Officially, springtime doesn’t begin until March 20, however, February seems to be the unofficial start in the Algarve region. You may have noticed the almond trees have already blossomed and, according to an old legend, it is suggested that a young Moorish King, Ibn-Almundim, planted almond trees to create a snow scene effect for his Nordic wife Gilda as she missed the snow of her native country.
In this month’s article, I thought I would share some of the exciting wildlife species to get ready for over the next few weeks. This is particularly useful for anyone who is new to the region.
There are many signs of the warmer weather and none more so than the emergence of the violet carpenter bee. These large solitary bees emerge from old nesting holes where they hide out for the winter.
Although they appear to be large black bees, take a closer look and you will notice the sun reflecting off their purple colouring. Although, like all female bees, they are armed with a sting (did you know that male bees don’t?), these very docile creatures are very unlikely to use their stinger and often fly around appearing to be drunk. They look for a mate and then build their nests in dead wood, hence the name. Unlike other carpenter bee species, these are usually no threat to buildings and wooden structure as they prefer rotting wood.
Snakes are out, run away! But seriously, there is no need. As the temperatures rise, snakes will appear to sun themselves although there is not a lot to fear here in the Algarve, or indeed the rest of Portugal. Yes, there are a few venomous snakes here, but the only one to be wary of is the Lataste’s viper, which is easy to identify as it has a small horn-like growth on the front of its head.
Even so, their venom is still considered to be less potent than that of the northern European adder, but, of course, allergies may cause an issue. All other venomous snakes are equipped to use their venom for catching prey and are rear-fanged, so it is virtually impossible for them to bite a human. My favourite snake here is the very common horseshoe whip snake as its contrasting dark spots and large eyes make it a beautiful sight.
It’s only February but, in just over four weeks, my favourite time of year is upon us with the return of the European bee-eater. Around April 1, depending on the weather conditions, these beautiful birds with their unique and very distinctive noisy “preee” calls will once again be here for the summer. I will never tire of their presence as they swoop around my local hills chasing insects in the air.
Another bird species to look out for, or at least listen for, is the golden oriole. Arriving around the same time as the bee-eaters, this bird has one of the most amazing flute-like calls and beautiful yellow plumage (the female is more olive green). You are more likely to hear rather than spot these birds as they seem to blend in like a chameleon amongst the trees. Nightingales are another hard to spot but easy to hear around a similar time as they also return. There is nothing better than hearing these birds singing in the silent hills at 3am.
Keep an eye in the skies, too, as the light-coloured short-toed eagles will have arrived soaring the skies looking for their favourite meal – snakes. Their specially adapted claws enable them to pick up the snakes and carry them away.
There is so much I could write about I could probably fill the entire week’s edition on all the species, but get out there and you’ll be amazed at what you will see!
Craig Rogers is a wildlife and nature photographer from Wales now living in the Algarve, offering photography workshops. For more information, photographs and his blog visit www.craigrogers.photography