Wednesday, 28 June 2017

The wild Arribes del Duero in Portugal and Spain

We had driven north from Vila Velha de Ródão with its towering cliffs known as the Portas do Ródão, where we had spent the night. The following morning we drove to Castelo Branco, and once again crossed the border into Spain, the sky blue, heat haze disfiguring the road as we passed through the Sierra de Gata, our destination La Alberca, high in the Sierra de la Peña de Francia, located
70 Kilometres South of Salamanca and also in the province of Salamanca in Castilla Y Leon.
The road is torturous, the air was cooler as we passed through the pine forest, gaining height, eventually the switchback bends delivered us into La Alberca.  

We awoke early the following morning, refreshed and ready to explore the town and breakfasted on an incredible local bread stuffed with Chorizo sausage.

After breakfast, we once again set out on another zigzagging road, this one spiralling us ever high towards the summit of Peña de Francia.

The views from the top of Peña de Francia, at 5666feet, 1727mtrs are far reaching.

Presumably, this sculptured window is a characterization of Simón Vela and his travels from
Santiago de Compostela via Salamanca to find the Peña de Francia.
It may just be Don Quixote!

Due to its height, the Peña de Francia is home to Alpine Accentors whose breeding grounds are usually above 1800mtrs.

They like barren areas and feed on Insects and seeds. It was certainly barren up there and I guess their main food source would have to be insects as there was barely a blade of grass.

Later in the day, we passed through Ciudad Rodrigo and into the arribes, the local name for the complex of Duero river gorges. Once again these canyons form the border between Portugal and Spain for close to 120 kilometres, and like the Rio Tajo gorges, they harbour important populations
of cliff-nesting birds.    

In both the above Photographs you can see the road that we had travelled, to access the canyon.

At the river level we used one of the giant dams to cross the border back into Portugal, so again you see Portugal on the left and Spain on the right. Swifts, Red Rumped and Barn Swallows hawk over the still water.

Positioned on top of an elevated outcrop, waiting to observe Vultures flying through the gorge, it was a surprise to see this Wren, so high!

The Griffon Vultures look Great in the late afternoon sunshine.

They just soared past just below our viewpoint.

Some of them starting to moult.

The following morning we were back early, just in time to catch a pair of Egyptian Vultures.

As the pair of Egyptian Vultures passed down the gorge the Griffon Vultures start to launch from their roost.

Some off the Griffons wait on the rocks for the early morning air to warm, before launching themselves off the cliff face.

We made slow progress, following as close as possible to the gorge, we were still in Portugal and Spain rising up across the water.

At times the roads and tracks had become so rutted and impossible to travel along we had to hike to the canyon.

Whilst walking we found This lovely Provence Hairstreak butterfly.

Two minutes later we found a Green Hairstreak.

The end of another great visit!

From here we would be travelling further North in Castilla y  León to start our search for the elusive
Iberian Wolf.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Birdwatching along the Tajo International river in Spain

With the Portuguese hilltop town of Marvão high above us, our road turned left and we soon passed seamlessly into Spain, heading towards Valencia de Alcántara, Shortly after this remote town we once again turn left, this time a very minor road towards Cedillo. 

 We are now in the International Tajo, no sign of a river or cliffs,
 just the rolling Dehesa and scrub warblers.
We bear right and the road winds down towards the Tajo River, the international border splitting Spain and Portugal, the river forms the border for some 40 Kilometres. 
Here the green-clad cliffs are home to Black Storks, Egyptian Vultures, Black and Griffon Vultures, Golden and Bonelli's Eagles, Short-Toed Eagles Black Kites and Booted Eagles are also seen with many other cliff and rock species.
We will follow the river upstream to Alcantara through a wonderfully remote landscape,
full of nature.

Portugal to the right and Spain on the left, the Rio Tajo centre stage.

Black Kites hunt along the green cliffs.

A key species for our visit was the Blue Rock Thrush.

Perfect timing as the male birds were all seeking partners and very visible as they sing and defend their territories.

Our road continues through small deserted villages towards a tributary of the Tajo, the Rio Salzar.

Black Vulture "what a bird" so massive!

Black stork, what a day!

Unbelievably the Black Stork and Black Vulture are circling together on the thermal.
Just look at the size of the Vulture compared to the Stork.

At this time of year, Short-Toed Eagles seem nearly common.

A pair of Crag Martin's, beautifully camouflaged, take a rest from their nest building.

On the cliff face, we can watch their nest building progress.

The Emabalse de Alcántara is an important breeding ground for the Black Stork, during our visit we were lucky to see two females arriving at the nesting site, the males had already returned.

Reunited on their nest, "yes that is a CCTV camera," all the nests here are given maximum protection.

Egyptian Vultures are also nesting close by.

Synchronised flying by a pair of Egyptian Vultures!

Meanwhile, the resident Griffon Vultures look on.

High above the river, we find acres of wild flowers and Red Deer.

A hunting Spanish Imperial Eagle.

What a fantastic area to visit.

For us, the road heads North, we will return!

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Alter-Real Stud and a slow road through Portugal

 Travelling North we had left the heavy rains of Spain and Portugal's Algarve behind us. With no hurry to our journey, we passed along the many small and winding roads enjoying the scenery.  

Close to Castro Verde, this little church sits on the top of a hill with its grizzly history.
It commemorates the Battle of Ourique, on the 25th of July 1139.

Outside the church is a mural depicting the battle.

Stunning wildflowers carpeted the countryside.

Corn Buntings adorned fenceposts.

We passed through small villages and towns taking on supplies, here in Portel an excellent baker, the Pastel de nata were superb!

In Alter do Chão we had been sitting in the shade enjoying the coffee, before our visit to the
Alta Real Stud.

This wonderful stud, is the birthplace of the Alter-Real Lusitano breed of horses,
which have been bred here since its foundation in 1748 by King João V.

We enjoyed watching a training session, where some young stallions were put through their paces, before a full tour of the Stud.

For Linda, this was to be the highlight of our trip through Portugal, as she has a special love of the Lusitano and Spanish Andalusian breeds.

The thirty or so stallions are housed in this magnificent old building,
that echoes to their snorting testosterone.

In an altogether more tranquil setting the sixty breeding mares and their foals rest,
on deep straw, away from the heat of the day.
They are turned out to roam on the fields at night, to enjoy the grass and the freedom.

There is also an interesting carriage museum, housing many different types of carriages.
We enjoyed an amazing afternoon here among those beautiful horses and hope to return,
perhaps to the annual auction held on or around 24th April.

The road through the Serra de São Mamede became a little testing!

Almond blossoms lined the many small roads we explored, twisting over the countryside.

A local fisherman unloads his catch of freshwater fish, below the castle at Juromenha,
on the Rio Guadiana.

Most of the catch had been Carp and Zander.

Further up river House Martin's are busy nest building, beaks full of the wet mud.

This old bridge a great nesting site for the House and Crag Martins.

Mimosa with its delicate fern-like leafs blooming yellow all around us.

Also bright yellow the male Siskins, busy looking for mates.