Thursday, 30 June 2011

Serra do Caldeirão

We spent yesterday in the beautiful countryside inland from Tavira, something we don’t do often enough. The Serra do Caldeirão is a huge area of attractive rolling hills located between the Algarve coast and the Baixo Alentejo. All too often we drive through them on our way to look for Great Bustards and all those other special birds that occur on the plains around Castro Verde. Only occasionally do we find time to explore them, to drive the narrow roads and tracks between tiny hidden villages and enjoy not just the birds but all the other wildlife that occurs there.

To be honest, the end of June is not the best time to be there! Of course, we knew that but we had a great day anyway. There’s not so much bird song now but we saw plenty of birds, the flowers are long past their best but there are still splashes of colour in the parched landscape and there were lots of butterflies and dragonflies to keep us occupied.

Here are just a few of the day’s photographs:

There is still plenty of water running in the larger rivers. We checked under quite a number of bridges like this one, looking for signs of nesting White-rumped Swifts. The swifts take over the nests of Red-rumped Swallows and we found plenty of those, but only at one already known site did we actually see a White-rumped Swift.

Plenty of water meant that we came across quite a few dragonflies. These are not our speciality but we’re definitely interested, particularly when there are fewer birds to distract us. This one is a Scarlet Darter or Broad Scarlet (Crocothemis erythraea).

Harvesting cork is a summer occupation in these parts and everywhere we went we saw stacks of cork waiting to be collected and taken for a wide range of applications, not just as stoppers in wine bottles. Cork production is an important industry in Portugal, said to provide half the world’s supply. Although cork is associated in the minds of many people with the Alentejo, the best quality cork apparently comes from further south, here in the Algarve.

Portuguese law prohibits stripping the bark more than once every nine years in order to protect the trees. The bark has been removed from this tree this year, hence the figure ‘11’ that has been painted on it. Cork Oaks can live to be more than 150 years old or more and it isn’t until they are 25 years old that cork starts to be harvested.

If you’ve read this blog before, you will know that the bigger the butterfly the more we like it! Things have to be pretty slow in the world of birds before we get down to looking at skippers, blues and heaths. This Scarce Swallowtail is our kind of butterfly - it’s the feisthameli subspecies.

One of the highest points in the area is at Mu, 577m above sea level. Not surprisingly, it has been despoiled with wind turbines but the views are tremendous.

Of course, many of the birds we did see were young ones like this Woodchat Shrike. A gathering of 300 or so White Storks up in the hills was perhaps less expected.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a day when we saw many reptiles or amphibians – we both enjoy lizards and snakes, in particular. This tiny frog was the only one that posed for a photograph.

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