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The Spring Tour.

01st July 2014
A Zen moment:

In a valley 1100 metres up in the Pyrenees, named Iraty, on the French / Spanish border, I once again found inspiration to write the blog. Officially a French Aire, but no-one collects the 5 euro rent until July and August, and our company is two more vans, a couple of tents, and plenty of cows and horses with bells around there necks.The peace of stopping by a mountain stream has inspired me to begin an account of what I consider a wonderful journey of nearly four months.
This latest update in the blog is intended to give you the reader an idea of a journey, a way of life and the tremendous photographic opportunities in Portugal and Northern Spain. If this is your first viewing , the background is that Marion and I have lived and travelled in our motorhome for the past three years. I take at least one picture a day and Marion creates all sorts of woollen and felt crafty things as we go.
March 7th / 10th
Our journey begins with great anticipation as although we had travelled to the Algarve before, it had really been too early in the year for the springtime birds and warmer weather. We had stayed in the UK through the mild but stormy weather, with hardly any snow and only 2 frosts between October and the beginning of March. Having sailed to Dieppe (its cheaper) and slept on the Aire for the morning, we travelled in fine weather via Chatres to Le Chene de Lac, Guitras near Bordeaux. The ACSI site was a joy as we were welcomed with a carafe of wine and the next day we joined all campers to enjoy pizza cooked by the owner of the site, and shared foods from al of our different countries. We shared some father christmas chocolate cookies , some teabags and in return feasted on olives, pizza, Bordeaux fresh wine an Pastis. Whilst on this site however, we found our fridge had stopped working and our mobile phones would not work in France, which others tried to assist with. The solution was to stay for a couple of days and to visit Bordeaux to get an estimate on the fridge and purchase a french sim card to phone uk phone companies. All ok except for the quote on the Fridge was 2000 euro. So … 'around Portugal without a fridge' … could be the name of a book perhaps? We also visited St Emillion, famous for its wine, its steep streets and cloisters, and I missed a great photograph when Cranes flew over the Church towers, but happy with the pictures i did get.
March 11th / 13th
We spend one night at Zarautz, another ACSI site stopover with one heck of a good walk down to the beach and back from the cliff top. From here we head off for a long drive down to Monfrague (again ACSI), south of Salamanca, taking our own tour (the camp site offers 4 x 4 tours but the main birding areas have good roads). Here we see familiar birds for this area, with good images of Spanish Imperial Eagle, Griffon Vultures, Egyptian Vultures and a Black Vulture, but seemed to miss the Black Stork (although I have a good image from a previous visit).
March 14th / 15th
Castro Verde. We stop at the town municipal site for two nights. Highly recommended as it has good facilities, free wifi, has a Cattle Egret roost fight next to the site along with Stork nests, and is just down the road from the LPN, a nature and bird conservation initiative. Images of Red Kite, Lesser Kestrel and Cattle Egret are posted and we plan to return for a few weeks after our stay in the Algarve. Friend Rob arranges flights to join us in 4 weeks and that is when we plan to return. Only thing is that its then Easter and the LPN 4 x 4 tours are few and full. Their priority is group education and bird conservation, and so I have to respect their priorities above taking tourists out on bird safari. I do intend to return though, possibly conducting photographic workshops and so will ensure an early booking next time.
March 16th / April 19th
Touriscampo site near Luz, Lagos, Algarve. We arrive a day late for our booked Caravan and Camping club rally. You know after 3 years in the van, we are not exactly your stereotypical happy clappy campers. We enjoy meeting up with people, enjoy the discounted rates, and will certainly continue to winter camp somewhere for a month or so where we do socialise in a comfortable venue. We join in stuff like the quiz nights and boules, and seek out others for cycling and cards. When it comes to the quiz night however, and team name is often 'the peripherals'.
With families of Azure Winged Magpies flying around the large site, along with occasional Hoopoe sightings, and a pair of Little Owls only a short walk away in a derelict building, photo opportunities were good. So this combined with cycling between Luz and Sagres, which is an unspoilt coastline of rolling cliffs and sandy beaches, and walking the high cliff above Luz for images of Kestrel, Sardinian Warbler, Short Toed Eagle, the time spent here was very enjoyable. We have made friends through the 'rallying', so hi to Peter and Freda, and Irene and Malc, who together form our cycling, quizzing and card playing friends. The boules is not to be sniffed at either, and there were one or two serious players for whom it was not merely fun and they gave others impromptu coaching, but it all made for a thrilling climax as they were on the losing team in a final game before leaving. WE WUPPED 'EM.
So we cycled some major hills, sampled some delightful meals, had a bit of mixed weather but generally got out and about and stayed beyond the end of the Rally (April 11th) as friend Rob was arriving on the 16th April. We had booked a hire car locally to go pick him up, but the car and the hire people failed to show up, so we took the van down the motorway to FARO. We then sampled Wild Boar and plum stew at a restaurant in the the mountains above Monchique (yum) and the following day spent some time at Boca de Rio. We had frequently cycled this way as its not far from the intermarche, where coffee and custard tart is less than a euro. The birding has previously been very good, but it had only recently proved to be better with Blue Rock Thrush and Little Egret along with numerous Corn Bunting, Chiffchaff and Stonechat, and a Zitting Cisticola. On arriving with Rob however, the old buildings and pond on the right were fruitful again with Woodchat Shrike and then Bee Eaters. We used our camouflage nets to lie close to the Bee Eater tree and were treated to great close views and images.
April 19th / May 1st
Castro Verde. Once again I was amazed with the feel of this place. The municipal campsite is in the town, but also situated within a stones throw of a Cattle Egret roost, along with White Stork nests. The town itself is situated high on rolling plains with pseudo steppe grassland and cork trees. The nature protection is a priority (LPN) but also supplies good guidance and access to see birds. Their work is in protection and conservation, adapting the farming to encourage wildlife, and educating locals and visitors alike. They take limited numbers on tours in a 4x4, but even without this we have managed to see and photograph Great Bustards, Sand Grouse, Bee Eaters, European Roller, Little Bustards, Montague Harrier, Griffon Vulture, Short Toed Eagle, Golden Oriole, Little and Cattle Egret, Common and Lesser Kestrel, Hoopoe, Larks and Swallow. Also seen at different times have been Black Shouldered Kite, Golden Eagle, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Black Vulture and Long Legged Buzzard. By the small rivers there were Little Ringed Plover, Stone Curlew, many Corn Buntings, along with Iberian Grey Shrike and Woodchat Shrike.
The photographic opportunities are plentiful, not just with the birds, but with the fields carpeted with wild flowers, the whitewashed houses and red poppies, the locals living a life that disappeared elsewhere many years ago, and mostly being more than happy to be photographed. The women work in the fields, fetch water from the village pumps, carry heavy loads on their heads whilst the men congregate around shaded seats and coffee shops. The roads are good for cycling and we could count the number of vehicles that would pass on a ride, usually about five or so per hour.
I was looking forward to the later spring tour, and have found the landscape, flowers, birds and the whole experience wonderful. I would have swum to Portugal for some of the images of Roller, Bee Eaters and Bustards, and this is only the first part of the tour.