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 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.
FOOTNOTE FROM THE RIO ZUJAR!
Love is in the Air!