Tag Archives: Algarve

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.
 

 

Passagem de Ano: The Passing of 2017 into 2018 in Portugal. Our thoughts for those who work to care for all creatures big and small.

The ‘Passing of the Year’ is the expression in Portuguese as the old year finishes and the new one begins. A time of hope and it seems nowadays fireworks to celebrate. We have now enjoyed the fireworks and a walk on the beach for the third year running in Monte Gordo on the Algarve. There is a strong sense of families celebrating together whether in the hotel, the local bars and the marquee for dancing in the New Year.

However, the sun rose on a sad sight on New Year’s Day but also an incredible sight and an occasion to see how we as human beings in Europe in the 21st Century feel for the plight of a stranded whale. There were tears, attempts to push the whale, common sense and finally the Portuguese lifeboat service with the maritime police all wetsuited up came and towed the whale out. It was spouting and alive. The last photo shows the boats out in deeper water trying to ensure the whale heads out to sea.

After being close to the whale with crowds of people on the beach and a strong desire for the whale to return we then watched from our hotel with binoculars the boat rescue. The hotel staff were all very moved to tears too and we were relieved and thought it was a happy ending. However, I research too much. The whale was a cachalote in Portuguese, a sperm whale, of about 9 to 10 metres long. Many sperm whale can live up to 70 years, mainly on squid, in those cold seas. However, they do suffer from diseases and can get washed up ashore because of this or disorientation. It did seem unusual for a whale to be so near the coast but they do live in the Mediterranean and Atlantic and could migrate through this more narrow stretch between Africa and Europe.

My ongoing research led me to a news report about 24 hours later. A cachalote had been found washed up dead on Isla Armonia near Olhao. It was about 10 metres and believed to be the same one that had been rescued at Monte Gordo. Cause of death? Not old age it was not fully grown and possibly a young adolescent male.

Thanks to Becky and her blog about living in Portugal I also researched the Portuguese word Presepio. These are the miniature Natavity scenes that are popular in houses and also on a more public scale. I found out about the one put together by the Bombeiros of Tavira, the fire and rescue service. Above is the entrance to the fire station with beautiful wrought iron doors. Inside were really interesting miniature scenes. As well as showing the bible story set around the birth of Christ it’s also common to show scenes from Portuguese rural history with mills, ovens, windmills and plenty of animals, water and miniature local boats. Worth going to if you are in a Tavira from December to January 7th. But don’t expect baby Jesus to be in his crib until Christmas Day!

One of the largest presepios in Portugal is just at the end of the N125 not too far from Tavira in Vila Real. This is called the Presepio Gigante and it was certainly long as seen from the photo with all the blue lighting.

The actual crib scene is quite small but around are many rural scenes. Some were more Portuguese but at the far end the Roman influences and boats being built were more evident. It is interesting to note that at the time Jesus was born there was a lot of Roman influence and empire along the Algarve and near Seville where there are some amazing amphitheatre ruins called Italica and a bit further north, Merida. All easily accessible from Rome by sea and river routes. Rome ruled the seas and made the roads then!

Animals did feature in this Presepio too. Wild white birds with an eagle flying above, storks nesting and a rabbit being caught by a lasso! No guns then? However, the fun part which is supposed to amuse children is the ‘man with the red cape or coat’. He is to be found behind a tree or a bush ‘ doing his necessities’ in Spanish or Portuguese and translated as ‘having a poop’ in English! My new camera was quick enough to catch that!

As now its almost two weeks from the year passing over from 17 to 18 I have to explain my delay in posting. I struggle getting the photos from my new camera onto the laptop and I then struggle to upload to WordPress. I have also been submitting my novel to some more literary agents and it really seems like making a job application, which it is and I find each agency sufficiently different in the structure needed. At least these ones have an automatic response email and guarantee a short reply if not successful. Let’s hope for a phone call or positive email soon. One has 100 submissions a week so that does make for a lot of work. Thinking about it though I would mark at least 30 English GCSE essays a week, 20 A level and at least another 30 of the younger classes and all mainly in the evenings after teaching all day. Comments needed!

Here’s some of the last lights of the festive season from Vila Real, Portugal  and wishing you all well for 2018.

A walk around the fort at Cabanas. Unwelcome Autumn Changes.

Some of my gloom in this ‘post truth’ world was not just the cloudy autumn weather in Cabanas,  Portugal but the very intimidating fence put up to prevent locals and visitors from walking along the small cliffs at the end of the Cabanas broad walk. It took some time and discussions with some exploration to find out about this no access fence.

These are photos I found from a sunny January a few years back where there had been open access and an established path along the cliff, around the fort and down to the far end off the beach by the majestic old pine trees. We have always enjoyed taking friends along this route too. It is part of the natural beauty at the edge of eastern Cabanas.

Along the Ria Formosa it is designated a nature reserve and national park but the edges along the cliffs do seem to be privately owned. We ventured cautiously along the fence and the cliff edge and came to more space in front of the fort. Here it was the path again but just past the fort there was a fence with big signs up again restricting the route along the top path by the pines.
At the end of the pines there is a route down to the beach area of the river lagoon and another leading back past a farmhouse. No one tends to use that path as there is a farm building and barking big dogs at the end of it! It seems it is the owner of this land who after many many years and at least 15yearsmfor us being in Cabanas, has decided to assert his territorial rights. There have been public meetings in Cabanas and there are also rights of access paths. Sadly, battle lines seem to be being drawn.


We walked by the prickly pear border and the fort and met the manager from the fort. The Cabanas fort has been renovated inside and is a delightful place to stay. We were shown around and I would recommend it as a holiday. The owner has a passion for these old buildings and it has been lovingly restored and the visitor rooms are in keeping but modern. It is also a safe place inside for children to play and have adventures.


As you walk out from the fort there is a way back along the road and back to the board walk. Here there are still the signs of the changes in Cabanas. A little old and neglected traditional house is still there. And behind it are the new but unfinished and unsold developments of a garden village. A swimming pool facility and garden was also supposed to be built. The scrub land provides some opportunities for the wildlife. This is also part of the Eco bike route from Tavira. It is worth walking or cycling from Tavira to Cabanas on this route. It then goes up and back to the main road and then back down to the coast to the charming old village of Cacela Velha.
It is also possible to walk along the beach but the closed path does mean you could get cut off when the tide is high. It seems there are some resolutions in place for this ugly and divisive fence to be moved back a bit to return access to the path in front of the Cabanas fort.

It seems a pity that the coastal cliff path has been broken up by landowners wishing to fence off to the cliff edge. Further up from the fort there are some developments with portocabins and fences to the cliff edge. It is near here that I once stood for ages watching a hoopoe preen itself. The natural world has to cope with the challenges of development, irresponsible tourism, our lovely dogs unleashed also can disturb birds and other creatures too. And the rubbish we leave behind.

Could this cliff path ever become a nature trail? Could it be looked after by conservationists and respected by walkers,dog owners, cyclists? The beach below is protected but the cliff edge awaits exploitation of varying kinds.
I have just experienced a very different kind of fence at Donna Nook in Lincolnshire in the UK and a triumph for the conservation of grey seals on the mudflats of the Humber estuary.
That’s for the next post as I arise from the gloom of wintry weather and political uncertainties for the planet. I have focused a lot of time on revising my novel and the chestnut harvest from our very fruitful old trees at Navasola.

Blogging with boars, birds and bunnies!

A week of changes. Changing places and changing weather.

Just before leaving Navasola I wandered into my huerta or vegetable garden. I wanted to check on the plants. I am hoping that I have created enough paths and cut back grasses and vetch to keep it all more under control. Last year when I returned in May I posted about my ‘Wild Welcome Back’. I was overwhelmed with neck high grass,vetch and then hay fever.

Maybe this time I  had a wild  farewell.

There were rustling sounds from within the abandoned olive grove. I stood very still and listened. I thought it might have been some noisy blackbirds. It often is! To my surprise a large female boar made her way into the field. Although there was a ‘boar proof fence’ between us to protect the huerta, I didn’t want to see it tested. I stood very still. Females are said to have a reputation. Following  her were three slightly smaller wild boar. Then one by one, a group of stripy baby boar trotted in. No camera,  no  phone, just me and the boar family.

Part of the Huerta by the boar proof fence and gate.
Part of the Huerta by the boar proof fence and gate.

I stood still and watched them move around grazing and looking like large dogs. The youngsters climbed up over some rocks. I just kept still, not daring to move and too far from the gate.Then the large female saw me. She came forward a little and but decided to turn away and run off, with the young ones following. It was quite a sight. Reading up a bit more I discovered that these groups are matriarchal and called sounders.They consist of the very young and slightly older females.It is far more common that boar will run away but it seems they may move towards you a little as their eyesight is so poor and they are curious. Most injuries to humans from boar are during a hunt and with the males turning to defend themselves if cornered.

After this event we were off to Portugal for my flight. I had a quick check on the house martins I am trying to survey. There are not so many on the frontline this year but these small birds were working hard with the mud to build over netting put up to prevent them. I had been disappointed to see this attempt to deter them in a local street.They certainly wouldn’t have bothered anyone in that location and it now looks quite unsightly. It also might mean the nests are less secure for the young. The birds are undeterred and determined to build in places they must remember. Those whose nests had not been destroyed have had a head start. I think they have got young and these might manage two broods.

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Flowers at our favourite restaurant in Cabanas, Portugal.
Flowers at our favourite restaurant in Cabanas, Portugal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Dorset we had snow and hail, lots of birds and a vole. The bullfinch is a regular visitor at my friend’s  bird feeders, along with a nuthatch and some pheasants. After the snow a kestrel came by but the birds had disappeared into the nearby hedgerow.

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Sculptur of half hare, half woman outside Salisbury cathedral.
Sculpture of half hare, half woman outside Salisbury cathedral.

Back in London I was shown the video of the baby robins nesting in the ivy by the house and at least two are now alive and well, feeding in the garden.  My daughter has fallen in love with feeding the birds and they seem to reward her. I was also updated with the slow motion function on the latest  phones. Mine is too out of date but it was lovely to see they had captured the garden Robin flying! Sorry no video as I have to update WordPress and pay money to upload a video! Will think on’t!

Baby robins by back door in London
Baby robins by back door in London

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now I am in the north of the U.K. and enjoying my other daughter’s young pet bunnies. These bunnies seem to want to blog with me!

 

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To be close to the animal world seems important. My wilder world of Navasola is still without pets and the wild ones choose their moments. Mice in the middle of the night and a mongoose went up through my rock garden one evening. The wild ones like to be invisible and secretive  but it is good to know they are out there.Not in the house! Four mice have been ‘humanely’ removed to at least 1 km away!

Mongoose was wandering over the rocks and seen from my sanctuary window.
Mongoose was wandering over the rocks and seen from my sanctuary window.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bunny friends!
Bunny friends!

I am off to stay with a friend in Rhodes so hope to keep up with blogging about the flora and fauna there soon. I may not be on wifi much but hope to catch up with everyone’s blogs again soon too.

 

 

Karma Chameleon in the Algarve. A walk round the Quinta Marim reserve by Olhao.

We spent some final days of a September summer in the Algarve. One walk, before my daughter flew back to the UK from Faro, was around the nature reserve just east of Olhao. We had visited this place some years ago and seen plenty of birds on the salt marshes and a vulture flying close by. It’s mate was recuperating in the bird hospital there. A famous line of friendly Portuguese Water Dogs were also kept there. This time the visitor centre wasn’t open, no sign of the dogs, and all seemed rather run down. Just as this walk around a nature reserve seemed to be a bit disappointing, a chameleon slowly and leisurely crossed our path. I was so pleased that my daughter could also experience such a close encounter. No binoculars needed!

Chameleon in Olhao nature Reserve
Chameleon in Olhao nature Reserve

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September 13th 085

Misstery Bird, Missing binoculars, Missing Birds. How many birds will we miss?

My first ventures at bird photography with the LUMIX was more successful than the dear old iPhone. It was also quite good to zoom in on birds to identify them as our binoculars have gone walkabout. In this photo I was trying to identify a large looking  egret but missed seeing the other two. It was only later, on the computer, I spotted the two other birds.

Photo of egret but includes a mystery bird camoflaged on the shore; largish with possibly long beak; curlew? and small wader paddling. Perhaps the zoom on the camera is better than the binoculars we have left in London!
Photo of Little Egret  but includes a mystery bird camoflaged on the shore; largish with possibly long beak; curlew? and small wader paddling!
Ringed plover
Ringed plover little, Charadrius dubius

I never thought how important binoculars would be some years ago when I tried using them and couldn’t focus at first. But the distinct colours and antics of birds became so vivid that now I feel lost without them. I remember the little brown bird in my garden, a dunnock,with its tawny golden streaked feathers.

Grey plover in adult winter plumage. Pluvialis squatarola.
Grey plover in adult winter plumage. Pluvialis squatarola.arden.
Another curlew on a sand bank
Another curlew on a sand bank, numenius arquata

In 2010 we walked along this stretch of the Ria Formosa by Cabanas Fort. This is a sandy dune habitat and a protected place for conservation of a range of habitats and seabirds. My eyes were opened to the variety of birds and trying to look for the leg or beak colours. This was another eye opener to the amazing range of birds I had never really thought about before.

But the curlew had always been a part of my imagination. A book read long ago in childhood described the haunting cry of the curlew. Now we need to listen to their plaintive cries and protect their habitats. Maybe the mystery bird is a curlew?  But could it be a whimbrel, a godwit or one of those green or red shanks… .? It was far too far  away to see and when I saw the photo it was also well camouflaged on the shoreline.  A bird to haunt me!

Now for the missing binoculars, not just one but two pairs. Is this what happens travelling between UK, Spain and Portugal? Unfortunately am still looking and having to use the camera to zoom in and capture a little bird.

More of a concern than the binoculars are the decline in bird numbers. How many different birds will we miss if we have never known the amazing variety that there are?    Just for starters…. Kentish plover, Ringed plover, Little ringed plover, Golden plover, Grey plover, Dotterel and let’s not confuse Dunlin, Sanderling and Knot or take a Stint or two.

Maybe they all deserve a poem or a shipping forecast with their amazing names.

First bird shots with lumix bridge camera

A kind of Egret in the almond orchards with Bermuda buttercups
A kind of Egret in the almond orchards with Bermuda buttercups

My hat goes off to all those bird photographers out there. I am often amazed by the clarity and closeness of the images. I will persevere but spotting these rather large birds and then zooming in on them wasn’t easy.

Along the shore of the Ria Formosa in the Algarve at this time of year is a wader’s paradise. Of course some of them like the meadows nearby and on one of our walks we heard a lot of croaking. So the frogs are busy along with the bees in the almond blossom.

we have been without our binoculars so the camera helped with some identification and we think we have seen the following : turnstones, dunlin or knot, ringed plover and grey plover, curlew and cormorant, and maybe some green shanks.

Egret on the shore at Cabanas de Tavira, Algarve, Portugal.
Egret on the shore at Cabanas de Tavira, Algarve, Portugal.