Thursday, 7 April 2016

29th March - Salema to Burgau Circuit, Algarve, Portugal

The Algarve needs very little introduction to many, an area spanning the southern coast of Portugal, the destination of many human summer visitors.  But we were here outside of the season, and were also away from the more familiar destinations.  We would be walking from the southern coast, through the surrounding agricultural land and up to the more rugged and dramatic coast line of the north western shores.

We arrived into about an hour late after surviving the tail end of Storm Katie, and following a taxi drive of just over an hour arrived in our first location, the little village of Salema where our adventure would start.  From Salema we would be following the shoreline past some really spectacular beaches, then cutting inland on the "Via Algarvia" through sheltered valleys to the municipal town of Vila do Bispo.  Then on to the restored village of Aldeia do Pedravala, from where we then make our way through more wooded hills and valleys to the coast and the beaches of Amado and Bordeira, finally staying just outside the village of Carrapateira.

Our accommodation in Salema was an apartment overlooking a pool and out to the beach and see.  We settled ourselves in, enjoyed a drink in beautiful sunshine on the terrace at the Atlantico Hotel, and in the evening had a wonderful meal in the recommended restaurant Agua na Boca.

The following morning the sun rose in clear skies, and looking from the apartment window the scene was extremely inviting.  It has been a long dreary winter back home, and to wake to the colours in the sky and sea this morning was very uplifting.



Breakfast was taken in a cafe a short walk from the apartment and we were treated to the lovely Portuguese custard tarts known as Pastel da Nata, surprisingly this was the only place we had these lovely pastries.


Our walk today would be a circuit from Salema along the cliffs and across the beaches eastwards to Burgau then inland and back along a river valley back to Salema.

From the apartments we headed east along the main road, with Swallows and House martins above us and from the shrubs we could hear the first calls and song of the Sardinian Warbler, this was to become very familiar.  The birds though are lightening quick when they appear and eluded me, but I was sure there would be other chances.  Across the valley magpies flew to and fro, the long tails giving them away, but when they landed it was clear these were not "our" magpies, but were in fact Azure-winged Magpies.  This was a life tick for me, completely different from the black and white magpies, these had a dark black cap, a pinkish grey breast and back, and when settled turquoise-blue wings.  Again I wasn't able to get a suitable photograph, and hoped I would see them again a little bit closer.

We headed off the road and up hill to the cliff tops.  The route took us along the cliffs with amazing views back towards Salema and the beach.



We were walking through various species of Cistus, the dominant being a type of gum cistus with white flowers and shiny sticky leaves, and a large range of other shrubs such as Juniper, Lavender, Mastic, Thyme and Rosemary.  As we walked you could hear the sound of bees as they flew past.

Stonechats could be heard along the cliff edge, but more of interest was a lark that was flushed from the base of the shrubs, and then flew across to a bush.  In flight there was a distinct flash of reddish brown around the rump and tail, and when it settled it sang confirming this as a Thekla Lark, another lifer for me, so I took this record shot in case I don't get better views



Very similar to the Crested lark, it was the reddish brown colouring and of course the song that confirmed this was different.

As I watched the lark I noticed movement below me, and a Blue Rock Thrush flew up to perch on one of the information boards.



From the cliff we walked down past a ruined building with a nice piece of welcoming graffiti, and then out on to the beach, the Praia da Boca do Rio, the light was wonderful, and the beach really impressive.  I can't take the credit for this photograph, Helen took it with the wonderful flares from the sun, and the misty spray from the waves and sand.



The walk now continued on after crossing the river.  We had to find a set of stepping stones that have replaced the ruined bridge.  As we looked we found that a Cormorant was using the old bridge.



It was clear that the stones were not there, and that we were going to have to take another route.  What we did find though was aver confiding Common Sandpiper.



We had to walk down to the sea where a sand bar blocks the mouth of the river, and then scramble along the rocks on the other side.  This also meant a little climbing as we reached the end of the rocks.  The river water though providing a lovely reflection of the surrounding hills (the rocks we had to scramble along are on the right hand side).



Once across we headed up hill and then along a road that led to the ruined Forte de Almadena.  Here we paused and took in the stunning coastal views. to the east.



And looking back towards Salema.



A pair of Red-rumped Swallows were flying around below us, and I tried with great difficulty to get some shots, but failed miserably.  I love the challenge of photographing hirundines, and these Red-rumped Swallows fly a lot slower but still manage to twist and turn at the last moment.  As we watched them a kestrel drifted past just off the cliff.



And a Sardinian Warbler popped up on the stone wall, not the perfect shot but a start.



Leaving the ruined building we crossed some short ground where a pair of Thekla Larks and one did give the perfect opportunity.



We followed the cliff path for a while it taking us through more Cistus and Juniper shrubs, there had been brief views of small blue butterflies every so often, but I finally managed to get one to sit tight.  No sight of the upper wings, but from the pattern on the under wing I consider this to be a Black-eyed Blue.



It turns out that this is the most likely blue butterfly you will find at this time of year in southern Iberia, it is distinguished from the similar Green Under-side by the lack of green at the base of the under-wing.

Then due to property we had to turn inland, this took us past an disused real estate building which was being used by several House Martins as the perfect place to build nests, lots of them!



After a brief walk along the road our route turned back towards the sea, and up along the cliffs.  Another butterfly put in an appearance, a Small Copper.



Flocks of Linnet could be seen and heard, the males with a beautiful rosy-pink flush on their breasts.



It was warming up nicely, and without a breeze in places it was quite hot.  Yellow butterflies had passed us but now they were settling and I was able to get the first good views of Clouded Yellows.



We were heading for the town of Burgau, and in this view the town is tucked away behind the first headland.



There was a change in the vegetation now, the Cistus giving way to a plant that looked a lot like sage, and is known as the Sage-leafed Cistus, there was also a lovely carpet of vibrant yellowy green flowers.



These flowers give a lovely show, almost iridescent, and i think they are known as Bermuda Buttercup. If so they are a member of the Sorrel family, and love the sunshine but when its not about the petals close up.  It is a native of South Africa but has spread around the world.  Introduced to Malta in the 1800s, It has spread into the Mediterranean region, and become an unwelcome resident that is virtually impossible to eradicate. It covers waste ground, roadside verges and farmland. It is impervious to most modern herbicides, and farmers in the Mediterranean region have no choice but to plough it into the ground before sowing their crops, but as the plant produces bulbs, this practice only serves to aid the plant in its domination of the land.  As you would expect we were to see it almost every where we went through out the week.

If you looked carefully below the shrubs it was possible to find several species of orchid. This one a Pyramidal Orchid



And this one an extremely delicate and exquisitely formed Mirror Orchid.  This is 
the orchid for which the Algarve is most famous. It flowers mainly along the coast from the end of February onwards and is easy to find. When the sun catches the sapphire-blue of the speculum (mirror) on the lip of the flower it is also very difficult to miss.



The path was heading down towards the main road into Burgau, but before we reached there a couple more butterflies were seen alongside the cliff path.  First was this Wall Brown, and it is probably the first time I have really studied the underwing, some beautiful delicate patterns here.



Another beautifully patterned butterfly is the Marbled White, one of my favourites in the UK.  This is the Spanish Marbled White, the key difference here being the The brown ocelli (the “small eyes”) on the underside hindwing which help separate this from other Marbled Whites, they are quite common again in southern Iberia.



As we reached the road a Zitting Cisticola annoyed us as it called with its ability to throw the sound from where it actually is.  It flies around "zitting" then drops to ground and out of sight.  This one though did decided to settle on the wire.



Another name is the Fan-tailed Warbler, and to be quite honest these birds became extremely annoying, Very much the perfect "little Brown Job" with some darker streaking on the back, they were almost everywhere we went, Their call is the best way to identify them, and that call just goes through your brain!

As we waited for the Zitting Cisticola to appear I picked up a Black Redstart in a small vegetable plot, it was though a long way off to photograph.  Walking into Burgau, both Greenfinches and Serins sang from the houses on either side of the lane.



We walked to the small square and had a drink in a bar overlooking the sea with both Swallows and House martins flying around the buildings.  After that we headed back out of the town to start the second half of our walk, this time turning inland.  we headed through a small housing development, then looped around it and up hill.  Once we reached the top of the hill, the path fell away with stone walls on either side and cereal crops in the fields, in which many more wild flowers grew.



It was sheltered and warm, and once again we were followed on our walk by Clouded Yellows and a lovely Spanish Marbled White once again.



There were once again more orchids about but you have to keep looking as these are not in your face flowers but small delicate and detailed flowers that have a beauty in their intricacy

Once again there were the Mirror Orchids, these two flowers either side of the stem.



Then two new ones, this a Bumblebee Orchid and can be found in flower from March onwards, usually around abandoned farmland terraces near the coast where we are now.  It is often found in large colonies due to its ability to spread vegetatively (below ground) and so does not necessarily need to be insect-pollinated to survive.



And then there was this one the Yellow Bee Orchid, it to is relatively common in the Algarve and flowers from the end of February and like the Bumblebee Orchid can be found on old farm terraces close to the coast.



The path then began to wind down the side of a valley and in front of us a swampy area appeared along with reeds and bulrushes.  This is the plain of Boca do Rio, and in the valley bottom the river we had crossed down on the beach at Boca do Rio.



Yet Another orchid by the side of the lane this time a purple colour, but with the centre of the lip white.  I think this one is a Champagne Orchid, a sub species of the Green-winged Orchid. It flowers in April, so a little early here, on grassland or unimproved pastures


Movement in the grass caught my attention, and then almost immediately something flew into a tree close by.  At first I thought bird but as I moved closer to flush it I could see it was a grasshopper.  It is an Egyptian Grasshopper, and it was quite happy for Helen to pick it up on the stalk to get a better view.


this is one of the largest European Grasshoppers, and it feeds on leaves but is not considered harmful to crops.  For me it looks quite industrial, or maybe military probably because of the colour, and amazing exoskeleton.

As we walked closer to the reed beds several Cetti's Warbler exploded out their song, and off in the distance there was the gentle reeling of what was probably a Savi's Warbler.  Grasshopper Warblers are not normally seen this far south.

A Little Egret flew up the valley and dropped out of sight into the reeds.


By the side of the lane Clouded Yellow butterflies continued to fly past but I was able to get a Wall Brown to open its wings and show the orange and brown patterns.  this one looks newly emerged.


Another butterfly type that rarely stops are the whites and it was nice to catch this large White as it rested amongst the Bermuda buttercups.


The valley then reaches the road, and opens out even more as we crossed and walked down to the beach once again with Cisticolas calling everywhere, and away in the distance I could hear the jangling song of a Corn Bunting.  

The walking notes we had told us to use the stepping stones once again, but as they were not there we had to head back to the rocks.  Along the side of the river in the grass bank earlier there had been what we considered to be a purple Iris, but they were not fully in flower.  Now as we walked the same area they were almost all in flower.


It is called, strangely, Barbary Nut, which looks very much like any other iris except that it is much lower-growing, and occurs close to the coast throughout the Mediterranean but is also found in sandy margins of fields and on waysides. The pretty blue flowers are short-lived, opening around midday but closing again in the evening and not re-opening the following day. 


We scrambled back across the rocks, and then crossed the beach and headed onto the cliffs where we started to re-trace the path we had walked this morning.  It was the middle of the afternoon now, and everything seemed to have quietened down.  we made our way back to the apartment where we quickly removed our boots slipped on some flip flops, and headed to the terrace at the Atlantico hotel to enjoy a very welcome beer and the afternoon sun.

As we sat there looking out to sea, Gannets drifted by, diving occasionally, and I saw the blow of  a whale far out twice, but that was all.  Leaving the bar we had a wonder around the lovely fishing village of Salema.  The white and blue house contrasting with the deep azure of the Portuguese sky.


The narrow streets and passage ways cool in their whitewash.


The sea never far away


The beach empty but for fishing boats.


Late afternoon the Swallows and House Martins were hawking close to the side of the road outside the apartments, I couldn't resist the challenge once again.  It was the House martins that proved to be the easier to capture, there were a couple of Red-rumped Swallows too but I need more practice there.


They would fly up and down the tarmac staying close to the high sandy bank where the warmth from the sun was probably attracting the insects.


Dinner was taken once again in the superb Agua na Boca, grilled John Dory fillet, and then it was back to the apartment to prepare for the long walk tomorrow along the coast to the west, then inland to Vila do Bispo.

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