Sunday, 27 March 2011


Driving northwards, we pass through countryside covered in drifts of wild flowers, to the jewel of the Alentajo, Mertola, perched above the Guardiana river, then quietly crossed into Spain.
The countryside is dotted with Holm and Cork Oaks, beneath which graze the famous black pigs and the roadside is alive with wild flowers, such as the bee Orchid below.

Without wild flower book, we think this is of the clover family. Perhaps Sarah will be able to help us again, as she kindly identified the mystery moth from our blog at Castro Verde as a Common Crimson & Gold moth (Pyrausta Purpuralis)

We are heading for the plaines of La Serena, one of the least populated areas in Spain, famed for its steppe birds and for many raptors, such as Montagu's Harriers, below.

Sadly many of these species are in decline, for the usual reasons, bad farming practice and over grazing by sheep.

 This Blackeared Wheatear is one of the many migrators passing through this area and it was here that we heard our first Cuckoo and Hoopoes everywhere.
Traveling on to the northern steppe lands we come to the first of the damed valleys, the Embalse de Zujar and its river, all a protected area, because of its significance to birdlife. a wild uninhabited place, full of jagged rocks, Eucalyptus groves, rushing water and bird song.

We mount our trusty bikes and cycle forth to see Golden Eagles, Bonelli's Eagles, Booted Eagles and abundant Marsh Harriers. All around us the migrators are pouring through, among them this lovely Woodchat Shrike.

There is an ancient water mill nestling beside the river Zujar, where we sit awhile and take in the landscape around us.

Later Mike disappeared to try to photograph Kingfishers at a small backwater, whilst watching the reeds for the Kingfisher, he was startled by an Osprey which suddenly crashed into the water from above,
wet, but not injured, he missed the photograph! Blast! However he did recover enough to catch the bird making off with a large fish clamped in its gallons.

Osprey making off in the late afternoon sun, to enjoy its supper, perched high on a pylon. We watched the feast through the telescope for a full 45 minutes, every scrap was gone, nothing wasted. What a magnificent bird, all the time alert, watching with those great yellow eyes, no wonder sometimes flight feathers are missing, when it hits the water with that power. The following morning, early, we saw another 4 Ospreys on their passage north.... fantastic.

Tranquility on the river Zujar.
Passing the Embalse Orellana, en route to the Embalse Cijara, we pause at the Puerto Pina to view the nesting Black Storks and Vultures and we are lucky enough to see two Black Vultures, sadly they are too far away to photograph.

The Cijara 

The road from here North around the embalse, was the smallest and worst we have ever travelled, in any vehicle, let alone a 5 ton camping car. On the 50km journey, taking two and a half hours! we were relieved to only meet one motor bike and a back packer!

A pit stop en route.

Cascades of Rosemary along the road.


Love is in the Air!   


Looking towards the Praia de Faro
We arrived at the Praia de Faro looking for the sun and we got it, beautiful blue skies, the first Pallid Swifts screaming over our heads. We cycled off to explore the Salinas near the Quinta do Lago, a wonderful area for birding and for people who just enjoy walking or cycling in nature. The colours of wildflowers set against blue skies and water are just magic.

We were rewarded by seeing some Caspian Terns socialising with mixed Gulls and so many waders. It's strange how, so close to civilisation, nature is happy with pieces of habitat left wild. All the time aeroplanes flew low over our heads, from the nearby airport, bringing people to and from their holidays, little knowing of this oasis of wildlife below.
Below are some of the many ducks we saw and photographed.


Male & Female Teal

Female Tufted Duck

Male & Female Gadwall

Male Red Crested Pochard

The birdlife here is so varied that we were spoilt for choice, but could not resist this Glossy Ibis sharing a muddy island, with one of the many Turtles.

And this cheeky Zitting Cisticola

But for us the star must be this female Blackheaded Weaver

So we bid farewell to Portugal with this haunting shot of a Little Egret and head for Spain.

Sunday, 13 March 2011


Arriving at Elvas, we are dwarfed by the huge Aquaduto da Amoreira towering high above us. This town is one of the most complex and best preserved military fortifications surviving in Europe, from where Wellington prepared his troops for the battle of Badajoz.

The town gets more interesting as we wind our way up though the streets to the central square, which is large and graceful dominated by the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Assuncao.


Estremoz is one of the so called "marble towns" as the area is so rich in marble that it replaces bricks or concrete as a building material. The streets and squares of the town are clad in it.
Dom Dinis's palace within the castle walls, has been tuned into one of the most famous pousadas in Portugal, the Santa Isabel, where we stayed some 17 years ago.

The main square of the town, the Rossio, is very large and weekly, on Saturdays a huge market is held there. It is surrounded by many beautiful and interesting buildings, among them the Igreja de Sao Francisco, below.

Leaving Estremoz, we passed Evora by, as we have visited before and came again to Monsaraz to spend the night, watching the migrating Swallows diving in the darkness after insects attracted to the lights.
In the morning mist we left to come full circle back to Castro Verde.

The Little Bustards were still taking flight when threatened by Black Kites.

The Lesser Kestrels were still hunting.

Stone chats were still sitting watching us.

But the star attraction was the appearance of an Egyptian Mongoose coming home.

As the sun set, its light caught the roosting Cattle Egrets, high in some pines.

We say Goodbye to the wonderful Steppe lands, and wildlife of Castro Verde, we will return. 

MONSARAZ to MERIDA in Spain (Rome of the North)

We left Castro Verde and drove to Monsaraz, perched high above the plains, and huge lakes, as far as the eye can see. These lakes are formed by the construction of the Alqueva Dam, which although it is called an ecological disaster for the flora and fauna of this area, is very beautiful to see. 
The town is part of a chain of fortified villages stretching both North and South and the views from its ramparts are magnificent.

Little cobbled streets thread between white washed houses and at the heart of the town lies the Igreja Matriz church, illuminated by night.

Brooding at the end of the citadel is the Torre das Feiticeiras, or Witches Tower, standing above what is now the bull ring.

We walked out to a point high above the countryside, from where we had a commanding view, and where in history the inhabitants watched for invading Moors. Wild Olive trees and Holm Oaks grow all over and now Rock Roses are coming into flower, like stars on the hillside, a wild and beautiful Landscape.

That evening a huge storm came in, bringing with it orange desert dust, but giving us a  stunning photograph.

In search of some culture, we went to Merida in Spain, called "The Rome Of the North" because of its magnificent Roman Ruins. The Amphitheatre which was used for staging gladiatorial combats, fights between animals and circus performances, is very well preserved, although inaugurated in 8 B.C.

The Roman Theatre, had a seating capacity of 6,000 and the stage facade is the most spectacular part, with  graceful columns and statues. Although the light was not good for photographs, it added to the atmosphere of the place, haunted by actors and gladiators from ages past as the light fades away.