Tag Archives: Nature

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.

Wings of a butterfly to wildness of wild boar: Close encounters of the natural kind.

 

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What is it that makes an encounter with a wild animal so fascinating and wonderful. It seems to me like a privilege that you are able to see one and at a safe distance in the case of the more threatening ones! We know there are boar on the Finca. We see evidence of their digging, in particular around the path up to the studio.It is a rocky and grassy path and full of wild flowers such as candytuft in the summer. I also had to go to some expense to have a boar proof fence around my new Huerta or allotment patch for vegetables. Fidel who helps us with the chestnut harvest once asked if he could hunt them. Mr T rang me up and got my most adamant reply NO! So they are quite happy here being destructive with the rocky walls, digging up the earth and making it rough to walk over, clearing pathways through the undergrowth and finding enough to eat. In Spain there is a boar hunting season and we had a man chase a boar though the Finca with his dogs once. I only saw the undergrowth move fast but later a dog with a collar and bell appeared and for a while we were wondering what to do with the dog. There are No hunting signs around the campsite and these are areas where people live and walk so again the most dangerous animal is a man with a gun.

Yesterday as I got out of the car to unlock the gate, about 2 on. Rainy afternoon. I pushed the gate open on one side and looked down towards the crest of a hill dipping down the path. For me it seemed like a great big dog appeared, blackish, about the size of a German shepherd dog. I thought at first it was maybe our friend Rainers’s dog but it looked rather grey around the muzzle .
It turned up onto the path and looked to cross. I realised then it must be a boar. It stopped on the path and turned its head round. For a few moments I was staring at the boar and the boar was staring at me. I must have been very still and the boar was motionless until it turned its head agin and wandered off across the path. Mr T was quite indignant that I hadn’t told him and he got out of the car and went down the path to see if the boar was still nearby. He had never seen one on the Finca but had several years ago taken some pictures of some young ones with one of those night automatic infra red cameras. I think it must have been a male and I have twice in the past almost run over one crossing a main road. This is a reminder to me that they are big but not usually about during the daytime. I might now have to take my walks around the Finca with my Spanish boar stick and thudding the ground with it but of course that might ensure I have no more close wild encounters. Usually these wild ones keep well clear of us if we are not to be prey!

The other close encounter was with a butterfly. It was a beautiful evening with the sun just about to disappear behind the hill to the west of our small boat shaped valley. The shadows of the chestnuts in the Navasola west fields were getting longer but I saw a lump of old broken off chestnut with the sun shining fully on it. It looked like a warm place to sit and soak up the last rays of the sun. Then something fluttered by, surely not, a butterfly in January? As I tried to follow it and perhaps identify it it landed on that piece of old wood. A good spot in the sun for a butterfly to warm its wings before a cold night. I couldn’t move but just stared down at it. It’s wings were large with bright red. It stayed there quite a while. I even thought I might have been able to go back for my camera! The butterfly and I just warming ourselves in the sun. When it finally flew off I went and sat on the wood where the butterfly had warmed its wings. I stayed there until the sun dipped down enjoying a time of quiet reflection on small things and inner delight. Ahh… A red admiral, that had been hibernating over winter and had woken with the warmth of a January sunny day here in Andalucia. My photo is of one taken at the Martin Mere Wetlands centre in Lancashire in the UK. Need to go back to my iPhone in my pocket for those sudden photo opportunities when least expecting a close encounter!

Living Simply, Living Sustainably: Wildlife Friendly Farming and Awkward moments.

Being back in the UK over the festive season has many positives when being with family and friends but the pace of life begins to get hectic and at times bewildering. A friend of mine said that she finds when she speaks to people for goods and services it can be so much more frustrating nowadays. Hers was – have you had an accident or breakdown – for a pothole blowing a tyre. Took longer as she had gone through on breakdown and was told she would have to ring again for accident! Her cry was but I just need road side assistance.
My frustration came in a local well known supermarket. I was looking for where the muesli was. I decided to ask but the young girl didn’t really understand. This can happen in London as there are many non native speakers ( enter the awkward linguist who struggles with her Spanish). However,the young lady was very helpful and took me to a group of suited managers and asked. They didn’t seem to want to understand her attempt to say muesli so of course I chip in too. Then the reply is – We don’t sell that product here – of course, I am now exasperated as I know they have their own brand of It. I try to re pronounce it. I do this so often with my Spanish. Can I not now pronounce Muesli? I go for MEWSLI after trying MOOSLI. I then end up saying – well cereals then- . The lovely young girl takes me along and there is the big sign CEREALS next to another big sign MUESLI. So is muesli not cereal now ? Oh well, never mind. I give the young girl a brief English lesson on the origin of the word muesli and a comment that she now knows more than her managers. Here ends the Awkward Linguist part of the post and we then move onto the Awkward Environmentalist. The awkwardness is thanks to a great blogging site for wild flowers : The Awkward Botanist; A great name for a great blog.

Then I explore the endless variety of muesli products. Usually we opt for the cheapest and most simple mix but I thought to add in a granola; not a type of muesli? I am looking at the packaging for sugar content and product origin. Shopping can be so complicated now. I am not going to do product placement but the product I bought had an aim of only buying the cereals used from wildlife friendly farmers. Have tried a photograph of the packetand it does advertise the name all the way through the comments on how they help wildlife. So maybe that’s ok. If they really do. So complicated to know the whole truth but at least a company taking a step in a positive direction.
I bought it because of this. Good advertising? Responsible choices? Should we demand more of this? It was a bit on the expensive side and I remember a friend commenting on why she couldn’t afford free range eggs. For me, I couldn’t afford not to. Dare I say quite tasty and less sugar if added to bog standard MOOSLI!

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Festive fun and fears from snowy, sunny, Sheffield. And Happy New YEAR to new year babies and to us all!

imageAfter Christmas in Manchester with my daughter and friends we set off to cross the Pennines to visit friends in Sheffield. There was no sign of snow in Manchester but as we approached the edge of the city we could see snow on the hills. This short but high journey across the spine of England is one I have the utmost respect for. For England these are high hills( yes, I know) and attract harsh weather conditions. Maybe this is our only experience of isolation although not far from several major northern cities. There are several high road passes and these can be closed in bad weather. Many years ago I traveled across the motorway pass with an American friend in her great big jeep. As to why an enormous American jeep broke down on one of the most remote parts of any English motorway when the snow was setting in for the night, I have no answers for. However, this is why I have a respect for wild places where humans shouldn’t be in the snow, or a fear! We were  finally rescued by the local police and taken away from the vehicle. Some may think little ‘ole’ England hasn’t any really high mountains and usually has mild weather. But some of the moorlands can be quite dangerous when the weather takes a turn for the worse. This can happen very quickly and walkers need to beware and take care too.

We headed up and over the Woodhead Pass in steady but slow moving traffic. It was very heavy with fog and there were few good views until we got to the Sheffield side and then there was snow and sun galore over the hills. I hadn’t seen snow like that for a while.
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In Sheffield most of the roads were well gritted except the suburban side roads. These were probably the most treacherous with compacted ice. But we had arrived in good time, with the sun shining. So what do you do with a two and half year old. Out we went into the pristine snow of the garden and made footprints and then a snow cat. No, not a snow man, the snow was too soft and attention spans for both  of us quite short. Instead we built a snow cat and collected twigs for whiskers.
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The following day, in brilliant sunshine we headed out along well gritted country roads and into the Loxley Valley. The village of Bradfield and the reservoirs looked stunning in the snow.  I love to come out of Sheffield into the hills as once I lived and taught in this once great city of steel. ( En route we had passed Stocksbridge and saw the sign TATA, now the steel industry that is left is owned by  the mighty industrialists of India) The head teacher knew that many of our students never had or took the opportunity of a bus ride into the country and so each year the whole school would be taken out for a sponsored walk around the Ladybower reservoir.  The beginnings of environmental education.

We walked around the  Bradfield village green. covered with snow men, not cats, and also saw the orange bicycle sculptures. These were left over from the Tour De France….EE by gum, Yorkshire section. The hills round here were supposed to have been the steepest for the cyclists. I know this well, as once years ago…. my dear Ford diesel Escort got stuck going up one of the hills. This really is not a dig at American cars.  Maybe I should have had a bicycle instead!  Or maybe I need to get on my bike now and work off festive food and carbon foot prints. A resolution for the new year…..

Hoping we all have a prosperous and more sustainable 2015 and so all the new generation, one born today on New Year’s Day, can enjoy the wonders of this planet. Congratulations to the parents, grandparents and Great Grand Mama of the Manchester new year new born babe!

More mushrooms and one for the pan

I can see Autumn will be a busy time as the chestnuts need to be collected and wood too for the winter. The gallipierni or apagador of the macropiolete family was edible. It found its way to the frying pan and we survived. But the very rose shaped red mushrooms, possibly from Russula family , like all rather red ones are best avoided. Lots of smaller mushrooms and these possibly are hallucinogenic and hard on the stomach!
Back to work now for the final chestnuts of the season on a glorious sunny November day.IMG_3208.JPGIMG_3209.JPG

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Portugal: the eastern Algarve in January and February

Fortaleza in Cabanas with Almonds
3 weeks later, no blossom but look for the almonds. It might take till September for them to ripen though!
Almond blossoms around the fort; January in Cabanas de Tavira
Almond blossoms around the fort; January in Cabanas de Tavira

Here as promised are some of the photos taken recently on short vacations to Cabanas de Tavira on the Eastern Algarve  along the estuary and  lagoons of the Ria Formosa. The area is a protected national park along the sand dunes and beaches but unfortunately some of the cliff side walks are privately owned.
We enjoy an escape to warmer weather and an earlier spring than in the Sierra Aracena even if it is only about 100 miles away from Navasola it is at sea level. Although it is the Atlantic Ocean it is warmer here because of the Gulf Stream and the climate is more Mediterranean.

Walking around the old fort in January I came across this almond blossom tree full of blossom and teeming with bees. It was very noisy as well as beautiful. 3 weeks later in February the blossom had gone and you can just see in the photo of the same tree the beginnings of the almonds.