Monday, 11 April 2016

31st March - Vila do Bispo to Aldeia da Pedralva, Algarve, Portugal

Today we were heading into a more pastoral landscape, walking through scattered deserted farms, through river valleys and the rolling farmland as we head to the renovated village of Aldeia da Pedravla.  We leave Vila do Bispo from the north and they walk through a small industrial area, and then on a dirt track road to the village of Raposeira.

As we approach the village we cross a stream, and as we do so a Cattle Egret comes out of the reeds and over our heads.

Once again the fields surrounding the village are mixed with the cereal crops and lots of wild flowers.

We made our way through the village which was very quiet despite the time of day.  This village was one of the places where the 15th century Portuguese prince, Henry the Navigator lived.  The church in the village is one of the few buildings in the Algarve to survive the earthquake of 1755.

Leaving the village square we headed out of the village walking again north.  The roads turn to dirt tracks and soon we were out in the open farmland walking along the right hand side of a river valley.  By the side of the track were more orchids.

This is the Champagne Orchid, a sub-species of the Green-winged Orchid.   It flowers in April and can be found on grassy slopes or in unimproved pastures. It is an endangered plant in northern Europe where modern farming practice, with its over-reliance on chemicals, has destroyed its habitats.

Another plant on the sandy bank is this Large Blue Alkanet, a member of the same family as Borage, as you can imagine it is usually found on sunny, sandy banks.

We were walking now through an area that had recently been ploughed, probably to provide fire breaks.  The path was steadily uphill, but once it leveled out the area to our left was covered in wild flowers with patches of Yellow Lupins.

With the flowers and a more sheltered area from the very cool and fresh wind we expected to see some butterflies and soon they started to appear.  There were several Clouded Yellows, but this white butterfly was new for the trip.

This is the Green-striped White, the green only seen when the butterfly is at rest.

A little further and we walked through a rather boggy area, and at the end of the bog the trees were covered in grey lichen.

We then passed through a pine wood where bird calls teased us, the owners though never revealing their identity.  A small group of Red-rumped Swallows flew over calling as they passed over our heads.

The landscape now was very sandy and open, looming over us were the wind turbines, turning quite quickly in the fresh wind.  They always remind me of the martian fighting machines from Jeff Wayne's The War of the Worlds.

We reached a junction, and a Small Copper was resting on one of the many Cistus shrubs.

We were now heading downhill into a valley.  This was the site of a reservoir, the stream having been damned , and the village abandoned.  We walked parallel with the reservoir, and I hoped to see more birds here, but all I could find was a single Cormorant, and hunting in the reeds a Grey Heron.

At the dame we crossed the out flow from the lake, and then walked through a deserted farm yard.  Parts of the area around the building must be quite wet, as in the long grass there was a large clump of Arum Lillies.

We paused here to eat our picnic, finding a sheltered spot out of the breeze.  The walk then headed down into the valley, where the Cork Oak trees provided some shelter from the breeze, and as a result we started to find several butterflies.

With lots of substantial Juniper bushes it was no surprise that he first butterfly we found was a Green Hairstreak.

A lovely little butterfly, they have a distinctive flight that is almost very strong flaps with very little movement.  At rest though you can completely appreciate the delicacy of the butterfly, wonderful green shimmering wings.

And a black and white antenna, and legs

A larger butterfly flew past us and settled a little way off the path.  It was the Spanish Festoon again.

As well as the butterflies, every so often we would disturb a larger insect, and looking closely we found an Egyptian Grasshopper once again.

Now it was the turn of the blue butterflies, but there was only one type, and the one we have been seeing every day on the walks so far, a Black-eyed Blue.

The females have more brown in their upper wings.

Finally the path came out of the valley, and up into the open farmland once again.  But as we did so I found the one and only dragonfly seen on the trip.  This is an Epaulet Skimmer.

The path was lined on our right by Cork Oaks, and many of the trees had had their bark removed.  The outer bark of the tree is stripped and is most easily stripped off the tree in late spring and summer when the cells are turgid and fragile and tear without being damaged. The tree quickly forms new layers of cork and restores its protective barrier.  Only the third and subsequent harvests produce cork with an even structure good enough to be used for wine closures.

Where the trees have had their outer bark removed the tree is black.  In this case a Geranium was growing in a part of the trunk.

Once again we walking past ploughed fields to our right.

Once again we passed Juniper, and once again we came across the Green Hairstreaks.

The path now made its way alongside a stream, and then again into the open.  A blue Lupin was a different plant to find.

While looking at the Lupin a strange song came from the trees nearby..  It was similar to something I had heard before, so when I found the bird I realised that it must be an Iberian Chiffchaff, later listening to the call I could confirm this.

The grass close to the path was very green, and in amongst it we came across yet another orchid.

This is the Southern Early Purple Orchid, similar to the purple orchid we see in the UK< but with much longer lower lobes.

We crossed several streams, which were not difficult the water seemingly narrowing to allow us just to step across.  The path them came across some more ruined farm buildings surrounded by Oak and Olive trees.  here there were lots of hirundines flying around the trees and out over the grass.  Once again the challenge to photograph them, and I decided to focus on the slower flying Red-rumped Swallows.

Watching the three hirundines I had come across so far it was possible to distinguish their feeding techniques.  The House Martins seem to prefer to feed high in the sky, while the Swallows adopt a low level attack with quick flight and twisting turns.  The Red-rumped swallows feed in between these two and have a slower flying technique, with less twisting turns, theoretically this should make them easier to photograph, and I did manage the first acceptable photograph.

Throughout all the walks we have been accompanied by the calls and songs of the Stonechat, one was close to the farm as we walked around the buildings.

In the olive and oak trees there were many Corn Buntings and Serins singing, the Corn Buntings were easy to pick out, the challenge though was to find the Serins.  There are two here, merging into the leaves of the trees.

We could now see the village Aldeia da Pedralva settling ahead of us in the valley.

The village has been one of the success stories in this area, This was once a typical Algarvian village  that supported a community of villagers.  The problem was that it was isolated, and alone in a poor area.  When the tourist boom took off there was the opportunity of more lucrative work work on the coast and the villagers drifted away until there were only 9 people living here.  Many of the houses fell into disrepair with their owners scattered across Portugal.

It then took an ex-advertising executive who was looking for another life to step in and to recognise the potential to develop the village as an eco-friendly tourist destination, and started to restore the village, and as many of the owners were gone he set about locating them and buying up the properties.

As well as the self-contained houses that have been designed in the spirit of the old village, there is a restaurant and bar.  As we came to the end of the road and the village we were greeted with reception and shown to our "house" which was really delightful.

After settling in we made our way down to the restaurant passing some of the houses that are yet to be renovated, but that still have an attractive quality about them.

After a drink and a rest our feet started to get itchy again and we found that we had to set off walking, we circled the village, and explored the little narrow streets.

Passing some of the houses that have been renovated, and looking great in the whitewash and blue paint so familiar of the villages we had passed through on our walks so far.

From the village we head back down the road we had just walked up, the afternoon was quite pleasant, a lot cooler than the preceding days and it was nice just to wander and look properly.  On the fence alongside the track a Corn Bunting was singing, so pre-occupied with singing it allowed me to get quite close.

Still the plant life was dominated by Cistus, but the flowers here were slightly different with a yellow centre and red dots where before the flower had just been white

In the field yet another Stonechat appeared and even though I know I have loots of photographs of them I couldn't resist another.  I think it is because the always like to perch in a prominent position, and this can create a wonderful bokum background.

A little further on a Chaffinch was singing, not one of the commoner finches here surprisingly.

When we reached the ruined farm buildings all the hirundines had moved on, we could still though here the Corn Buntings and Serins, and there was also this Clouded Yellow on the shorter grass

We walked as far as the first stream we had crossed.  Helen had seen a large yellow and black bird there, and there was always the hope that it might re-appear, but as is always the way it didn't.  Walking back we passed a large patch of white flowered Lupins, the third colour we had seen of Lupins.  If you stood and watched you could see that they were covered in bees, not readily evident at first.

Coming around the farm buildings for the third time I noticed a small bird feeding on the path in front of us, at first  i thought it was another Corn Bunting, but then it was joined by a brighter individual with snappy black head stripes, and a redder back.  Unmistakeable our first Cirl Bunting.

It stayed on the path, then flew up into the surrounding trees where it merged into the branches and shadows.  Oh how I wish we had the farming practices like this in the UK, but then again we would probably have a very poor economy, what  a choice.

back in the village we returned to the restaurant for a cup of coffee, and sitting in the sun, sipping the latte I watched a Shrike appear on one of the power lines.  Annoyingly it was into the sunshine, and I had to over expose a long way to get some definition, but I am confident it was Southern Great Grey Shrike from the shape and colour I could determine.

We then returned to the house to get ready for dinner, which was very nice.  Afterwards we caught up with the home news on the WiFi in the bar then retired.  It was now quite cold in the house but nice and warm in the bed.  Tomorrow we head to our final destination, Carrapateira, and the coast once more

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