X Is For Xerophyte and Xerófito.

Xerophyte. Xerófito.

Xerophytes are drought-adapted plants, commonly found in environments where water is scarce.  An example is the cactus Opuntia ficus-indica. The fruits, seen here, are delicious but harvesting and peeling them can be quite tricky because of all the small spines, it is almost guaranteed that at least one will find its way into your skin no matter how careful you are (speaking from experience here). Bonus wasp!

The wasp looks so tiny! Click for full size.

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W Is For Wings.

Wings.

I think this may be a Melecta albifrons, but I’m not sure. I am sure it has wings and decided to use them with excellent timing! :) Bees flying away when I’m taking a photo is not unusual, but staying both in frame and in focus is less frequent.

Stunning shot, click for full size!

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U Is For Uranium and Urgeiriça.

Urgeiriça is a Portuguese village known for having been the center of the country’s biggest uranium mining complex. The first mine opened in 1913, the last closed in 2001, radioactive management throughout was always very poor to nonexistent. The environmental and human health impacts were huge and are still being dealt with, there are still people living in contaminated homes, former workers and their families waiting for compensations for occupational diseases (needless to say, that’s mostly cancer). Environmental rehabilitation is being done, slowly. Here is shown a phytoremediation plant at the mine of Cunha Baixa, in which buoyant plant mats are being used to clear contaminated waters. In the second photo you can see a close up of those heavy-metal-loving plants, they take up the heavy metals (including uranium) from the water and accumulate them in the leaves, clearing the water.

Click for full size!

© Nightjar, all rights reserved.

T Is For Tranquility and Taralhão.

Tranquility. Taralhão.

Taralhão is one of the many Portuguese common names given to two flycatcher species that visit us every year, from late August to November: the spotted flycatcher Muscicapa striata and the pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca. In this photo, a pied flycatcher calmly sits on a tree collard at the end of the day, possibly contemplating all the flies it has eaten or if it is already time to leave the European continent for the year. Pied flycatchers breed in most of Northern and Eastern Europe and there are some breeding populations in Spain, but here they are only migratory, staying for only a few months before going to winter in Africa. They are one of my favourite birds, despite their winter plumage being a bit on the dull side. But they are so lively and funny that I can spend hours just watching them hunt insects.

Click for full size!

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S Is For Spirulina.

Spirulina.

A while back I was involved in preparing an activity for kids as part of a science outreach event, the goal was to show them some bacterial diversity and how different bacteria look, both macroscopically (and for that we tried our best at Petri Dish Art, I highly recommend you look that up) and microscopically. As I was scanning through a wet mount of Arthrospira platensis (spirulina), I found this delightful S-shaped filament (called a trichome) and couldn’t resist. The quality isn’t very good, this was taken by hand-holding my phone over the microscope’s eyepiece.

  1. platensis is a cyanobacterium, a photosynthetic organism that gets its energy and food from sunlight and carbon dioxide just like plants do. Unlike many cyanobacteria, A. platensis does not produce toxins and that’s why it can be used as a food supplement. Its cells typically associate into spiral-shaped filaments but what you see here is a fragment of a spiral that has taken a S-like shape. If you zoom in you can see the individual cells and at the bottom right of the picture there is a single cell. No staining was done, they are naturally green because of the chlorophyll.

Click for full size!

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R Is For Redstart and Rabirruivo.

A young black redstart, Phoenicurus ochruros, kind enough to let me get very close. It has many common names in Portuguese, the most common are pisco-ferreiro, literally meaning “blacksmith robin”, and rabirruivo-preto, literally meaning “black redtail”.

A stunning shot, click for full size!

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Q Is For Quercus.

Quercus suber.

Quercus suber is the scientific name for the cork oak, a remarkable tree. Unlike the aforementioned Eucalyptus, the cork oak is native to southwest Europe (and northwest Africa). Interestingly, both trees are classified as pyrophytes, plants that are adapted to tolerate and resist fire. But while the Eucalyptus is considered an active pyrophyte that promotes the spread of forest fires through the production of inflammable oils, the cork oak is a passive pyrophyte that resists the passage of fire through its thick and insulating bark (cork). The canopy burns, but the trunk doesn’t and the tree quickly regenerates. If the tree doesn’t burn, every 7-10 years cork can be extracted in a process that doesn’t harm the tree and will promote the regrowth of a new layer of cork. Cork extraction is a sustainable practice and cork oak forests, minimally intervened for cork extraction purposes every decade or so, support unique and rich ecosystems.

This photo shows a relatively young oak tree from which cork has been recently extracted for the first time (this is called “virgin” cork and is of less quality than the one obtained in subsequent extractions). Below, the bark layer left after cork extraction that is of a gorgeous russet colour, and above it the cork of the upper trunk and branches that has been left.

All I have to say is WOW! Click for full size!

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P Is For Posing and Pisco.

Posing. Pisco, Portuguese for robin.

An European Robin, Erithacus rubecula, making a break from insect hunting to pose for the camera. The name “pisco” applies to several different insectivorous birds and is usually followed by a qualifier, redbreast in this case, but there are also the “bluebreast” (bluethroat, Luscinia svecica), “bluetail” (Tarsiger cyanurus) and “blacksmith” (redstart, Phoenicurus ochruros). However, if someone says only “pisco” and nothing else, they are almost certainly referring to this bird.

Click for full size!

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O Is For Ocean and Onda.

Ocean. Onda, Portuguese for wave.

That’s the Atlantic Ocean at its best, telling you to admire it from a safe distance. The name of this beach is Cova Gala, in Figueira da Foz, and it is possible to swim in it when the water is calmer. This photo was taken in August with the red flag flying, so I just sat there watching the waves splash on the breakwater. That can be immensely relaxing.

Click for full size!
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N Is For Nectar and Narciso.

Nectar. Narciso, Portuguese for any plant of the genus Narcissus.

A photo from earlier this Spring showing a flower fly feeding on the nectar of a Narcissus flower of the “Bridal Crown” variety. This double daffodil variety produces long-lasting flowers with a delightful scent. They’re gone now and I miss them already.

Click for full size!

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