A Bit of Birding

27 October – 1 November 2019        

The morning we left Marvão the clocks went back, a reminder that autumn really has caught up with us.  We decided to change pace and do a bit of walking and birdwatching. First stop was an aire at Barragem de Nisa, described as very scenic, where Kate thought we could do some walking and birding.  It was only 18 miles but the change in scenery was dramatic. Leaving the high ground we followed a road lined with tall trees into a landscape of granite outcrops and grazing Alentejana cattle. 

The aire was 3 miles down a narrow road and we were surprised to see about 30 motorhomes parked up, some on the aire and others at at various spots around the water’s edge. We found a spot on the aire itself, Danny a little grumpily as it was clear there were dogs walking about unrestrained and stray cats, and it was more crowded than we would have liked after our recent isolation. 

We stretched our legs with a nice long walk around the reservoir on rarely used tracks through the scrub. An all-weekend fishing competition had fishermen dotted around the lake edge although we never saw a catch.

The water was very low and we noticed the dominance of an unfamiliar tree with fine, fronded leaves, very fast-growing, pushing up everywhere through the native oaks and alder – it looked alien and invasive – possibly Cape Wattle??

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Cape Wattle ??? Any Ideas???

One of the other British campers came for a chat and we learned that the reason motorhomes are chased by police from the free aire at Marvão is because a local has set up a campsite and pressures the mayor and police to stop it being used. He also told us some people spend weeks here at the reservoir, which given the poor state of the services and the stray dogs and cats we found a bit baffling.

This was not somewhere for us to loiter so we only stayed a night. Apart from the strays it was not a good place for us to recharge the van’s leisure batteries which, after being replaced in April 2018 with brand new ones have started playing up the way the first ones did. This means that when we are off hook-up we need to recharge by running the engine for 30 minutes late at night and again in the morning to keep the systems ticking over and power the shower, which is noisy for the neighbours. We have already woken up to a dead van a couple of times which means no heating or hot water, but we don’t want to be confined to campsites. Back to difficult conversations with our dealer.

We headed west towards the Atlantic coast and Comporta, a place that a couple at Ria Formosa told us had good birdwatching and appeared to be off the “touristy” map. The weather was grey and it rained on and off but we still enjoyed the drive. As we neared the coast we started to see stork nests that were actually occupied – elsewhere the storks had already left for Africa. We saw water lying in some of the fields where yellow stems of a harvested cereal crop were piled and realised we were travelling through rice paddies, good hunting grounds for the storks which was stopping them from moving on.

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Stork Couple  –  Know the feeling!!

On the outskirts of Comporta we pulled onto the sandy Aire – not the prettiest spot by a long stretch but we had plenty of space as there were only 2 other vans, all a good distance away. No problem charging the batteries!

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Out of season – no crowds, no sun, just quiet. Tick.

On exploring the village – a small, low lying affair with a scattering of shops and restaurants mostly closed for winter – we could hear a roar which we thought was water crashing over a weir.  We followed the road out of the village between rice paddies and over a river.

We climbed a low wooded ridge and found ourselves in a dunes complex that took us to a boardwalk then out to a beautiful beach where the hazy sun made the spray from the Atlantic breakers appear like mist. It was lovely. We dandered and enjoyed and watched the sky change as a sea fret covered the sun and the waves turned moody and threatening. Fascinating how the atmosphere changes with the light. 

The couple from Ria Formosa were right – it was great for birdwatching. We had a couple of days of walking through the golden fields that masked the river from view. The ripe rice paddies were a first for us as we had only ever seen the younger crop, and we marvelled at the heavy heads of grain.

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There were also allotments where locals were harvesting squash and yams and washed us with great curiosity.

There were lots of little birds – warblers, pipits and a first for us, common waxbill. Skeins of glossy ibis – up to 100 in a group – flew over us to feed on the mudflats of the Sado estuary where they joined the flamingoes, spoonbill and avocets feeding in the rich mud. The paths were scattered with the empty shells of crabs and crayfish the birds had been gorging on.  They seemed to find the claws too much trouble – or maybe they fought back!

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The weather varied but it was never cold – a complete contrast to birding in Britain!

Sadly our photos were appalling as we had to rely on the scope with the iPhone attached and our expertise with that set up is… less than expert.

One evening on a sunset watch we met a nice French birdwatching couple out amongst the rice paddies who, with the resilience of youth, were camping in the back of an unconverted VW van. We decided we’d rather be old and comfortable and didn’t feel a twinge of envy. Really.

We followed that with 3 nights at a site outside Lisbon’s container port, Setubal, with no Wi-fi but a friendly owl who serenaded us all night, where we killed time and caught up with things in the wet weather before our Lisbon adventure. Hope it clears up.

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View from our van