… and it’s not only the Chiffchaffs who love the Aloes; you can see this female Blackcap’s been at them too.
As I sit here it’s just started to rain outside and I’m smiling fit to bust.
No, I’m no masochist, and I know that it sounds truly funny for an English/Irishman to be smiling at the rain, (especially for those who know me well and who know I’d rather be on two wheels than two legs), but for those of us lucky enough to be living here the rain is something very special.
It last rained here three weeks ago and before that it was a clear four months, and, though having the sun every day is gorgeous, one hankers after the rain after a long dry period, so you may understand better now why I’m looking like a Cheshire Cat. The garden gets watered, the dust on the track settles down, the plants just spring into action, (especially at this time of year when the earth’s still so warm), insects hatch and emerge all over the place and every living organism takes advantage of the bonus …. in short there’s suddenly a huge increase in Life in general. There’s more food for everything right the way up the food chain and it’s all made the most of as quickly as possible, stocking up for winter.
But the Cheshireness of my appearance right now is not only to do with the rain; it runs deeper than that ….
I remember a few years ago leading a birdwatching trip out to the Plains the day after the first big rain of the year; everything was very fresh, the summer’s layer of dust had been washed from the leaves of all the trees and overnight the first new grass was sprouting through the earth, dusting the countryside with a patina of green.
It was marvelous to see the difference from the previous week and to feel Nature bursting at the seams, but the truly amazing sight was all the raptors feeding on the flying ants.
The latter emerge at the first sign of a chance to make a new nest, and that’s invariably when the rain has made the ground easier to burrow and food more plentiful, but they were so many in numbers that day, (recourse was made to the windscreen wipers more than once), that the birds were gorging themselves on them far and wide. Everywhere one looked there were Kestrels, Buzzards, Kites and Eagles, as well as the Shrikes and other insect eaters that one would expect.
I’ve never seen so many raptors in the sky at the same time – no, I lie, that accolade goes to the day last year when I lucked into a stream of Booted Eagles on their way south, (over 200 over our heads at the same time) – but that day on the Plains came a very close second and in some ways was more magnificent.
After all, everyone’s heard of The Migration, but I’ve never heard of The Frenzy of the Ants, so I reckon I’ll be taking a quick trip out there tomorrow just to see if I can catch the repeat; beats watching one on the telly, doesn’t it just?!
I’m often asked as to what is the best time of year to visit …
For most people staying at the Quinta it’s a family holiday or R&R but more and more guests come to the Quinta for the birds and wildlife, and for them there’s no easy answer, so if this is what rings your bell, here are a few tips.
Spring, which stretches for us from late February through to the end of May, is stunning and is of course when most Nature lovers congregate here; the flowers are out and changing almost by the hour, (huge swathes of purple, red, yellow and blue set amidst a backdrop of the brightest green), butterflies flit from place to place and all the birds are in their breeding colours, so bright it seems unnecessary to view them through binoculars … and yet there are still more colours when one does! The daily promise of better and better weather prises loose the last links of the chain that’s bound us tight since last November and the soul longs to soar free, up there in that azure void – y’see, I get carried away just thinking about it!
Summer has the guarantee of weeks of solid sunshine as the temperature rises, and the Quinta’s great for holidays for the whole family, even when only a fraction of it wants to look at nature. All that lush greenery outside of the Quinta’s garden slowly fades, replaced by dry brown stalks, sticky cistus and clouds of dust, the memory of rain fading with the grass. Personally, having been born in Africa, I love this period, when the very earth smells of heat and the search for shade is constant – of course living right beside a clean freshwater lake might have something to do with it too!
Then there’s the Autumn, always an interesting time, and for Birders full of surprises. I count it as starting at the beginning of the last week in August, when the Bee Eaters gather in larger and larger flocks and then finally they’re gone; (from my experience close to the Quinta, always within 36 hours of the 31st, matching their arrival in the Spring which is within 36 hrs of the 1st April – they really are the Swiss of the Birding World!) They’re closely followed by the Swallows, and then everything seems to be moving around too as the southward migration gathers strength …. Who could ever forget the sight of over 200 Booted Eagles overhead as we saw last year? Or, last week, a total of more than 70 Gt Bustards seen in a single day?
Which brings us to Winter, though I can’t really call anything winter that doesn’t get below freezing point – it seems a bit of a sham – perhaps I should just call it The Wet Season, but even that’s a bit of a misnomer as on occasions it produces a grand total of 2 misty mornings during its 4 months! On others it really does earn its name and every ten years or so we have a storm to beat all storms, (the one in November ’97 dumping over 5 inches of rain in two and a half hours ….). Even during these months though there are things to see, sights that take one’s breath away, from the beauty of the Bluethroats to the surprise of having up to seven Robins within 2 meters of one whenever digging in the garden ….. I suppose the wealth of food dampens their normal aggressiveness; they certainly turn their collective noses up at any bird seed I put out!
So, …. when’s a good time to visit? Anytime that suits!
Well, we’ve finally got a new name for the dog which my brother arrived with last week.
Of course we knew she was coming, but she’s taken a while to get here and is nearly a year old already, trapped by circumstance in the UK after she was given to me more months ago than I can remember; I’d only seen her twice since Christmas, once via a webcam.
The name ….
Which brought us to the conundrum of the name …. for the way I see it is that the real name has to be given by the owners, not by the “kennel”, no matter how nice or close that kennel is; so up until Mike arrived a week ago the puppy was called Poppy by my brother and his family, with the full knowledge that this name was only temporary and would change as soon as a few days had passed and she had picked her name.
For just as I feel that the owners of a dog have to choose the name, so I feel that the name must in fact be chosen by the dog itself. Something about it, something that it does, some scrape it gets into, some characteristic will suggest a name, physical or mental, but what that characteristic will be, which one will be chosen by who, is what makes the naming of a dog so important.
Choosing it ….
Some dogs will show their hand in the Naming Game very quickly, but most, especially when entering an established “pack”, keep their personality close to their chests and then it is the choice that I, as the owner, makes, that binds me to the dog in that his or her name reflects my personality just as much as the dog’s.
At the moment the Quinta has three dogs excluding that brought by my brother; Lucky, Molly and Sideways.
Lucky ‘cos he was found in a bin along with the rest of his dead siblings. They’d been drowned in a plastic bag as an unwanted litter, so Lucky he was and Lucky he remains.
Molly, born to a stray in a ruin in Santa Clara where she burrowed amongst the heaps of rubble, hence Molly The Mole.
Sideways, because that’s how he takes your legs from under you …. he just doesn’t seem to have the slightest conception of the different traction abilities between 4 and 2 wheel drives. A real personality.
And now the new one ….. a rather floppy, soppy, German Long Haired Pointer, very feminine, my first ever pedigree dog, and instantly confirming my prejudice against the majority of pedigree dogs, with a brain the size of a peanut.
There was a last ditch cry to retain “Poppy”, soon dealt with, and then a bewildering flurry of ideas, though none of them with any real weight.
Spoilt for choice ….
Being dark red, we started with Hazel, moved on to Hazelnut, and then Hazy, which described her normal state of mind as well, so it nearly took the day, but still not with that je ne sais quoi. However it started us thinking beyond her colouring.
She’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, (just like us when we have to choose names for dogs), so then we went through a whole series of other alternatives, Lipstick went to Dippity and then on to Dipstick and that’s how it would have stayed unless Rafi, a visiting volunteer from Baltimore, Maryland, the U.S. of A said that what sounded fine to us over here had a completely different connotation in some parts of America and seeing as we had a fair smattering of our cousins from across the Pond, it might be better to choose something else, so, sadly, Dipstick had to be dropped …..
“It’ll come to us,” I reassured everyone as some brave soul put Poppy into the hat once more, “the dog’ll choose its own name. Calma, calma.”
So it was later on when we were watching her fishing that, sure enough, the name suddenly jumped out at us.
I should explain, …. she’s taken to fishing in the lake, pointing at them from the side and lunging at them as they swim past. I don’t think she’s caught any yet and I don’t know if she ever will – Tiny, a huge bear of a dog we used to have years ago, used to catch quite a few, sitting there for hour after hour waiting for them to come within reach, but then Tiny could get a whole day of amusement watching the reflected clouds floating past in a puddle ….. I don’t think this latest dog has got quite enough IQ for that ….
So then “Fish Finger” was put forward and that led us onto a rather flowery Pecheurette, and then of course it hit us and the name chose the dog, the dog the name, Pesca, short for Pescadore, a fisherman, – there are no fisherwomen in Portugal apparently… (of course there are, and grammatically a fisherwoman should be called a “Pescadora” but she’s nevertheless called a Pescadore, a fisherman….. it’s a long story and best reserved for another time).
So anyway, there you are, Pesca has arrived, so cry “Long live Pesca” …. and let’s send out for some brain food ….
It’s good to have friends!
Roger popped in yesterday.
He’s visiting Portugal for a concert up in Lisbon this weekend, so got a plane over early and brought some friends of his, Sue and John, to stay.
Some of you may remember Roger; he was helping me out on the stand at the British Bird Fair last summer. He’s a past guest who, like so many here at the Quinta, quickly become friends and, in Roger’s case, help around as well. Last year he not only manned the stand for three days at the Birdfair but also spent a good six weeks here during the winter painting and maintaining the Quinta so it’d all look lovely again this year. The kind of friend that’s good to have around!
He’s into birding and asked whether we’d had any joy with our various schemes to attract more species into the garden, so I showed him one of our unexpected successes ….
You never know who’s going to pop in ….
A few years ago I was building a new part of the Quinta, (now called the Royal Salon as a bit of a joke), and decided to build into one of the outside beams small cavities where birds could nest.
Of course when they were finished all one could see were two holes and everyone kept asking me what they were for, so some wag took the time to paint a little sign stating the obvious.
Well, they’re used during the Spring as they were intended, and we have many more Blue Tits in the garden as a result, but during the hotter months of the summer when the nesting season is over they’re taken over by another occupant and they seem to be all the rage ……. I took this photo yesterday evening as we were all having a glass of wine after dinner and particularly like the “smile” of the lower one!
It all goes to show that, no matter what one does, one’s actions always ricochet about and have unforeseen consequences, sometimes negative of course, but sometimes, as in this case, wonderful!