Category Archives: Nature

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.
P1010760

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.
P1060042
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.

p1140755
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.

P1010129
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.

IMG_8090

 

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!

_1020695

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.

_1020844

 

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