Friday, 30 January 2015


Moving away from pictures of the Algarve, we were rather back to earth with a bump this morning as we walked through Shipley Park in the snow.
Despite appearances, it didn't feel as cold as it looks in the pictures.  The bitter wind which had dogged us in recent days, had dropped this morning and a bit of a thaw had set in. The only down-side to this was that the snow and ice adorning the branches dropped on our heads and down our necks as we walked past.

Looking ahead to Shipley Hill, the trees up there were still laden with snow.
When we got up the hill, it became clear that there had been a lot more snow up there than we'd had nearer home.
All quite different from Portugal, but in my opinion no less beautiful (although Malcolm would probably disagree.)

Thursday, 29 January 2015


Coming to the end of my Algarve pictures, I thought a few general views of the colourful cliffs and the pine woods would be nice.
In places along the cliffs, wooden stairways and boardwalks have been built to facilitate descent to the beach below. How they manage to cling to the crumbling cliffs, is a matter of some amazement.
More general views of the cliffs can be had in either direction.
It seems that every downpour of rain, washed away another small gully in the cliff-tops. These gullies then join up to become gaping clefts before more the inevitable happens and the beach gets another delivery of crumbled rocks and shrubbery from above.
Still the pines provide some lovely walks and the opportunity to shelter from a passing shower or, if you are visiting in the height of summer, relief from the sun.
In some places, the cliffs have eroded away, almost down to sea level.
Very nice..!

Wednesday, 28 January 2015


Although there were no new ticks on the bird life-list, we nevertheless saw quite a few birds during our stay in the Algarve. Among the most common and certainly the most vocal, were the Azure-winged Magpies or Az-Mags for short (Cyanopica cyanus). True to form, they were keeping well away from us and frustratingly far from the camera lens.
A much smaller bird was seen flitting about in the trees. This one has several names, the most 'user-friendly' being the Streaked Fan-tailed Warbler. It also goes by the name Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis). Even more difficult to photograph, they are well camouflaged and very small and this one, was far more keen on preening than posing for photographs.
The Zitting Cisticola is the most Northerly member of the Cisticola family which otherwise confine themselves to more tropical climes of Africa. This one seemed quite comfortable in the sunshine of southern Portugal.
The third of today's birds is a non native which also hails from Africa but which has colonised large swathes of southern Europe. The Common Waxbill (Estrilda astrild).  Just a little smaller than a Sparrow, they have a bright red streak across their eyes and waxy, red bill - from which it gets its name.
These little charmers were twittering about in the bushes outside our villa.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

More Ticks

More new 'ticks' on the list today, starting with another of those invasive species which seem to get everywhere. Close to our holiday complex and growing on the cliff-tops, was a highly aromatic shrub which comes from South Africa. New to me, it turned out to be a Cape Snow Bush or Eriocephalus africanus.
Rubbing the foliage between thumb and fingers, you release a wonderful scent, somewhat like that of Rosemary. The more fleshy foliage and the small, white flowers indicate that it is not rosemary, but belongs to the family asteraceae or Daisy family.
The second new tick today came from another shrubby plant, this time with the brightest yellow flowers. This plant belongs to the Cistus or Rock Rose family but, unlike the large, white-flowered Gum Cistus mentioned yesterday, the flowers of this one, were much smaller, but more numerous.
As well as the bright flowers, the unopened flower buds are also colourful, having a reddish colour which just adds to the attractiveness of the shrub. The flowers were so bright in the sunshine, that these photos have unfortunately turned out slightly over-exposed.
Almost overlooked as I was taking pictures of the various Cistus plants, was my next tick. With no visible stem these flowers were just poking out of the ground and looked somewhat like a crocus.
Growing from a corm just below the surface, they can be found in sandy soils all over the Mediterranean region with the colour altering between various shades of purple and with more or less yellow down the 'throat' of the flower.
Lastly, a tiny plant which which made up for it small stature by its huge numbers. Growing all over any bare piece of ground (especially beach car parks), this diminutive member of the cabbage family turned out to have a familiar name. Commonly called Sand Stock, its scientific name is Malcolmia triloba.
A gorgeous little flower, it shows all the characteristics of the Brassicaceae with its cruciform flower shape.
Not a new tick, but my own species of 'Malcolmia' was to be found enjoying the views even in a chilly wind.

Monday, 26 January 2015


The spring-like weather in the Algarve, meant that a few plants were beginning to grow and flower, allowing those of us who like such things, to identify a few new 'ticks'.
First was a member of the pea family which caught the eye with its gorgeous white flowers and soft foliage. It turned out to be called Garbancillo or Astragalus lusitanicus.
Another common name for this plant is Devil's Beans which refers to the toxic nature of the seeds it produces.  The goats and sheep mentioned  a couple of days ago, will avoid this plant for just that reason.  Another strange-looking flower was found scrambling through the shrubs growing on the cliff tops. This turned out to be another poisonous plant going by the common name of Dutchman's Pipe or Aristolochia baetica.
A member of the Birthwort family, it has been used in the past to hasten childbirth. It isn't used for that purpose any longer as the plant is carcinogenic to mammals (including humans.)  The flowers are rather interesting, particularly when viewed closely, revealing a hairy tube shape I think, rather reminiscent of pitcher plants.
An iconic plant of southern Europe is the Gum Cistus.  In the Mediterranean area, these large, papery flowers often have chocolate-coloured spots inside the flower cup, but in these parts of Portugal, they form a sub-species and are usually spot-free, but no less beautiful. So here it is, the Gum Cistus, Cistus ladanifer subsp. sulcatus.
The leaves exude a sticky, fragrant, resinous substance called labdanum which is used in the perfume industry and the scent of this, fills the air around them, particularly when the sun shines on them.
Lastly for today, a flower so intensely blue, that it seemed to glow from within the shade of other shrubs. Shrubby Gromwell or Lithodora fruticosa grows all over the western Mediterranean area, but what a little beauty it is and a great new tick for the list.
There will be more new 'ticks' tomorrow...

Sunday, 25 January 2015


Beaches are really not my 'thing', so I was glad of the cliff-top walks, but Malcolm is always glad to see the wide stretches of sand and surf.
The cliffs along this part of the Algarve are colourful to say the least with layers of red, yellow and white sandstone, topped by those green pine groves.
Clearly, the cliffs were formed by marine sedimentation over a limestone basal platform. The loose sandstone is interspersed with rounded pebbles and gravel - making it all very unstable and liable to crumble.
On a sunny day the views are pretty good from the cliff-tops.
Looking along the cliffs towards Vilamoura...
When the weather takes a turn for the worse, it's no less dramatic.

Saturday, 24 January 2015


A few minutes' walk from our base in the Algarve, we found ourselves strolling through the pines and scrub of the cliff-tops.
Variously known as Stone Pines or Umbrella Pines (Pinus pinea), these attractive conifers are one of the quintessential trees of Southern Europe. The Stone Pines growing on this area, have a tricky time of it as they cling desperately to the crumbling cliffs, eventually giving in to gravity and tumbling over the edge.
Wooden fences have been erected in parts along these cliff tops, to prevent people driving their cars too close to the edge and adding to the debris at the bottom.
As we walked along towards Vilamoura, we were delighted to hear the sound of bells clanging and various bleating sounds coming from among the trees. The sound came from a mixed flock of sheep and goats, browsing among the scrub.
In the opposite direction, some of the pines which found themselves growing too close to the edge, were succumbing to their plight and the prevailing winds.
Some had given up the fight altogether.

Friday, 23 January 2015


Arriving back in Britain yesterday afternoon, Malcolm and I were left shivering following our week away in the Algarve. That said, we have not had very high temperatures in Portugal and there has been a nagging, north wind for most of the week. Nevertheless, it has been a good deal warmer than it is at home.
Our Holiday got off to a rather shaky start as the apartment we had been allocated, had no hot water and a non-functioning cooking hob.  But after some 'detailed discussion' with the manager at reception, we were given the keys to a far more luxurious villa on the site.
With that sorted out, we got down to enjoying our holiday.
We were staying at the Alfamar resort near the village of Acoteias, close to where we stayed last October, so we were familiar with the area and several walks close by.
Of course, it is Winter in Portugal too, so the weather had been a little variable and a few sharp downpours (thankfully during the night) had made their mark on this track down the beach. The sandy, crumbly cliffs and the track itself suffer terribly in the rain, but the gullies which are eroded away, don't make it very easy under foot.
That's all for now.  More to follow over the next few days as I sort my pictures out.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Favourites (part 2)

Continuing the theme of looking back at some of my favourites of 2014, we pick up the thread with a look at July.  The fine weather gave us some lovely cloudscapes to enjoy...
 As well as some gorgeous colour in our own back garden.
August brought more dramatic clouds to photograph. These were seen at 'Swan Lake'...
and who could forget the ol' harnser!
By September, things were starting to look a little more autumnal as the leaves started to change.
September also found us enjoying a few days in Edinburgh - and we found some new walks there too.
One of my favourite pictures from October, had to be the of the horses walking away towards the Autumn colour of Shipley Hill.
And by November, the icy chill of Winter had started to show its hand - at least for a few days - providing some good shots of mist and frost.

The year came to a close with the festive season and a spectacular Mute Swan on (appropriately enough) Swan Lake.
Not a bad year, was it?