We’re blessed!

Despite living in the middle of nowhere and being blessed with sunsets like the one above, our lives, like everyone else’s, are proscribed at present by Covid which just seems to rumble on – and on and on and on …

Of course the Quinta is about as safe as one can get as regards the pandemic, so it seems ironic that we’re still in Lockdown, which has been permanent here for the last six months. One wonders how the economy will recuperate should this state of affairs ever change, but I won’t go into this further – enough to say that, while our chins are still well up, it is starting to become rather boring.

We’re a whole lot luckier than most of course as we’ve plenty of space in which to move about and we’ve been able to keep ourselves busy in the Quinta’s garden which is looking as gorgeous as ever this year.

Nightingales are singing outside my window as I tap away, the first three nests of Barn Swallows have fledged,

and second clutches are already being sat on. The Golden Orioles are back, Collared Doves coo, Blackbirds trill, Blackcaps call, Serins and Greenfinches are incubating in the Cypresses while Goldfinches prefer the Jasmin outside the rooms – in general the Natural world is buzzing fit to bust.

A few nights ago I was chatting to a Portuguese couple on the covered terrace outside the bar when a Merlin flew through chasing a Swallow, passing so close to my head that I felt its wingbeat. A startling occurrence to be sure, but one that filled me with joy as the first phrase that came to my mind was, “Done it! This garden is a real “living” environment. We’ve got there!”. We’ve had Eagles, Buzzards and Sparrowhawks drop in on a fairly regular basis before, but a Merlin? That’s a new one, and especially flying through a covered terrace. It was a split-second moment but one that’ll live in my memory forever; when Nature gives you a thumbs-up like that it’s an unforgettable experience and makes the last thirty-five years of work seem very worthwhile.

And it’s not just the birds that have come to see the Quinta’s garden as a success. We’re always on the look-out when walking anywhere after dark as we have a fair selection of “Gardener’s Friends” to choose from, the most common being the Spiny Toad (Bufo spinosus). They’re widespread in the garden and grow to an impressive size, thankfully keeping the snails and slugs down to manageable proportions so our veg patches aren’t decimated.

Spiny Toad (Bufo spinosus)

Other friends that help around the place include Stripeless, (or Mediterranean), Tree Frogs (Hyla meridionalis),

Stripeless Tree Frog (Hyla meridionalis)

and Moorish Geckos (Tarentola mauritanica).

But it’s not just Toads, Frogs and Geckos …

It rained the same night that the Merlin flew past my head and the couple I’d been talking to went out with a torch and came across two species that, while not rare, are certainly difficult to come across. First they found a Southern Marbled Newt (Triturus pygmaeus), an Iberian endemic, wandering around,

Southern Marbled Newt (Triturus pygmaeus)

and then they came across another, a real thriller, a Sharp-ribbed Salamander (Pleurodeles waltl), sometimes called an Iberian Ribbed Newt.

Sharp-ribbed Salamander or Iberian Ribbed Newt (Pleurodeles waltl)

This last species is a delight to have helping us. Perfectly harmless to humans it has a wonderful defence strategy when threatened by a predator that involves those red spots along its flanks in the picture above; go on, click on the link to find out – it’ll give you something to do the next time we’re locked down!