We’ve just spent a most enjoyable few days in Mértola and around. Mértola is set high on a spur above the confluence of the Guadiana and Oeiras rivers in the southeastern corner of Portugal, in the province of Alentejo near the Spanish border and in the heart of a natural Park. It is home to many species of birds, including great and little bustards, black stork, lesser kestrels, Spanish imperial eagles, blue rock thrush to name but a few.
Blue rock thrush
Ironically, just two weeks before we need to be crossing the channel back to England, we have found our (so far) favourite part of Portugal in the whole trip. We really enjoyed the Atlantic coast of Alentejo too which was wild and rugged and under developed. This area is “us”! It is a land of steppe and scrub, river valleys and outcrops of quarzite, flat plains and undulating landscape interspersed with cork and holm oak woodland. And very few tourists!!!
Pretty little redshank
We were most keen to see both varieties of bustards and black storks as we are unlikely to see them anywhere else. We had a special treat in Mértola town however, on our way up to the castle we had superb views of many lesser kestrels soaring around in thermals and perching on specially provided nest boxes and ledges. It seems they are thriving from their protection. As we watched and listened to them above us, all the while down below on the other side of the river we could hear the evocative sounds of cow bells as the cattle moved langourously around, taking me straight back in spirit to family holidays in Les Gets, French Alps when the boys were growing up…very special times indeed! On the way back down the steps from the castle we had good views of blue rock thrushes, another “new to us” species.
Goodbye Mértola from the bridge leading northwards
On a drive to Castro Verde another day and into a special bird protection area we visited a national park trail and went on a “bustard hunt” but sadly they were not around that day. Nigel spotted in the distance a few little bustards but they were too far away to photograph.
Interesting old woodpile spotted on our travels
Heavy duty white stork’s nest Some are so heavy the telegraph pole can be seen poking through the middle!
Old Manor house in Castro Verde looks a bit incongruous with the modern cars parked!
Yesterday we had another drive out to walk to a waterfall named Pulo de Lobo which has a haunting myth associated with it involving a love struck couple, the boy being turned into a wolf by the girl’s disapproving father and their eventual leap to their deaths in the maelstrom of the waterfall. It was going to be a circular walk but thereby hangs a tale. When we arrived at the waterfall, one and a half kilometres down a forestry type track, lo and behold we saw two black storks circling around. These are now quite rare and classified endangered and just the day before I had asked at the park office where was the best place to see them and was told they had not arrived back from Africa yet…..they have now! They were in beautiful condition, presumably their smart breeding plumage, a delightful and surprising boost to our walk. After looking at the waterfall we continued over rocky ground, following yellow and red footpath signs upstream to complete the circuit. However, after about half a kilometre of ankle and knee wrecking boulder hopping (it felt much further!) we decided to call it a day and turn around and go back the way we had come. Sadly on our return to the waterfall there was no sign of the black storks.
Part of the knee and ankle wrecking “footpath”
We’ve moved a little further north today and have found an overnight spot beside a lake in an old pyrite and copper mining village. It’s a pleasant spot but it’s cool and windy and we’ve had a few showers. After yesterday’s exertions, neither of us feel very energetic today and the dogs are a little footsore so it’s been a day of rest for us all with just a couple of short walks.
Smoother route back to the motorhome Very welcome sight, up between the trees just right of centre at top
Belle takes it all in her stride!
And just to end on a lighthearted note, I was thinking the other day that no doubt in days gone by, before they were an endangered species, the great bustard was hunted and used for the pot, they are the heaviest flighted bird, weighing up to 17kilos so would have fed a hungry family for days or even weeks. We amused ourselves (easily pleased I know) by thinking up suitable ways of varying the diet…..Here’s a few possibilities for the ultimate Bustard Menu.
Great Bustards (image courtesy of google)
Barbecued Bustard with basmati rice
Bustard in a Basket
Braised Bustard with Broccoli and Beetroot jus
Bustard and Bean Bake with Béchemel sauce
Bustard Butties with Branston
Battered Bustard in a Baguette drizzled with Basil infused Butter
Bustard and Butternut squash Broth
Breaded Bustard with a side dish of Borlotti Beans and Balsamic dressing
Braised Bustard in a Boozy Butter Bean and Bacon Sauce (Thanks, Mandy!)
and for dessert
Bustard and custard
Bread and Bustard pudding
Batons of Bustard on a bed of Baked Banana topped with Brandy Butter Balls
Please feel free to add any suggestions via the comments box, don’t forget to include your name so that I can credit you when the menu goes viral!