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Category: The countryside

Springwatch

Springwatch

We are avid followers of the BBC programme Springwatch which comes out about this time of year. It covers many plants and animals emerging from the long dark winter of the UK. However, we have our own Caza Azul Springwatch this year covering the birds and plants that have appeared here over the last month.

First up we had Blue tits once again nesting in one of our bird boxes. Unfortunately this didn’t end well as the five little brown speckled eggs were left and didn’t hatch. ūüôĀ

Better news for the Serins however. Although not the best of places for a nest, they had made it on the end of the loquat tree five feet off the ground and in a position to catch any breeze. I’m surprised they didn’t get seasick. However, a good place to photograph and I was there to see two of the three nestlings fledge. And they stayed in the garden fluttering about for a few days as well.

one of the Serin parents
Two nestlings

In fact we have another Serin nest on the go now as well. It’s in the rose bush right above the front door. At the moment we think there are just eggs but hopefully (like last year) some youngsters will emerge from this nest.

Serins above the front door

We also spotted a wren nest. It was in a little crevice where the waterpipe comes into our courtyard. Here two wrens set up shop and we could see them for weeks, first bringing nest materials and then latterly insects, until finally the little critters fledged. They hung around for a few days as well and I counted at least 6 babies flying around the courtyard rather unsteadily. Amazing to think that they had been packed into that little space.

adult wren with supper for the kids
baby wren just fledged

Away from the birdlife, the orchids have put on a tremendous show this year. Although we have a page dedicated to them, I thought I would showcase a few photos I took this year:

Ophrys apifera, Bee orchid

Ophyrus lutea, Yellow ophyrus orchid
Ophrys speculum, Mirror orchid
Ophrys speculum subsp lusitanica, Portuguese mirror orchid
Anacamptis pyramidalis, Pyramidal orchid
Ophrys tenthredinifera, Sawfly orchid
Ophyrus scolopax, Woodcock orchid
Ophrys fusca, Sombre bee orchid

NB there are another 10 different orchids we’ve seen which I haven’t included!

The building work in the courtyard continues. Joining the new wood shed, I’ve put a planter on top of the wall and Jackie has planted some geraniums. Let’s hope they put on a good show this year. I’m also going to tile it with some of our old azulejos when I get a chance. And when we sit on the blue bench hopefully we will get the aroma from the newly planted jasmine.

Talking of good shows, our climate seems to favour roses. I’ve shown the yellow rose earlier from above our front door, but our red rose in the garden is doing tremendously as well.

The good, the bad and the beautiful

The good, the bad and the beautiful

The good: it’s been raining. In fact we have had rain every day in March except 13th. This means the grass is green, the well is full and there are puddles galore for Jussi on her walks. The saplings we put in are beginning to show the very first signs of life.

The seed sowing has been slightly delayed this year until it’s a tad warmer, but those on the kitchen windowsill are coming through.¬† Each of the sweetcorn has just germinated, I can taste those already. The purple sprouting broccoli is out and being eaten (by us!) and the lettuce, radishes, rocket (and some nettles) are thriving in the demipoly:

The bad: it’s been raining. In fact we have had rain every day in March except 13th. This means the hens and roasties, and even the ducks, spend more time sheltering despite so much lush grass to eat. The broad beans are up and flowering but the flowers look rather soggy and there doesn’t seem to have been many insects about, I’m waiting for the first pod to appear. The peas are bedraggled. The raised beds in the veg patch, it seems not that long ago, were looking great but the weeds love this weather and are slowly taking over:

The beautiful: but we have had some sunny intervals, enough for the spring flowers to appear:

And the blackthorn at the end of the garden has put on a marvellous snowy, showy spectacle:

We have left it too late to clean out the bird boxes as the blue tits are already making themselves at home. And on the morning walks nothing is nicer than hearing the Song Thrush echo down the valley. They have normally gone by now, being winter visitors, but it seems they have decided to stay this year. How nice:

He shot me down, bang, bang.

He shot me down, bang, bang.

narcissus_bulbicodium

One word sums up this winter, our 7th here (that can’t be right, can it?!) and that’s mild. We’ve had the rain, and quite a lot of that, but not the torrential downpours and storms from previous years. We’ve had frosts, but nothing like last year. And we’ve had the sunshine of course, but not the endless days of sunshine (and the resulting drought) as in 2012. This year the low growing¬†narcissus bulbicodium seem to have thrived and meadows are full of their colour, a host of golden daffodils indeed. We’ve also had hailstones:

hail

Brrr, and to think we’ve had winter barbecues some years. No thanks. But spring is around the corner, temperatures are set to go well into double figures and the lush green countryside will soon be sparkling with the jewels of all the wild flowers, can’t wait.

And not only will winter end, but the hunting season too. I would say that, overall, hunting has been less evident this year than previous ones. Betty did get caught in a javali trap (she has learnt to wait patiently as the wire is loosened from around her waist) and one Sunday the sound of shots seemed to come from all directions but we haven’t met the packs of dogs, or too many hunters really this year. We were on a walk one day, however, strolling through the woodland, when we met one guy, camouflaged fromhunting top to bottom with his shotgun slung nonchalantly over his shoulder, also looking out for the birds. Hmmm.

And it’s sad to see the empty cartridges littering the footpaths. The one consolation I get is that there are hunters because there are things to be hunted. We have javali (wild boar), deer, mongoose, foxes, weasels, partridges and millions of rabbits. The hedgerows are alive with birds. This is all because the countryside here is perfect for wildlife, they thrive here. Back in the UK farmers are encouraged to leave land uncultivated so that some of the natural habitat can return and so too the wildlife; the loss of land to development or agriculture is directly linked to the loss of flora and fauna. I also suspect that the birds of prey, the buzzards, red kites, falcons, hawks and owls all eat many more birds than the hunters here shoot.

countryside

So hurrah for the Portuguese countryside and its creatures, great and small.

 

Aah, autumn!

Aah, autumn!

country

I think I’m right in saying that we have updated this blog every single month since starting and this month, for the first time, we almost didn’t make it. Which would have been a shame as it’s been a wonderful month, a perfect autumn misty morning cum glorious sunshine cum parky evening kind of month. Great for walking, gardening, lunching outside and then enjoying a roaring fire. It’s been alive with colour, not the pretty, pretty colours of spring but vibrant green pastures, rich red and gold vineyards, bronze foliage and clear blue skies.

frosty

Jack Frost has visited us a few times adding a sharpness and crunch, red noses and iced waters; a taste of winter. So goodbye November and the season of mellow fruitfulness, and hello to the wrapped-up season.

The colour of straw

The colour of straw

straw1

Crunchy underfoot, alive with insects and pollen, the land is slowly but surely turning a lovely shade of straw. Pale and interesting, hot and dry. It seems almost novel to us after last year’s green and pleasant land, but with no rain and scorching temperatures it’s a different story this summer. Most of the wild flowers have disappeared but hardy souls linger on including this yellow thistle, called a Spanish oyster it seems, and the fragrant, golden sweet yarrow that borders all the country lanes around us.

straw5

Many of the meadows have been cut, leaving unruly hay bales, reminiscent of autumns from yesteryear in the UK. Only the other day an old boy and his donkey cart tottered by. Meanwhile, the veg patch is also sporting the colour of straw. The first of the plums is always the yellow ones, not such a bumper harvest this year alas but we have put them to good use.

straw6

The courgettes as always put on a golden display, such a nice way to be greeted in the morning.  Peaches and plums have been bottled.

straw3

My sister gave me some seeds for climbing yellow courgettes, these are doing well, as are the round lemon flavoured cucumbers. We’ve also been eating one of Richard’s favourite crops, the oh so delicious sweetcorn. It’s always a success and this year I have planted a second crop which should be ready in late August or September.

straw4

The final word goes to our faithful labrador, who is blending in nicely with the colour scheme:

straw7

 

 

The fruits of our labours

The fruits of our labours

Although the fields round here are still crammed with spring flowers, summer is just around the corner. We had a downpour in the first week of May but since then it has been unrelenting sun with most days peaking at over 30 degrees. But never mind summer we also have half an eye on Autumn and the coming harvest.

The cherries are the first to arrive and have in fact already done so. We bought a young cherry tree a few years ago and it has always been a bit odd and remained very small but it has produced its first cherry. And second cherry. But that was it! Meanwhile our old tree is full of little gems which should be ready very soon. Around the time we bought the cherry tree we also got an apricot tree. Unlike the cherry, this tree is magnificent. Last year it produced its first fruit but none stayed the distance. This year we have two. Lets hope they will hang on and grow to maturity. Our garden is full of plum trees and fingers crossed it will be another good year for these fruit of many hues. Also it looks like a good year for the walnuts and the apples but we will not have a single pear. We also have a number of peach trees. They start off with loads of fruit but they either fall off too soon or if they ripen they are full of worms and/or are inedible. It’s strange how these things work out. The first of the soft fruit, the raspberries, are also ready but I’ll leave Jackie to fill you in on veg patch news next time.

Cherry number 1 and first of the yellow plums
Cherry number 1 and first of the yellow plums
walnuts and apricot
walnuts and apricot
apple
apple

At the moment, whenever we walk through the garden or indeed wander the village, with the gentlest of breezes we are engulfed in snowdrifts of confetti. The olive trees are now in flower and after last year’s disaster we are hoping for a good crop this time around.

On to another type of harvest. I can’t believe two years after we killed the pigs they keep on giving. Last week I found a liver at the bottom of the chest freezer and that means p√Ęt√©. According to supermarket practice the liver may have been well beyond its sell-by-date but I can assure you the p√Ęt√© was delicious. I’ve also killed this year’s first crop of roasties and so made some more p√Ęt√© out of the chicken livers. Much smoother than the pig liver p√Ęt√© but just as delicious.

pig liver and chicken liver pate
pig liver and chicken liver p√Ęt√©

Soon we will be getting to the end of the spring flowers but the orchids keep on coming. Here are a few more found within metres of our house.

Broad leaved Helleborine and the Bug Orchid
Broad leaved Helleborine and the Bug Orchid

woodcock orchids
woodcock orchids
The orchid on the left is a hypochromatic form of the woodcock orchid (normal one seen on the right). This is a genetic abnormality and there is much discussion in the orchid world about why it happens!
mirror orchids
mirror orchids
More controversy! The flower on the right is a Mirror Orchid. We thought the one on the left was also a Mirror Orchid but recently it has been identified as a species in its own right – the Iberian Ophrys. It is quite rare and only found in Portugal and some parts of Spain.
Ophrys Lutea
Ophrys Lutea
And our final orchid is Ophrys Lutea. Very pretty.

roseAnd finally a photo of Jussi – sporting her socks in an attempt to stop her licking her paws!

The merry month of May

The merry month of May

It’s my favourite month of the year here. Not too hot, not too cold. Not too wet, not too dry. And the flowers, oh the flowers. Some of you will remember my lament a year ago when the old boy who has the olive grove at the end of our garden sprayed it with some horrid stuff. Well, it was a poor year for the olives and we haven’t seen him since and, remarkably, the flowers have made a wonderful recovery and thanks to equal measures of rain and sun have literally blossomed.

meadow

In fact since taking this photo I’ve had to go out and cut a swathe through it, the path had all but disappeared. I’m not sure the dogs, however, appreciate the pastoral beauty…

jussi_orchid

The colour purple

The colour purple

From the veg patch we have the first of the purple sprouting broccoli joining the asparagus:

purple1

In the countryside the early purple orchids (orchis mascula) are out and, if you look in the dappled light along walkways, tiny dog-violets (viola riviniana) are hiding:

purple2

Blossom

Blossom

March is upon us and we are starting to feel the warmth on our faces and the shorts have made their first appearance of the year (the legs won’t be shown on the blog for a while yet mind, thankfully). However, one of the gang hates the warmer weather and is always looking for an opportunity to cool off…

Jussi
Jussi

However, in addition to Betty, she has a new companion on our daily walks. Teddy II, who lives in the village has decided to join us. He’s always waiting for us when we set off and then after the walk he goes back home! Here he is doing one of his favourite activities.

dogs1
On the walk last week we spotted a Giant Orchid, a telltale sign that spring is finally here.
giant_orchid
Meanwhile in the garden, although we have had daffodils for ages, more are popping up every day and they are now being joined by the irises. Most pleasing of all, however, is the appearance of the tree blossom – blackthorn, peach, apricot, almond and here is the ornamental plum.

ornamental plum
ornamental plum

The courtyard has a new member. Jackie planted an avocado stone in a pot a few years ago and we kept it in the bathroom. It grew and grew and grew. And despite constant pruning to limit its size, it has simply outgrown its surroundings and so now has to survive outside. It should be OK for the summer but I can’t see it lasting the winter. We shall see.

avocado tree
avocado tree

The orange trees in the courtyard are still going strong and despite me making litres and litres of juice, the oranges keep coming!

oranges
Finally a few more shots of the hairy ones.

dogs2
Admittedly the locals call Jussi “el gordo”, the fat one, however, I don’t know why she looks quite so lardy in this shot – she’s not that bad! It’s just her thick coat she says.

dogs3

Booze

Booze

The hunting season has started again. From now until the end of February we are greeted in the morning with the sound of shots and the yelping of hysterical dogs, just Thursdays and Sundays mind. Betty doesn’t care what day of the week it is, she¬†¬†frequently¬†returns from the undergrowth panting and wide-eyed, her mouth blood-stained. She chased a young deer ¬†yesterday. Apart from the wild boar traps (some of you will remember Betty’s awful experience) I am not bothered by the hunting. The very fact it exists proves that the woods and hills nearby home rabbits, deer, foxes, mongeese (mongooses?), deer and wild boar, and plenty of other things we haven’t seen. And the reason these animals exist is because their natural habitat remains: hedgerows, coppices, unfarmed meadows, deciduous and coniferous woodlands…

lane

What’s this to do with booze? Well, it’s the hedgerows for a start. Teeming with blackberries and sloes. Which means along with the damson vodka and cherry brandy we now have sloe gin to add to our winter noggins.

booze

We live in the land of wine so why I’m tempted to make our own is beyond me. The quince effort, some years ago now, wasn’t tooo bad. The elderflower last year was actually quite quaffable, except for the last bottle left to share with friends which had suffered from the heat of the barn.

elderberry_wine2But while it’s never as good as the bought stuff¬†that’s only made from grapes, ¬†there is something romantic about country wines. So this year it’s the turn of the elderberry, something I’ve always wanted to try. I just couldn’t resist those¬†tempting black berries. We’ll let you know in a year or two!

I have to admit though¬†that lurking in the pantry are two bottles of walnut liqueur, a kind of nocino. We had a try after a year and it was horrid. So I added some sugar, replaced the tops and shoved them back in the pantry. I’m convinced that, when we remember to try again and wipe off the cobwebs, it’ll be superb. Cheers!

Oh, by the way: the hedgerows are also home to Cheeky Charlie. Yes, still on the loose among the brambles and wild roses, popping in for food and water occasionally and then back to¬†the shade. Don’t count your chickens, Charlie!