The right place at the right time.jpg

The right place at the right time

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.

Dining out has become a rare treat these last few months for various reasons but the birthday of a friend gave us an excuse to celebrate.

Having spliced the main brace aboard his boat in the Marina, a group of us adjourned to a restaurant along Lagos Avenida and, on arrival, we ordered a couple of litres of draught vinho tinto, the walk from boat to table having brought on quite a thirst.

Standing behind my chair jug in hand, the waiter lifted it up, the handle snapped and I was drenched from top to toe. The hollow seated chair retained a lake of wine which dyed my white trousers a patchy purple and kept me cool all evening, there being no alternative but to sit it out, enjoy the fun and leave the place as discreetly as possible at the end of a very happy evening, the Boss walking close behind to hide my embarrassment.

Life is full of surprises. Yesterday a lady who was about to launch her dinghy from Lagos sailing club ignored a warning that the slipway was treacherous, and as a result fell and broke her right wrist. Meanwhile, the beach alongside offered easy access to the sea, and a small flotilla of young optimist sailors having taken to the water without mishap were under instruction out in the Bay.

Known as Praia de Sol, this small patch of sand alongside the Fortaleza has always been popular with locals and holidaymakers. Before the effluent from Lagos town was properly treated, a nauseous slick of sewage, carried on the current, collected there and bathing was prohibited. In those days no one took much notice and young children delighted in jumping into the sea from the harbour wall. A notice continues to forbid swimming despite new treatment works having been installed a few years ago and as before, families continue to enjoy the clear and inviting water without serious consequences.

Remaining very hot away from the coast and its cooling zephyrs, once the sun is up nothing much stirs among the hills until evening or dawn the next day. During those few hours of relative comfort, creatures that have been sheltering come out in search of food and water from wherever they have been hiding and, should one be in the right place at the time, offer great photo opportunities. One morning, walking with the dogs along a shadowed valley in the hills, we almost stumbled over what looked like a stone. Stiff-legged and bristling they gave it a wide berth and trotted on, by which time the ‘stone’ was showing signs of activity. Having found toad droppings dotted about the area during the last few weeks, it was good to see this Natterjack Toad alive and well, and being a similar colour to the surrounding rocks, nicely camouflaged.

As I passed, it stood up and having inflated its body almost half as big again, it toddled off in the direction of a nearby lake like an old Bag Lady with fallen arches. Going by the Latin name of Bufo Calamita this very noisy amphibian has been around for millennia and is an endangered species in some countries. Needing water to breed, it leaves floating strings of fertilized eggs which hatch unattended and many are eaten by fish as well as other tadpoles. The adults are food for foxes, snakes and large birds despite their poisonous secretions and it is hoped that this individual lives out its full span of up to 15 years. Originating when there was a sudden cooling of the earth’s climate 33 million years ago, toads have colonised the world, apart from Australia and New Zealand which split from the Asian land mass at that time. And now that the earth is heating up once more their numbers are bound to decrease further.

With evidence of foxes everywhere I doubt this valley toad will last long. One morning, as we walked in the vicinity of the two wells I saw a cub lying beside a dwarf fan palm, (or palmito as it is known in Portugal). Almost hidden in a stand of pale dried grass the young animal took no notice until I was within a few feet; it stood up without haste, stretched and strolled silently behind a dense bush overhanging a crevasse. Neither dog paid any attention perhaps because the cub was immature and in this case very small, thin and without scent.

Partly feathered fledgling Golden Oriels have been trying out their wings not far from our house with the mother in constant attendance and calling loudly from a tree, but tailless baby sparrows must fend for themselves – another brood is already on its way in the patio rafters.

In my office, quarrelling gekkos scrabble and twitter behind the pine paneling while other members of the class of reptiles, being very shy, are seen mostly as they disappear.

A friend, whose garden has everything needed to support the local fauna, managed to photograph an Ocellated Lizard as it emerged from a wall under some vegetation. The female of this largest of Iberian wall lizards is brilliantly marked and twice the size of the male, which is a bright green with black stippling along its back and long curved claws on its toes. For some years, we had a pair living in a wall near the house until I hosed one of them down by accident and we never saw either again.

Margaret Brown can be contacted by emailing [email protected]