Two months away, especially in springtime had been far too long. For some of that time, we had lived in Mong Kok, the most densely populated place on the planet. Now I was back. The weather was superb and the air crystal clear. I desperately needed an Algarve fix, so whilst Barbara mounted her own expedition to the newly opened Ikea, I headed for the countryside west of the Guadiana.
Ray Tipper, my co-author, had mentioned that Fortes was no longer on a hidden stretch of the Ribeira de Odeleite - see Algarve Wildlife –the natural year (page 247). He explained that a new highway now linked Alta Mora to Furnazinhas, with a large bridge across the river to the east of Fortes. I found this hard to accept as the countryside thereabouts is very sparsely populated and already two parallel and underused roads crossed the valley. I decided to investigate.
I had all day, so I left the motorway at the last exit before Spain and took the old road to Junqueira and headed up the lovely valley to the Barragem do Beliche. Iberian Azure-winged Magpies were everywhere. I stopped to thrill at a row of European Bee-eaters on a roadside wire and a splendid male Golden Oriole confirmed that summer had arrived. Several Woodchat Shrikes, a Southern Grey Shrike, Corn Buntings and European Stonechats also graced the wires. The air was full of Barn Swallows.
Barragem de Odeleite beckoned and as I was in no hurry, I decided to explore turn-offs that were new to me. The Portela Alta de Cima road led to a ruined windmill atop a hill overlooking the reservoir. The inside of the mill was accessible and the grindstone, covered in lichen the colour of old gold, lay on the ground. Cereal growing and stock raising are no longer practised in these hills. In fact, everywhere nature was reclaiming the land.
Next stop was the end of the Choça Queimada road on the shore of the reservoir and this was a truly delightful spot that would make an excellent venue for a picnic. Not far away was the lovely irrigation reservoir at Barragem Corte Pequena. Unfortunately, most reservoirs are steep-sided and unattractive to water birds.
Then it was Fortes and I reached the hamlet on the road that Ray had described. And there it was, a huge bridge where there had once been a ford and a donkey track. I spent almost two hours fossicking around the riverbanks and in that time just one vehicle crossed the bridge. Who profits from these expensive roads to nowhere? Certainly not the few elderly villagers quietly enjoying their twilight years. The young left long ago to find work and bright lights. There are more Thekla Larks in these hills than people. I am sure that the hopelessly overstretched Emergency Department at Faro Hospital would have made much better use of the money.
But had nature suffered? I think not and mostly keeping my back to the bridge there was plenty to find. House Martins had discovered the bridge and I counted over 250 nests under construction and Crag Martins were investigating. If Red-rumped Swallows follow then even the very rare White-rumped Swifts may occupy their nests. At the nearby site where the swifts have bred for years, the Red-rumped Swallows’ nests are for some incomprehensible reason regularly knocked down. This could not happen here.
On the shingle below the bridge a pair of Little Ringed Plovers was breeding and everywhere Common Nightingales were singing strongly. I identified no fewer than 12 species of butterflies, including Spanish Marbled White, Green-striped White, Small Skipper and Spanish Festoon. Wildflowers were past their best but there was still plenty to enjoy. Both Green Lavender and Iberian lavender were showing especially well.
I decided to see where the road went and the answer was nowhere. It joined another remote road that vaguely headed toward the village of Furnazinhas. It was not wasted time because near the junction of the road to Galaxes, I unexpectedly came across a large lake prettily covered in water lilies. Moorhens and Mallards were putting the shallow banks to good use.
It was getting hot and there was one last stop I wanted to make to see if the White-rumped Swifts had returned. They had not but it was still early for them. I followed the stream on foot to its confluence with the Ribeira de Odeleite. There was still a good flow and a deep pool beckoned. I threw off my clothes and plunged in. Bliss!
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