Sunday, 29 November 2009


For me, probably the highlight of our holiday in Portugal, was being able to add a few new species of birds to my 'life list'. We begin with a magnificently large one, the White Stork (Ciconia ciconia). Spotted soaring high above us while we sat on our balcony, sipping our afternoon tea (how English).
Standing about 4ft tall and with a wingspan of up to 6ft, it is truly an imposing bird and an exciting 'first' for me.
Secondly and on our way back from our long walk to Vilamoura, we spotted a falcon swooping around the cliffs. At first I thought it was a Peregrine, but on closer inspection it turned out to be an Eleonora's falcon. Sadly, I didn't manage to get a picture of this one as it didn't stay around long enough. Named after Eleonor of Arborea, a national heroine of Sardinia, this is a spectacular bird of prey it is a migratory species, spending winter in Madagascar. Spanish and German researchers have demonstrated the route through the Sahara Desert, the equatorial rainforests until reaching Kenya and Mozambique. The total distance covered during the flight has reached up to 9000 km for a single one-way trip. Spectacular!
Thirdly another bird of prey a Booted Eagle (Aquila pennata).
A little difficult to see in this picture as it was, like the Stork, soaring very high above our apartment. Another migratory species, it winters in sub-Saharan Africa and it is because of this migration that southern Portugal is such a good place to see birds. They accumulate here before attempting the crossing of the sea to Africa which is much shorter distance at this westernmost point of the Mediterranean.
Not new to me, but no less worthy of a mention here were the scores of Azure-Winged Magpies (Cyanopica cyana) which flew around almost everywhere. A simply beautiful member of the crow family.
Lastly, i must mention the Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis). These small heron-like birds were to be seen every day in the field over which our apartment looked, as they licked around looking for insects, grubs, etc.

On a separate note, I must mention a special person who has a birthday tomorrow. Malcolm (Latin name unknown) will turn 47 tomorrow but as we will be visiting my mum in Norfolk, there will be no blog entry, hence the early mention! So, Happy Birthday Malcolm ..... What a cute chap!

Saturday, 28 November 2009


Last Wednesday, Malcolm and I decided we would take a walk along the coast road to Vilamoura. Our route would take us along some spectacular and colourful cliffs, along quiet roads and along the wide, sandy beach.
The cliffs themselves are rather dangerous as they are extremely unstable. Instead of being made of rock, they consist of loose sands cut through by layers of even looser gravels.
This layering makes for some rather lovely colourful horizontal stripes of red and yellow and contributes to the sandy beaches. In some places, the authorities have sprayed the face of the cliffs with a strengthening layer of cement to try to prevent further disintegration.
When viewed against the deep blue of the Portugal sky, the colours stand out even more clearly.
By the time we had reached Vilamoura, we were ready for a sit down and a coffee. We found a nice cafe beside the marina, overlooking the large and expensive yachts and cruisers bobbing around in the water. The town is well known as a playground for the rich and famous, so Malcolm and I seemed to fit right in!!!!
Time to head for home along the beach - hard going as the sand is so soft, taking two steps forward and one back, makes the walk rather difficult. In all, the round trip was about 13 miles - no wonder we needed a sit down when we got back!

Friday, 27 November 2009


about 4 miles to the west of where we were staying lies the town of Albufeira. I mentioned our previous visit to this town, before we left for our holiday so it was nice to take a walk along the coast to have another look at it.
Approaching the town, the visitor looks down upon it from the heights of the cliff line.
Taking another vantage point above the main tourist shopping street, the view hadn't changed much from the time before - but this time the Christmas decorations were in evidence.
Close by is the Parish Church of Albufeira. Built high overlooking the town, it's white-painted, classical in style and rather beautiful - and also decorated for Christmas.
After a relaxing sit down at a rather nice cafe and an equally nice cup of coffee, it was time to turn our steps back to Olhos d'Agua and the 4 mile trudge back, mainly up hill! Just time for another look back at the town before we leave.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Home Again

We arrived back home from our Portuguese holiday, yesterday afternoon. Having spent the last nine days in sunshine and temperatures well into the 70's, coming home to cold and windy Britain was a bit of a shock to the system.
We have been staying at the small village of Olhos d'Agua, between Albufeira and Faro, on the Algarve. We stayed at the Maria Louisa Apartments and we can heartily recommend it for an out-of-season, quit stay.
Comfortable and well equipped and only a few yards away from the steps down to the beach which was clean, sandy and often deserted.
A short walk into the main village, you will find the main street which ends at the seafront and a small fishing community. The fishermen spend the day sitting by their blue-painted huts, mending their nets and attending to their small boats. It's all very quaint.
The boats are launched over the beach and hauled back up by rope when they return with their catch. It seems that quite a lot of their catch is sold in the restaurants on the seafront as the small of barbecued sardines was often to be 'sniffed' as we clambered around the cliffs overlooking the scene.

Sunday, 15 November 2009


While in Benidorm in January this year, Malcolm and I noticed that the Google Earth Car went past us one morning as we walked along the seafront. I have been keeping an eye on Google Earth since then to see if we would appear - and guess what! We have...
Here, I have managed to capture some screen shots from Google Earth. Google have come in for some stick recently from people who say that to have 'street view' pictures of themselves or their houses, etc. is an infringement of their privacy. How it can be invading your privacy to show a picture of your house on Google Earth when there is nothing to stop anyone actually walking past it and seeing it for themselves, is beyond me.
Others say they do not want to be shown in the photos - as we have been here - but, again, what is there to complain about? Google 'smudge' out the features of anyone who appears so they are difficult to identify so you have to know where to look and who you are looking for anyway. For example, would anyone have spotted Malcolm and I on the seafront of Benidorm from these pictures, if I hadn't pointed us out? Even if they had, why would it bother us? It is no secret that we were in Benidorm at the time! It seems to me that you could only complain about such things, if you were somewhere you were not supposed to be, or if you were doing something you were either ashamed of, or was illegal.
So, "good on ya" Google. Keep up the good work, we love it!

Saturday, 14 November 2009


Monday will see Malcolm and I off on our travels again. this time to Portugal and the the Algarve. We went there a few years ago and I was just looking through our pictures of that visit. The road to Albufeira from our resort first.
The picture quality isn't very good I'm afraid. We didn't have a digital camera then but the pictures are held on a compact disk - you could have them either as prints or on a disk from 'Truprint' and we opted for the disk so that we could view the pictures on computer or, via the dvd player, on television.
It was about this time of year that we went and the weather was mostly good.
This view of the town of Albufeira shows a shopping street with tourists and shows the nice patterned paving. Lets hope we have decent weather again this time.

Friday, 13 November 2009


Just once in a while, there comes a story which warms your heart and makes you go aaaaahhhhh! Today, I found this one on the Daily Mail website. It seems that a family of ducklings has been hatched about six months before they should have. so, in order for the cute little ducklings to survive the cold weather, a farmer has rescued them and brought them inside out of the worst of the winter.
What a bunch of little darlings, bobbing around in the sink. See the full article HERE.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

More fungi

The wet weather, colder nights and vast quantities of decaying leaves on the ground, have been ideal for the emergence of fungal 'umbrellas'. Among the dappled sunlight, hitting the ground this morning, were several types.
These, I think are Sulphur Tuft fungi (Hypholoma fasciculare). Attractive, but poisonous they grow in colonies, on dead and decaying stumps of both deciduous and coniferous trees.
Here are a couple more examples of fungi, found this morning - but not yet positively identified.
This one seems to be long past it's best and is beginning to liquify at the edges, turning into black ink. Not very attractive and, even if it is edible, who would want to eat it?

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

2 Years!

Two years ago today, Malcolm and I sold our business and started out on our rather hectic new lifestyle as gentlemen of leisure. It has been tough going at times, but with some perseverance we have taken rather well to doing nothing!
It got me thinking about 2 years ago and our holiday in Ibiza during October 2007. Looking back at the photos I took then, I was struck by the flowers which were in bloom in the garden of our villa. Firstly the Hibiscus plants (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis).
Known as Chinese Rose (hence the scientific name), they are familiar to most of us as indoor plants or rather tender garden shrubs. The plants were first named in the mid 18th century by Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, zoologist and physician. They are well known for their showy, if short0lived flowers. None more showy than this delightful red variety.
Among the other blooms in Ibiza were the Lantanas (Lantana camara). Common in many parts of the world, it's blooms change colour as they open and mature, thus showing several different colours on each flower head.
Native of the American tropics, it has spread all over the world and has been classified as a 'class one' poisonous, invasive plant. There have been many attempts to eradicate it from those parts of the world where it has become a nuisance. The flowers are often grown in butterfly houses as they provide copious amounts of nectar.
It's nice to see some colour on such a dull, drizzly day.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Morning Mist

A very chilly morning and a good bit of frost was still to be found on the ground as we walked along the Nutbrook Trail. Accompanying the frost was a layer of mist, no more than 8ft thick at first, it grew and dispersed from the playing field opposite our house. As the sun rose and shone through it, the golden hue was asking to be photographed..
Along the Trail, we came to the small lake known locally as the Beauty Spot. I have featured this before but this morning, the water was so calm, it looked like a mirror reflecting the trees in the morning light.
A beauty spot indeed.

Sunday, 8 November 2009


Growing all over the place at the moment are many different species of fungus. A strange and distinct group of things which are not plants, not animals and not bacteria. The one thing which separates them from plants is the construction of their cell walls. In plants, these cell walls contain a substance called cellulose, in fungi however, these cell walls contain chitin, more usually found in the beaks of squid and octopus and the exoskeletons of arthropods such as shrimps and lobsters.
This collection of fungi belong to the Honey Fungus (Armillaria mellea). Here, growing on a dead tree stump. This particular species of fungus is a major cause of rot within wood and causes 'white rot' which decomposes wood, at the same time keeping it white. The familiar 'mushroom' shaped part of the fungus is just the fruiting body of the organism, who's only purpose is to produce and distribute the spores by which the fungus reproduces. The main part of it is below the surface and consists of yards and yards of root-like structures known as Hyphae. Some are quite beautiful.

Saturday, 7 November 2009


The sun was shining again this morning we walked to Heanor for our breakfast, Accompanying us on our perambulations this morning, was our friend Jayne. The biggest problem today was the wet conditions under foot. We decided to cut across a grassy field, as we have done on numerous occasions in the past, only to discover that it was waterlogged and more than a little 'squelchy'.
Never mind, the walk was nice and the breakfast was delicious!
One of the biggest issues at this time of year concerns the sun. Although it's nice to see it of course, it is so low in the sky that it is permanently in your eyes making it impossible to see where you are going - dare I say, this can be something of an advantage when in of Heanor town centre!
The colours of Autumn are now fading fast so here is a collection of some of the best taken on previous walks around the area.

Thursday, 5 November 2009


5th November and 'Guy Fawkes Night' means Fireworks!
Invented by the Chinese in the 7th Century to scare away evil spirits - as well as potential enemies, they made good use of the new invention of gunpowder. To this day, China is the largest manufacturer and exporter of fireworks in the world. Come to think of it, they are rapidly becoming the biggest manufacturers and exporters of just about everything!
The colours of exploding fireworks are produced by the addition of different chemicals. Red from strontium carbonate or lithium carbonate, Orange from calcium chloride, Yellow from sodium nitrate, Green from barium chloride, etc.
In Britain we celebrate guy Fawkes Night with fireworks, remembering the 'Gunpowder Plot' of 1605 when Guy and his collaborators planned to blow up Parliament and King James I (VI of Scotland).
After their capture and trial, the gang of conspirators were taken to Old Palace Yard in Westminster and St Paul's Yard, where they were to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Fawkes, weakened by torture, was the last to climb the ladder to the gallows, from which he jumped, breaking his neck in the fall and thus avoiding the latter part of his execution.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009


With the sun shining again this morning, we took ourselves off for a stroll around Straw's Bridge and a look at the Swans, Geese and Ducks swimming thereon. In addition to these waterfowl, there were a large number of Black-headed Gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) in evidence.
With the onset of winter, these birds start to spread more widely inland and can be seen in great numbers on inland waterways such as this. One of Britain's most numerous gull species they are well known to us all as the loud, squabbling 'bullies' of park lakes, rivers and even town centres.
As with most gulls, these are remarkably long-lived birds and even in the wild can reach well into their 60's. They lose their 'Black' (actually brown) heads after the late-summer moult, leaving a dirty-looking smudge behind the eye.
This individual is a young bird as can be seen from the darker markings on it's wings and the less colourful nature of the legs and bill which become more red with maturity.
This youngster had all the hot-headedness of youth too. It seemed intent on having a bad-tempered peck at a nearby swan - brave or foolhardy? It soon became clear that it was a foolish act as the swan didn't take kindly to being pecked at and put the gull firmly in it's place. A lesson well learned by the young gull!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009


I spoke, a few days ago about invading species and how they seem to be taking over from our native species. Well, one of our most familiar birds, well known to us all, is just that - an invader. I refer to the Collard Dove (Streptopelia decaocto).
Before the 1950's, you wouldn't have seen one of these beautiful doves anywhere in Britain. They spread from their native, hot and dry homeland of India, across Europe, reaching these shores by 1953. Their spread was closely linked with human activity, especially the increase in movement, shipping and subsequent spillage of grain. By 1964 there were 3,000 breeding pairs in the UK. By 1972 this had increased to between 30,000 and 40,000.
A truly fantastic increase in numbers, one which is only matched by the human population. These small doves, closely related to Turtle Doves (Streptopelia turtur), have become one of Britain's best known species, commonly seen in gardens and on bird-tables everywhere. Strange to think it was such a recent addition to our 'native' fauna.

Monday, 2 November 2009

...And Counting

Following the example of the BBC's Autumnwatch programme, we decided to have a go at counting all the species of bird which can be seen or heard from our garden today. All was going well and within the first few minutes we had counted Lapwings, House Sparrows, Great Tits and Black-headed Gulls.
Later we added Carrion Crows, a Kestrel, a Woodpigeon, Goldfinches, Magpies, Dunnocks, a Robin and even a Buzzard. But it soon became clear that by lunchtime, I still hadn't seen any Starlings. Not one! Usually, there are hundreds of Starlings flying around the area or squabbling over the fat-balls on the Hawthorn in front of the house. But this morning, nothing! These Starlings were 'snapped' earlier in the year....
A very strange state of affairs. Another odd thing, I didn't see a single Blue Tit until about mid-day. Again, they are usually to be seen flitting in and out of the Sparrows, grabbing a beak full of fat-ball before taking off and plunging into the hedgerows opposite our house. But, this morning, they were conspicuous by their absence. What's going on?
Another bird which seemed to be missing this morning is the Blackbird. Although we don't often see very many of them, there are usually at least a couple of them to be seen, but again, not this morning. This, rather glum-looking, Blackbird, was seen at the Eden Project in Cornwall in April last year....
Maybe, after yesterday's rain, the ground has softened and the starlings and blackbirds are all off, foraging in the fields which surround us rather than 'scavenging' for bits in the gardens. Perhaps the moist, warm atmosphere has brought out the insects of the hedgerows, so keeping the Blue Tits away from the fat-balls too. Who knows? Whatever the cause, it's just typical that, the day you decide to do an 'audit' of species, is the very day that they all decide to shove off.
Oh well, keep counting anyway.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

White Rabbits

With the arrival of November and having managed to come through the onslaught of Hallow e'en unscathed, time for a look at another familiar Autumn visitor. Crane Flies or 'Daddy Long Legs' (Tipula sp.). This one was 'snapped' while clinging to our window.
There are well in excess of 1000 species of Tipula throughout the world and we have many different ones in Britain. they start to appear all over the place in the shortening days of Autumn as they emerge from the ground and start to flutter clumsily around the lawn. Attracted to the lights of our living rooms, they are often to be found trying to get in at windows. Their long, fragile legs give them their rather apt common name. Looking closely at them, you can see a pair of 'drum-stick' - like appendages immediately behind their wings. These are called Halteres and are found on many different species of fly. They flap up and down in opposition to the actual wings and are in fact developed from the second pair of wings which can still be seen in some insects, such as Dragonflies. Their principal use is to act as 'vibrating structure gyroscopes' maintaining stability in flight and enabling the fly to make directional changes without stalling, wobbling or simply falling out of the sky. Quite remarkable.
Changing tack completely, I manged to tick off another plant species new to me the other day. Called Celery-leaved Buttercups (Ranunculus sceleratus) they were to be found growing around Straw's Bridge pond.
Related to the other, more familiar Buttercups, they share that family's toxicity and are poisonous to grazing animals when eaten fresh.
The name Ranunculus is Latin for "little frog". This probably refers to many species being found near water, like frogs.
Strangely, we get the word 'Sardonic' - meaning bitter or scornful - from these plants, deriving from the name of the Sardinian plant Ranunculus sardous. When eaten, it would cause the eater's face to contort in a look resembling scorn (generally followed by death).