By: MARGARET BROWN
Margaret Brown is one of The Resident’s longest standing contributors and has lived in the Algarve for more than 20 years. As well as Country Matters, she also writes Point of View every week.
IT’S CUCKOO time once more, the first few sounds recall a joyful resurgence of life in the English backwoods. There it heralded the arrival of spring whereas the Algarve, already drying up from lack of rain, is on the fringe of summer and one bird piped up as early as February this year.
Here at first light, the cooing of Collared Dove and Wood Pigeon, punctuated by the piercing call of a pair of Cuckoos across the valley, continue to wreck that delicious half hour before its time to get up.
Storm-force winds having been forecast on various meteorological Internet sites early in the week, a calm night and light breezes belied what was to follow. By 4pm our shutters were groaning, eucalyptus trees bending like bamboo and thunderheads mounting behind scudding white clouds.
Looking high above my head I saw a great flock of migrant birds travelling north. While the majority made fair headway against the wind some on the fringes were falling behind and scattering.
There followed 24 hours of heavy rain, much to the delight of local farmers, and a family of ducks sifting the newly acquired slurry of mud for insects. But pity the poor visitors over here for a little sunshine.
Seemingly an endangered species now that children are back at school, for the wellbeing of the town one hopes for better things in the summer to fill the apartments under construction. It cannot help matters that the euro is so high against the pound, other currencies offering a much better exchange rates and cheaper holidays.
We spent a lot of time sitting in public buildings last week, grateful that there are chairs in most waiting rooms – at clinics, at the Finances to put in an annual tax return, to the office next door to license our cars and finally on to Lagos Centro de Saúde. There it took three visits before the Boss’s course of physiotherapy was given a stamp of approval. Most of these places now have ticket machines thus avoiding the queue jumping habit so natural to our hosts.
Just as it seems all bureaucratic demands have been met, the vaccination and licensing of dogs is imminent, and for those who attend the Câmara Vet, the free-for-all is totally chaotic. No tickets to ensure a fair and orderly ‘first come, first served’ routine. Late arriving packs of hunting dogs by sheer noise and weight of numbers take precedence, and little old ladies tuck their pets under a seat for safety.
Some people are patient by nature and some learn it the hard way. It is vital to one’s survival in Portugal and perhaps the Câmara Kennels may have its own machine in the fullness of time.
Back in the relative peace of the valley in which we live, local wildlife has been ensuring the arrival of a new generation. With plenty of material from recently mown paddocks, the sparrows are hanging nests behind every folding shutter, as many as three stacked one above the other like straw gondolas, and anywhere else they can find a foothold.
This gives the house a scruffy bad hair day look, and however often we demolish these mini haystacks they are rebuilt by the following afternoon.
Last week there was a snake wrapped round the cisterna’s outlet pipe. This week, while retrieving one of Millie’s favourite toys from the bottom of our land, down by the horses’ grave I nearly stepped on the tail of another snake.
Larger than the first, thicker through the middle and very dark green with a pale belly, it slithered silently beneath a slab of sandstone and disappeared.
When we sold the original farm around 1995, we retained about two and a half acres and built the house in which we are now living. With the plot came a derelict pig sty hidden under a large Prickly Pear. This has almost doubled in size in thirteen years and I believe there is an assortment of small wildlife co-habiting within its shelter including a Hedgehog and rats, and perhaps serves as a larder for snakes.
Certainly there are hedgehogs about because the other day we found a spine covered skin and two hind feet – all that remained of a very young family member. Something had eaten the rest. A few years ago we had Mongoose living in the area but they have been shot or otherwise come to grief, hence a resurgence of snakes. With a bit of luck they may return and restore a natural balance between small mammals and the increasing numbers of these reptiles, only one of which is poisonous and that rarely seen near habitations.
As for insect predators, there has been a change among the spider population marked by an absence of those beautifully spun webs that radiate from a central hub and hang among the Cistus bushes, and an increase in the population of Funnel Spiders (Agelena labyrinthica). Woven close together and attached horizontally to low growing vegetation about an inch from the ground, when covered in early dew their webs make a sparkling carpet.
From time to time it is possible to catch glimpses of a hungry occupant sitting at the mouth of its funnel waiting for a meal to come along. In a similar manner Trapdoor spiders make burrows, some but not all of which are sealed with perfectly fitted hinged lids. They too lurk near their entrance waiting for something edible to drop in.