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Spanish-Festoon-0019, originally uploaded by Paradise in Portugal.

The warm days of Spring have produced a truly wonderful brood of butterflies this year, and these Spanish Festoons are some of the best. Everything seems to be buzzing at the moment and with the streams all still flowing it really is the most perfect setting for long lazy walks nearby.


Wild-Gladioli-0048, originally uploaded by Paradise in Portugal.

Last year I saw this particular meadow full of wild gladiolus down in Cortebrique but failed to take a snap of it as I was in too much of a hurry; a mistake i was sure not to repeat this year!

Are there fish in the lake?

I’m often asked whether there are any fish in the lake; this little clip should provide the answer. I took it this morning while waiting for the Kingfisher to show up, but I think it’s too fat to fly at the moment!

It’s that time of year again …

Though we haven’t had any rain to speak of yet – we’ve had one thunderstorm and two days drizzle since May – it’s just damp enough to produce a lovely early crop of mushrooms and we’ve been busy little bunnies making the most of them. A fantastic bonanza of Caesar’s mushrooms, (like the basket-full Daniela has in the picture above), as well as Parasols a-plenty … Wonderful to be able to get out and about in such clean air, warm sunshine and beautiful countryside with the kids and the dogs and grab dinner from amongst the cork oaks!

The Montados Talk

I’ve been asked by several people for a copy of the talk I gave at the Birding fair in Rutland last week, and I said that I would post it up here …. but even a précis goes on for ever, and on a blog that’s normally made up of snippets it’ll look wildly untidy, so please, if you’re waiting for it to appear, wait no longer as it ain’t going to happen! Just email me through this site and I’ll send it to you.

Thanks to everyone who came to hear me; some of you traveled immense distances and your efforts of support were much appreciated; next time you’re out here, the drinks, (wine of course), are on me!


Bee-swarm-20090421, originally uploaded by Paradise in Portugal.

This time of year here everything happens at once, especially with Nature, and there never seems to be a day when Life carries on in a hum-drum fashion. Yesterday was a case in point when a swarm of bees decided that the Quinta was the place for them and settled in a tree outside the back door prior to descending on the roof and crawling inside. It was a big swarm too and a pity that we can’t use it and give them a proper home in one of our hives. They settled too high up in the tree to get at them safely and crossed over to the house so quick that we hadn’t time to prepare to catch them before they’d got inside.
It might interest you to know that at this time, when they’re swarming and seem to be in such frightening numbers, they’re relatively harmless and one can pick them up, (carefully!), with one’s bare hands, but within a few hours, the time it takes them to gather their first nectar, they revert to being their cantankerous selves again and defend their home and food supply the same as ever.
Well, we’ll leave them there for a bit as they’re doing no harm at the moment, but I’m afraid they’ll have to go by next winter when we want to take the roof off for some maintenance …..

The lake and it’s evolving ecology

Been ruminating about how the lake has evolved over the years. You see , its only just under 40 years old and in that time its gone through distinct phases.

For instance in the early years we had a lot of tall water weed along the shores. Then came the drought in the mid 90’s, the water levels dropped and the weed died back. It has never really re-established itself.

Then there was the time when the lake supported a massive population of crayfish. They’re still here but their ascendance in the lake’s ecological hierarchy lasted only until a fierce storm washed so much silt into the lake that they had difficulty breeding.

Now it seems as if it’s the turn of the Carp  – a couple of years ago I pulled one out of the water that measured 92 cms tip to tail; maybe they’re the ones keeping the crayfish in check!

More to come later….but just a gentle reminder that sometimes the things around you, well they might work to a different time scale but they are alive and growing all the same.

Cork oak forests – the Montados.

Taking the cork off a tree is highly skilled and a pig of a job!I wanted to write a little about the cork trees which surround the Quinta. These are the trees which have their bark harvested every 10 years or so – never less than 9 and you can see the year of the future harvest for any tree from the large white number painted onto it.

These forests are really a long term investment. The first harvest is at approx 25 years of age. At this age the cork is suitable for floor tiles and not much else. At 34 years old the second harvest is still too poor for cork stoppers for wine. It’s not until they are 43 years old that the cork can really be used for the wine industry.

The cork oak forests of the Alentejo supply 70% of the world’s cork, including 15 billion corks a year for wine bottles. An average tree will live for between 170 and 200 years, go through 17 harvests and produce around 4,000 corks a harvest.

Stripping the cork is a skilled manual job. It has never been successfully mechanised and the trees actually benefit from the stripping.

So why should we care? Well back in the 80’s EU subsidies were encouraging maize growing and the abandonment of Cork forests. When this combined with the growth in wine consumption, standards deteriorated to meet demand  and TCA (trichloroanisol) started to appear. This causes the wines to be “corked”. The lowering of quality in turn encouraged the emergence of plastic corks as competition.

However stringent quality control standards have lowered the incidence of TCA and the industry is fighting back.

But why should we care? Well if the farmers switch from cork to maize then the habitat which supports an amazing variety of wild life , from the Iberian Lynx, (the world’s most endangered big cat), through to birds like the Bee Eater will be lost, probably for ever.The end result could well be desert and scrub land across the beautiful Alentejo.

So please…if you have a choice go for a wine with a proper cork in it :-)