Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Tavira, Portugal. Part 1

'I've got some holiday photos to show you,' says Aunt Mabel.

You experience a horrible sinking feeling in your stomach. Sometimes the pictures turn out to be of well-chosen and interesting features. But it may be little Wayne with ice-cream running down his chin, or Uncle Harry doing something stupid on a Crazy Golf course. You discreetly stifle a yawn...

Well, these are my holiday snaps, so be warned. If in doubt switch off now

Chris and I are just back from a week's rambling around Tavira, a smallish town at the eastern end of the Algarve, not far from the border with Spain. The group was an interesting assemblage of twenty-one people - all fitter than either Chris or me. I chatted briefly with all of them and found them to be pleasant characters from as far away as San Diego in southern California. But to be truthful I didn't get involved in much conversation but was busily engaged in looking out for wildlife. In his poem, 'Out on the lawn I lie in bed,, W.H.Auden refers to the eccentrics and the silent walkers. I fear that I fit into this category only too easily!

Day 1 (Monday) was wet and cold, worryingly so as the weather forecast for the rest of the week wasn't very optimistic. 

Looking towards the sea from the Roman bridge. Tavira,
Portugal. 6 April, 2015

We gathered on the old Roman bridge over the River Gilao and looked through murky drizzle towards the sea. Raincoats were zipped up and hoods pulled over our heads. But no one opted out; ramblers are hardy souls.

Paronychia argentea was abundant on sandy
ground near the sea. Tavira. 6 April, 2015

We headed towards to sea and made our way across partially overgrown sand towards the beach. The ground was studded with patches of Paronychia. I neglected to break off a piece for later examination but there is little doubt that it was Paronychia argentea. This curious little member of the Pink Family, Dianthaceae, is very common in this sort of situation, its silvery stipules making it very distinctive.

Lotus creticus was common on sand.
Tavira, Portugal. 6 April, 2015

Also very common was the pretty pea flower, Lotus creticus, otherwise known by the rather clumsy name of Southern Bird's-foot Trefoil. With its silvery leaves this plant would not look out of place on a rock garden, but would need a sunny spot.

We made our way down to the sea and set off west for about five or six kilometres with intermittent rain showers and a cold wind off the sea. I've had more pleasant walks. Sanderlings, their feet almost a blur, sprinted along the water's edge looking for stranded prawns, sand flies or other titbits.

We eventually left the beach for a welcome hot coffee near Santa Luzia. Refreshed we then made a circuit via salt marsh and salt pans to head back to Tavira.

Cistanche phelypaea was very common at
the fringes of salt marshes. Tavira,
Portugal,  6 April, 2015

At the edges of the salt marsh we found many examples of the spectacular broomrape, Cistanche phelypaea. It is parasitic on various shrubby members of the Spinach Family.

Aristolochia baetica was very common
around Tavira. 6 April, 2015

Though the Cistanche was the most spectacular find of the day it was not the oddest. That title probably went to Aristolochia baetica. This curious little climbing plant is commonly known as Dutchman's Pipe and it proved to be common throughout the area.

Aristolochia sempervirens. Gythio, southern Greece
April, 2014

(Just for comparison, this is Aristolochia sempervirens, a species I found at about this same time last year in the Mani peninsula of southern Greece. It is fair to say that this is a much more colourful plant.)

Brachychiton populneus growing as a street tree
near Tavira, Portugal. 6 April, 2015

At the edge of town I glanced up in to a roadside tree and found myself looking at hundreds of dainty, thimble-sized flowers. This had me scratching my head but I knew I had seen one before. Was it on Madeira? 

Following vague memories I eventually identified it as Brachychiton populneus.
This is an Australian member of the largely tropical family Sterculiaceae. What a pity it can't cope with the British climate.

So, not the best of weather for the 14 kilometre walk but certainly not without botanical interest.

Day 2 involved a nine o' clock start in order to catch a service bus to Vila Real de Cacela small town some ten miles to the east of Tavira. We made our way through the little town, once again heading for the sea, enjoying far better weather than the previous day. 

Tropinota hirta feeding on pollen near
Vila Real de Cacela  7 April, 2015

On scrubby ground approaching the beach I chanced upon this beetle, almost the first insect I'd seen so far during the holiday. The silky hairs helped to identify it as Tropinota hirta, quite common in the Mediterranean region. Here it is on Centaurium pullata, a relative of thistles.

We made the beach and headed west towards Cabanas, where we were to have lunch.

Zerynthis rumina near Cabanas, southern
Portugal. 7 April, 2015

A butterfly, Zerynthia rumina, posed nicely for me. Known as the Spanish Festoon this is a widespread insect throughout Iberia. It is also found in part of southern France, but nowhere else in Europe.

A wasp, probably Polistes dominulus, busy constructing
a comb. Cabanas, Portugal. 7 April, 2015

On the side of a building a wasp, perhaps Polistes dominulus, was constructing a comb. The comb was on a pedestal (known as a petiole) and consisted of the 'paper' typically used by many wasp species.

A rock rose, Cistus albidus. Cabanas,
Portugal,  7 April, 2015

The Cistaceae Family is well represented in the region and this species, Cistus albidus, was very common. Here it is growing at the edge of a barley field near Cabanas. 

Leptopalpus rostratus near Cabanas, Portugal.
7 April, 2015

Just a few feet away a beetle, Leptopalpus rostratus, was feeding on pollen. Although vaguely like a ladybird (ladybug in the U.S.A.) it belongs to a different family but I will not tax your patience with details.

A jumping spider, Menemerus semilimbatus, hunts on
 a rock near Cabanas, Portugal. 7 April, 2015

I saw relatively few spiders during the holiday but this smart jumping spider, Menemerus semilimbatus, was noted on a rock. This specimen is a male. Jumping spiders are known scientifically as salticids, from a word meaning 'to jump' (think somersault).

So, refreshed by lunch we plodded on. Approaching the hotel I paused to photograph a trio of plants on nearby waste ground.

Convolvulus althaeoides on waste
ground, Tavira , Portugal. 8 April, 2015

One was a type of bindweed, Convolvulus althaeoides. With its rather large, rose-pink flowers it is a lovely plant. It will happily grow in Britain and, although it can be invasive, I'm surprised it isn't often seen.

Common though it is throughout most of the Mediterranean region, I couldn't resist photographing this Judas Tree, Cercis siliquastrum. Again, this will cope with the British climate, particularly in southern counties, and I am mystified that it isn't grown more. Though often seen as a tree, this specimen shows that it will respond well to pollarding.

Chrysanthemum coronarium var discolor on waste
 ground. Tavira, Portugal. 8 April, 2015

In suburban areas the Crown Daisy, Chrysanthemum coronarium. Usually the petals are all yellow but around Tavira the form shown, var discolor, with most of each petal white.

For Day 3 the rain returned and it was even more miserable than Day one. A walk went ahead but a handful of people opted out including Chris and me. We had been told that the fishing port of Olhao, about twelve miles to the west, had a couple of interesting markets so Chris and I took the train (remarkably cheap) and spent most of the day there. A White Stork was feeding in a field adjacent to the line.

When we returned to Tavira there was time to visit a supermarket, where a macabre sight awaited us. 

Outside the supermarket was a line of pine trees. These are protected by attack from pests such as the Bagworm Moth by a sticky trap around the trunk.

Moorish Geckos, Tarentola mauretanica, dead  on a
sticky insect trap. Tavira, Portugal. 9 April, 2015

Unfortunately a number of lizards had also become trapped. Not only did they die an unpleasant death but these lizards feed on insects!

I make no claims to be a herpetologist but the species involved appears to be the Moorish Gecko, Tarentola mauretanica. Whatever the species, these sticky traps surely need to be re-designed.

Thursday (Day 4) involved a 16.5 km walk to the west of Tavira, going as far as Fuseta.
The first half of the walk took is through rather neglected agricultural land.

A fine specimen of Eriobotrya japonica.
Tavira, Poruguese Algarve. 9 April, 2015

Anyone visiting the Mediterranean region soon becomes familiar with the Japanese Loquat, Eriobotrya japonica. I find loquats rather insipid but a tree in full fruit makes a fine sight and we saw many like this one on the edge of Tavira. In fact they are grown as much for ornament as for the fruit.

The orange-spotted form of Pararge aegeria near
Fuseta. 9 April, 2015

I was a little surprised to see a Speckled Wood, Pararge aegeria, basking on a leaf. But it is a widespread species, with this form having orange spots; those in Britain are paler.

Chrysolina menthastri feeds on mint near
Fuseta, Algarve.  9 April, 2015

A bed of mint in a ditch was home to several Mint Leaf Beetles, Chrysolina menthastri. This one, feeding voraciously, shows its bright metallic green coloration which makes it so distinctive. It is common in Britain.

The second half of the day's walk took in some coastal walking and salt pans. Black-winged Stilts, Avocets and Flamingoes were feeding.

Glistening white mounds of salt were a background to
the pans near Fuseta, Algarve. 9 April, 2015

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