coquet nature lover

Friday, 21 October 2016

Ria Formosa rediscovered

Long legged, long billed and more... 

Yes, it's that time of year again...  If you've ever taken a peep at the 'on the move' tab of this blog, you will know what I mean! The common ringed plover (ring number 895838) should be on its way from Iceland to its favourite winter territory on the lagoon in Santa Luzia, Portugal. After all, it has been spotted here every autumn since 2013. Hopefully, I will have an update for you! In the meantime, here are some of my favourite shots taken earlier this month.

The Ria Formosa Natural Park is an amazing place for a short break, especially if you enjoy birdwatching, walking or cycling. It is part of Natura 2000 network of specially protected areas across the European Union and is also designated a site of international importance under the Ramsar convention (an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands).
Greater flamingos and other long legged wading birds are usually present in the salt pans just off the road between Santa Luzia and Tavira. If not, head to the 'salinas' west of Faro airport and you will be sure to get great views. In fact, as you come in to land at Faro, there's a good chance you will see these impressive yet fragile looking birds. Just check the direction of the wind before choosing your seat!  Typically, I was on the wrong side of the plane!
You can see in the next photo shows how the juvenile flamingos are much lighter in colour. The pink colours that the adults develop come from carotenoids in their diet of algae and invertebrates such as shrimps. 

The flamingos in the sequence below were having some sort of stand off. Certainly not a behaviour described in Emily Benson-Scott's poem at the end of this post.
Shovelers are often found in similar habitats to flamingos.  Although they aren't wading birds, these ducks also sift insects and plant matter through their large beaks.

As in the UK, little egrets are plentiful on the Ria Formosa and can be seen all year round. Birdwatchers will however often remind you that this wasn't the case in Britain twenty years ago and records show that between 1958 and 1988, there were on average just fifteen sightings a year.

RSPB report that this small member of the heron family first bred in Dorset in 1986, with significant numbers following in 1989. This wading bird has the legal status of 'protected at all times' and now breeds very successfully. Possibly our milder winters have also contributed towards its spread northwards from the continent.

This little egret stayed fairly still while preening so it wasn't too difficult to get some good photos.
having a good shake

job perfectly done
black-winged stilt
little stints

grey plover with samphire

On the pathways through the salt pans I saw numerous crested larks and one cisticola perched high up in the bushes.
If you are looking for spoonbills, they can usually be seen on the salt marshes so if you walk out to Barril Beach from Santa Luzia, you might spot them there.  On a previous visit, I saw very large flocks on the Castro Marim nature reserve which is a little further east and very close to the Spanish border.


From Santa Luzia harbour, it only about half an hour's walk to Barril Beach but if it's too hot, or you're tired, you can walk across the pontoon bridge and take the little train which will drop you off close to the Anchor graveyard pictured below. 
The knarled and rusted abandoned anchors are lined up on the sand dunes reminding you of a community that once fished for bluefin tuna. It's all rather eerie - quite a haunting memorial to come across in such a beautiful place. Perhaps a landscape that Caspar Friedrich (German Romantic artist 1774-1840), might have been painted if he were alive today?

There's a huge variety of waders on the saltmarsh such as this whimbrel which was busy chasing some of the abundant small crabs.


As the tide came in, up above...  a white stork flying over Santa Luzia harbour caught my eye...

and down below...  a rare Audouin's gull was in the channel

Update on ringed plover sightings:

After five days of scouring the shoreline, on my last full day, I spotted the ringed plover! To see this small bird again, in almost the identical spot as last time, to watch her bathe, feed and defend her territory, right in front of my very eyes was quite an amazing site.  Here are a few photos I took and the latest sightings from the research centre who monitor this project from the University of Iceland.
Yes, I'm back for the winter so get off my patch!

With the sun setting, it's time to say goodnight

or boa noite as they say here in Portugal

Santa Luzia shore with piles of salt like hills in the background 


Flamingos in Flight

by Emily Benson-Scott
Pale pink flamingos wade slow
and listless, almost purposeless
across the salty shallows of the Rhone delta,
hooked necks bowed to the ground
beneath the day's blanketing heat.
With one metamorphic decision towards flight,
they transform into taut arrows of purpose
legs kicked back like a switchblade,
hot pink wings capped with neat black tips
slicing through the stagnant afternoon.
I wish I knew how to choose
from so many dubious options,
take flight in a hot pink blaze
of certainty, soaring off in one direction
across the boundless blue sky.
flight over the Ria Formosa

Friday, 7 October 2016

Misty morning on Lindisfarne, Northumberland

Coquet nature lover off to Holy Island

Surprise surprise!  It's misty on this mid-September day here on Lindisfarne yet in Coquetdale, the locals are basking in the glorious sunshine as an unexpected heatwave sweeps northwards up the country! The north-east coastline does seems to suffer more from these sea fogs (or sea frets as known up here) than the rest of the country so, with this pearly light, don't expect to be seeing too many sharp coastal shots... Being an amateur photographer, I tend to use my iPhone or the camera set to automatic mode - no messing about with shutter speeds as, with the wildlife being 'wild', there's a good chance the bird or beast will have moved on before I've adjusted the settings!

We all know that every sailor has a tale or two about something bad that has happened to them, so for some of my readers, who I know don't like boat trips, a visit to Lindisfarne - also known as Holy Island - makes for a great island trip as it is reached by a causeway. Although accessible by bus, car, bike or foot, the journey can be perilous if you ignore the tides so you are warned!

(If you take the bus, you need route 477 that runs from Berwick station or you can connect with a bus at Beal which is on the mainland, fairly close to the causeway.) 

"As the tide ebbs and flows,
this place is surrounded by sea twice a day like an island,
and twice a day the sand dries and joins it to the mainland."

(Bede, A History of the English Church and People, Book III:3, trans. Leo Sherley-Price, Penguin, 1968, p.145)

Bede, also known as Saint Bede and The Venerable Bede (c.673-753), was a great scholar and teacher in the Kingdom of Northumbria. Although he lived in a monastery from the age of seven, his writings were not confined to Christianity. He was particularly interested in nature and how the moon influenced the tides and calculating the time.

Yes, this island is steeped in history but as this blog is primarily for nature lovers, I think I better stop now before you click into another site!  It was a real murky day when I visited the island but strangely enough, I was happy with the way the photos turned out - rather eerie but in a romantic sort of way... Hope you enjoy the post. 

Lindisfarne castle from Holy Island harbour

refuge box on the causeway for those caught by the tide
Despite numerous warnings about the dangers of being stranded by incoming tides, the RNLI are frequently called out to rescue those who have ignored the warnings. Local parish registers document deaths of people crossing the sands going back several centuries - well before there was a causeway for vehicles. Tides are caused by gravitational pull of the moon and the sun - surely one of the most reliable phenomena in the world - so it's amazing to think that so many people drive straight into the north sea, trying to beat the tide. Madness!

A stranded Swiss family were saved earlier this year - perhaps they could be forgiven if they weren't familiar with the language and, with their county being land-locked, the occupants might not have been aware of the dangers of this tidal island. Thoughtfully, they handed over a generous donation which I am certain the RNLI appreciated as the cost of mounting a rescue is quite considerable..

Turn of the tide - drivers beware - click on link below for video released by the RNLI
Report of rescue of vehicle and occupants last month

For nature lovers, there's plenty on offer here all year round. The stunning coastline, sand dunes, saltmarshes and mudflats are home to a variety of wildlife and it's a great place for birdwatching. In 1992, Lindisfarne was designated as a special protection area (SPA) under European Law. It's not just Holy Island which is covered but the mainland coast and intertidal area too. This designation protects threatened and vulnerable birds as well as important migrants.

Autumn is a great time to pay a visit as there's a good chance you might see migrants such as wheatears and flycatchers passing through, or perhaps birds that spend winter on the reserve such as Brent geese and bar-tailed godwits. Lindisfarne is also a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) given its richness of plants, birds and diverse habitats.

greenshank with redshank
(Fr-chevalier aboyeur    D-grünschenkel) avec/mit (Fr-chevalier gambette   D-rotschenkel)

dunlin probing for food
(Fr-bécasseau   D-alpenstrandläufer)

bar-tailed godwit on the search
(Fr-barge rousse   D-pfuhlschnepfe)

grey seal resting on the sands

The pair of obelisks in the next photo are positioned on the south side of the entrance to the harbour. It is said that when the beacons are lined up on a bearing of 260°, sailors can enter safely. There seems to be some discussion around the exact year they were built but it was back in the 1800's.

Guile Point

Apologies once again but going back to my history lovers, I have to say that Lindisfarne is a real gem with records going as far back as the 6th century. Saint Aidan, the island's first abbot and bishop, founded the monastery in 635. This Anglo-Saxon monastery is now the site of the 12th century priory where The Lindisfarne Gospels were written.  Despite a long campaign to return these manuscripts to the north-east, they remain on display in London at the British Museum. The 16th century castle in the photo below, was refurbished by Lutyens in the Arts and Crafts style in 1901 and is now maintained by the National Trust. Well worth a visit.

tourists flock to Lindisfarne castle
The castle is very popular in the summer months however, as you continue your walk around the island, it won't be long until you are alone again. The photo of the young starling below was taken in the walled garden at Pilgrims. The owner of this café is obsessed with coffee and, according to his website, sources the best quality beans from Fairtrade farms. Yes, a great cup of coffee and I can recommend the paninis too! 

(Fr-etourneau sansonnet   D-star)

Lindisfarne is also described as 'a botanist's dream' with many flowering plants and eleven species of orchid - one being the Lindisfarne helleborine which can only found on Holy Island. 

The photos below are of the tiny walled garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll in 1911. As you meander through the pathways, you will see how it is broken into long borders, filled with scented roses, bright perennials, colourful annuals and fragrant herbs that perfume the air, attracting insects and butterflies that flutter across in their search for nectar. The eastern border contains fruit trees and is used to grow vegetables.

path leading from the castle to the walled garden

castle in the mist

going back to the shore and the wildlife....

curlew in flight (Fr-courlis cendré   D-grosser brachvogel)
and along the two lonnens....

There are two - the 'straight' and the 'crooked'. In case you are wondering, in the local dialect, a 'lonnen' is another word for a lane or track. It isn't a word that is often spoken but you do still come across it in street names across the north-east of England. 
along the crooked lonnen

tups in the mist by the straight lonnen

wheatear (Fr-traquet motteux   D-steinschmätzer)

reed bunting eating false oat-grass seeds
(Fr-bruant des roseaux   D-rohrammer)

red-breasted fly catcher seen from the Lough hide
(Fr-gobemouche nain   D-zwergschnäpper)
moorhen from the hide - no special effects applied!
(Fr-poule-d'eau   D-teichhuhn)

autumnal spider's web
golden plover
(Fr-pluvier doré   D-goldregenpfeifer) 
And now, with the tide coming in fast, it's time to end this post. Will definitely have to plan another visit to take photos of the numerous birds and flowers I didn't get a chance to take this time. Maybe I will be luckier with the weather?

tide coming in over the causeway

As I'm sure you will know, 'Lindisfarne' is also the name of a successful rock band from Newcastle upon Tyne. Although, one of their top selling albums, 'Fog on the Tyne' springs to mind, their single 'Run for Home' somehow seems more appropriate here!
Click on the link below if you would like to listen. Enjoy!

birds of a feather flock together 
oiseaux d'une plume volent ensemble 

flock of redshank on the walking route covered by the tide
(Fr-chevalier gambette   D-rotschenkel)