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The mating game

by Margaret Brown [email protected]

Margaret Brown is one of the Algarve Resident’s longest standing contributors and has lived in the Algarve for more than 20 years.

On our short visit to West Wales a few weeks ago, we had rain every day but one which, flying from the heat of Portugal, was akin to finding an oasis in the middle of a scrubby desert.

The trees shed drips as we walked, the green fields were sprouting again after a late cut for silage and cows huddled together under the windward hedges – such a relief after a long hot summer in southern Europe, and balm to the soul.

There followed six days by the sea in Somerset where temperatures were as high as those we had left behind in the Algarve and so it continues. Enough is enough but, on the upside, every day without lighting the wood burner is a basket of logs not used.

One of the pleasures of returning to England is that of looking up old friends, in particular a farmer who keeps a small herd of pedigree Beef Shorthorns.

In her late 70s and continuing to win major prizes at show grounds round England, her bull Thundercloud has progeny all over the western world from Argentina to Dubai.

However, the owners of the recipients of his valuable sperm simply forget to pay, which has become an insoluble problem for this old lady. We spent a morning at the farm, the whole ground floor of which was decked out with brightly coloured rosettes and trophies – and listened to a tale of woe over tea.

Backed by a diktat from the European Union, a government environment agency is planning to realign two miles of flood defences along the River Severn.

This would provide 78 hectares of salt marshes and mud flats for migrant and indigenous birds, to counteract the present loss due to rising sea levels.

Dozens of farmers, some of whose ancestors have worked the land for generations, stand to lose their livelihood when the sea moves a mile inland.

Our friend’s holding lies alongside the Severn Estuary and would be one of the first to be washed away.

As we were talking, I noticed a field at the back of the house had been invaded, not by the sea but by a flock of around 150 ewes and four rams (tups).

Apparently belonging to a neighbour, they were eating the top off a stand of tender young grass outside the shed where a 12-year old pet ewe was housed. Although well past breeding age she smelled the rams, broke out and was tupped there and then.

When the flock left she went with them, later to return alone looking ten years younger and very happy with her lot.

While age seems no barrier to the mating instinct even in wet and chilly Britain, over here some species of birds just don’t know when to stop. The saga of a family of Red Rumped Swallows, which had been nesting from early spring on a patio light of a friend’s house, continues.

The ultimate brood of nestlings took their first flight about September 21 and was still in the nest by October 9, which is on the late side.

Eventually they began their long migration south to sub-Saharan Africa at the back end of October and for juveniles still feeding up for the long journey, late departure will have reduced their chances of survival.

Another family of swallows left their nest under a local motorway tunnel some time ago, the painstakingly constructed mud structure now taken over by small non-migrant resident birds. Also with reproduction in mind, a great exodus of flying ants erupted in and around Lagos on a warm humid day this week, colonies of each particular species flying simultaneously.

In pursuit of the few queens seeking a mate, only one male from a cloud of eager suitors would achieve its object, the remainder, having shed their wings, were to wander aimlessly until they died, the fertile females left to start new colonies underground.

The drive to reproduce ensures continuing life on our planet but, in the short term, brings trouble in its wake.

As with locust plagues and over population by the human race that causes suffering to millions, so it can be seen on a parochial scale in this country.

The disposal of litters of newborn puppies and kittens found discarded by the roadside and in rubbish bins, tied in plastic bags to endure a slow death, is part of the dark side of this country. Currently in the Algarve, some animal shelters and a few veterinary clinics offer free neutering services for both strays and homed dogs and cats.

Unacceptable in the minds of local country dwellers to deprive a male dog of his right to propagate, the fertile bitches continue to whelp and the puppies and kittens continue to be cast out.

Thus it was no surprise to see a litter of four tiny kittens under care at Lagos Veterinary Clinic on its inaugural day.

Previously known as VIP Veterinary Clinic based in the town centre, Dr. Lars Rahmquist is now consulting from his new premises at Rua Tristão Cunha (see last week’s edition of the Algarve Resident).

With every necessary piece of equipment located under one roof, it will be possible to deal with whatever presents itself without delay and no outsourcing for ancillary services.

If new to the area, look out for a large house built in the palladium style with large portico, red walls and an estate of small houses at its feet.