016 097bl plumbing frosty days end Feb march 2016 068bl trev and Richard frosty days end Feb march 2016 070

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sun has been brilliant the last few days and warm during the day. This has been welcome after quite a few cloudy and cold February days. Now with clear skies the stars are also very visible. Saturn is in the east, Sirius bright and just below Orion.  Polaris and the Great Bear as always in the North! The flowers and birds will be the subject of the next post. Although still wintry there are signs of Spring. Thanks for reading and hope Spring is soon with you if you abide in the Northern hemisphere of this amazing planet.

Quote Challenge 1: No man is an Island

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

It has taken me over a week to get round to this quote challenge and it has challenged me. Any advice on quick ways to make links to other blogs would be helpful. I was thinking about how to have links to some of the key nature blogs I follow around the world and to those who have inspired me so much when I first started blogging. Jenny in New Zealand has nominated me and it is interesting to find out so much about nature and the lives of others around the world. I first fell in love with this quote and John Donne’s poem when I was at secondary school and we had an assembly on the United Nations. It resonates with me still and the whole poem is at the bottom of this post. It also seems to speak to me about the UK referendum on  being a part of the European Union. I would rather see joined up thinking on a planet that needs some drastic action to improve the environment for all species.

The weather here in Navasola is still wintry but can be quite warm when the sun comes out. There are a few flowers about but it is the tree shapes which are so fascinating. So I am featuring some photographs taken by my friend and artist Ruth Koenigsberger. I have put my own haiku underneath as a response. I have been quite inspired to write poetry again because of DVerse poets very original ideas of a poetry bar where we can all have a poem together.

 

 

Peep through my inner trunk, all hollowed out with age Adorned with velvet
Peep through my inner
trunk, all hollowed out with age
Adorned with velvet

Young pines tall and straight Old arms embrace with kali Hug the earth with wood

Young pines tall and straight.
Old arms embrace with Kali,
Hug the earth with wood.

 

 

For this quote challenge I am going to focus on nature blogs that I like to follow . There is no compulsion to accept the challenge if I have nominated  a blog. I hope though that others might be able to explore those they haven’t come across.  There are also so many good blogs out there that I love that it is difficult to choose.  I have not chosen the ones that first inspired me but will mention these now: Donna at gardenwalkgardentalkCindy Knoke and  Steve  Schwartzman.  He has very good photographic tips and botanical skills but also has another blog on Spanish/ English etymology. Having studied linguistics and now living in Spain that find was a double treasure.

The Quote Challenge

Thank you Jenny for nominating me and we seem to be on similar journeys finding out more about the natural world but on the opposite sides of this globe!

jennylitchfield.wordpress.com

I will try and run the challenge for three days. So for this first day challenge I nominate the three blogs below from three different parts of this planet. This is all just part of a fun challenge which may bring to our attention more interesting blogs. Nominees should feel no pressure to create their own quote challenge. I have nominated them because they all have wonderful ways of exploring this wonderful world.

  • Post for three consecutive days
  • Posts can be one or three quotes per day
  • Nominate three different blogs per day

 

Sarah                                    AWildflowermelody

Julie                                       Frogpondfarm

Morgan                                Thereremouse

 

John Donne

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

Peep through my inner trunk, all hollowed out with age Adorned with velvet

Ruth Koenigsberger is currently exhibiting some of her art at the ARCO  event in Madrid. She is involved in the alternative way to show art: Room Art.  Some of her art is also on the November 2015 archive on the virtual gallery Artagora. Our friend and nature artist is also currently being shown on there. Soledad Fenandez Coll.