The Douro Valley, Part 1

Welcome to a new series from Nightjar. The story is told in 5 parts, beginning today and ending on Friday.

I’ve had this series semi-prepared for over a year but I kept meaning to write up a better story to accompany the pictures and since that never happened, I never shared them. I have now decided to write up something not as detailed as I had planned initially and just share the photos already. I’m sorry I couldn’t put more into this, but I hope you all enjoy it anyway.
Back in 2017 I did a (partial) Douro up-river cruise. Douro is one of our major rivers and the region around it is where Port wine comes from, as well as being home to important almond and olive plantations. I’ve regretted this trip, not only because cruises here are becoming too popular and thus environmentally costly, but also because shortly after it a scandal broke about workers’ rights abuse by the companies running this business. So, destroying the environment while trampling workers’ rights, that doesn’t exactly make me want to repeat it. But anyway, I selected a few photos I took during the trip to share. Here you can see an overview of the river and the surrounding landscape, some of its bridges and one of its dams. In the next chapter we, and the boat following us, will navigate through that dam. A 28 meters / 92 feet rise.

Overview, ©Nightjar, all rights reserved

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Wednesday Wings: a Eurasian Blackcap, or how Sexism is Just Plain Stupid

Because obviously half the bird population does not halve a black cap, just like most blackbirds are brown indeed.

But it’s a cute LBB (Little Brown Bird) and I was happy to take her picture.

©Giliell, all rights reserved Always get that first shot, because you never know if you will have time to adjust the camera

©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Jack’s Walk

The search begins. ©voyager, all rights reserved

Jack and I made our way back to the car quickly but then sat for a moment or two, trying to figure out the quickest route to Punkydoodles Corner. We needed to go east, so taking the big highway 401 to the Drumbo exit seemed like the best way to go.
As I was pulling out, Jack said to me quietly,
“Are you stopping for another coffee, Mummy?”
“Do you think we can afford the time to stop, Bubba?”
“Well, Mummy, it’s going to be hard work looking for Oma, and I thought that we could share a breakfast sandwich. You know, for energy.”
“We’ve already had breakfast, Jack.”
“Maybe, we could call it early lunch, Mummy. I’m starving.”
“You’re always hungry, Jack, but alright we’ll stop at Tim’s. It’s on the way.”
We drove in silence, both of us lost in thought until we made it to Tim Horton’s drive-through.
“HI, I’ll have a large coffee with cream and a breakfast sandwich, please,” I said to the microphone.
“Don’t forget a Timbit, Mummy. I’ll want a treat after I find Oma.”
“And two plain Timbits, please,” I added.
Jack smiled, but I could see the worry in his eyes. We paid for our food and drove the two blocks to the park, where we sat and ate our first lunch.

“So Jack, do you think we can really find this fairy?” I asked.
Bubba was quiet for a moment and finally said, “It depends on Oma. If she’s touched a lot of things, it will be easier. I’m 99% sure I can find Freddy’s trail, but finding Oma will be harder.” Jack swallowed a bite of egg without chewing and then said, “We have to find her, Mummy. Everyone is counting on us.”
“Yes, they are Jack, and we’ll do our very best, but we might not find her.”
“Mummy, your attitude sucks. We are going to find her, even if it takes all day!” Jack exclaimed.
“Alright, well, let’s get going,” I said, mentally trying to plan for an all-day event. We made our way to the highway, and it wasn’t long before we reached the Drumbo exit. We turned south, and soon there it was… the sign for Punkydoodles Corners. I pulled over and helped Jack out of the car.
“Alright, Bubba. There’s the sign, and we’re a bit west, so let’s see what you can pick up.”
“This whole place stinks like fox, Mummy. It must be a route they use often.”
“Can you pick up Freddy,” I asked.
“Maybe. Let me sniff around a bit,” he said.

Jack took off, wandering up and down and back and forth, sniffing and occasionally sticking out his tongue to taste the grass. It seemed random at first, but then I saw the pattern. Jack was making smaller and smaller figure eights along the ditch. He was quiet and methodical, and time passed slowly. Thankfully, the day was bright and sunny, and so far, there hadn’t been traffic on this road. Finally, after about half an hour, Jack stopped and looked up at me and smiled.
“Got him, Mummy. This is definitely Freddy’s smell. It’s strong here. I think this is where he stopped to drink. There isn’t much water here now, but I’m sure this is the place. I don’t smell Oma, though.” Jack’s face grew solemn.
“Can you tell which direction he came from,” I asked. Jack looked up and said, ” north-west. Toward that field.”
“Alright,” I said, hoping the farmer who owned that field wouldn’t mind us wandering around it. “Let’s go.”
” I can go faster without you, Mummy,” Jack said, “You’re a bit slow.”
Me, slow! Huh, That’s rich coming from Mr. Heavybum. He was right, though, so I waved him away and admonished him to stay in my sights.
“Silly, Mummy. Of course, I will,” he said, trotting away.

He headed up the ditch and toward the eastern edge of the field. He began a zig-zaggy pass along the border when suddenly I heard him bark sharply and start dancing around.
“Ow, Ow, Ow,” he cried, dancing in place and snapping his jaws at the ground.
I hurried toward him and saw him standing at the edge of a rock pile, writhing with garter snakes. Yikes!… snakes. I’ve made peace with snakes one on one, but there were dozens of snakes all wriggling in a pile and hissing, and it made me hesitate. Another cry of “Ow, Ow, Ow,” from Jack finally got me moving, and I rushed forward and pulled Jack backwards by his collar.
Jack gave a final snapping of his jaws at the snakes and said, “they bit my toes, Mummy.’ I could see tiny spots of blood that Jack bent down and licked away. Turning back to the snakes, Jack said, “That wasn’t very nice. Biting is nasty. Why would you do that?”
One of the larger snakes slithered out of the pile and towards us.
“‘Causssssse you sssteped on usss, you clumsy beasst,” it hissed.
Jack was still licking tiny spots of blood on his toes.
“Sorry,’ he said. “I’m looking for a fairy, and I wasn’t paying attention. Even so, it’s very rude to bite someone.”

“There’sss no fairiess here.” said the big spokesnake. “It’s Ssspring wake up for usss.” The pile of snakes began to giggle while they wriggled, and he continued with a smile, “It’ss the ssseason of love. Sssoon it will be the ssseason of babiesss.”
I couldn’t stop watching the slithering pile even though they were making me feel nauseous. What a sight! Finally, I found my voice and weakly croaked, “have you seen a grey-haired fairy come this way?”
The giggling stopped for a moment, and a whisper passed among the group.
Finally, Mr. Spokesnake said, “Nopes. No fairiesss. You can passss over us if you wantsss to look down there.”
“Will you promise not to bite me again,” said Jack, who was still nursing his toes.
“Yesss, if you promise not to steps on usss again,” he hissed, moving forward.
“I can promise that,” I said. “We’ll go around you. In fact, we’ll take a wide berth around you. Come, Jack, let’s go this way,” I said, heading up and to my left.
Jack trotted toward me and looking back, said, “Sorry, snakes. Enjoy your season of love.”
Once we were well away from the garter snakes, Jack looked up at me and said, “You were very brave, Mummy, I know snakes make you nervous.”
I smiled back and told him, “No, Bubbs, you were the brave one. How are your toes?”
“A bit sore, but not bad. I still have my winter toe fur, so the bites aren’t deep.”
He put his nose to the ground again and began another zig-zag pass. A few meters into the field, he stopped and barked happily, “Mummy, I can smell the ocean. It must be Oma Troutchen!” He began to inhale deeply and headed for the far side of the field.

I sighed and followed slowly behind. Then I smelled it myself. The ocean. There was a faint whiff of salt air and seaweed, only a fragment, and then it was gone. Jack was almost to the east edge of the field and I hurried to catch up. Maybe we were going to find Oma Troutchen, after all.

Here a Chick, There a Chick…

Kestrel has sent us an extra-special bit of adorableness.

I raise quail – these are Japanese Coturnix quail. On Easter morning I woke up to this sight in my incubator: 

©kestrel, all rights reserved

After the main crush was out of the incubator, one little late-comer to the party hatched out right into my hand. 

©kestrel, all rights reserved

This was my Easter basket, but none of them ever turned into chocolate, or marshmallow.

©kestrel, all rights reserved

Hanging out at the water cooler in their new digs. The marbles are to stop the tiny little things from drowning themselves. Like all little babies they can get themselves into all sorts of trouble. Most of them are underneath the brooder plate, that black and yellow thing to the right. The underside of it stays warm, about 100F, but that is just not hot enough to start a fire, so these are much safer than heat lamps. The other benefit of the brooder plate, besides safety, is that since it does not work by a light, it gets dark at night, allowing the chicks to sleep like they naturally would. With a heat lamp you have to keep that light on all the time.

©kestrel, all rights reserved

Now they are one week old, and much bigger. They are even starting to get feathers, just like real grown-ups! The feeding frenzy is over very finely diced hard-boiled quail eggs, full of important nutrition

©kestrel, all rights reserved

This is the one that hatched into my hand on that first day a week ago. (I can tell, because this one has two white toes.) They grow very fast! By the time they are 3 weeks old they will be ready to leave the brooder and won’t need any heat to survive. These quail will be fully mature by the time they are 6 to 8 weeks old, at which time they will start laying eggs of their own and the whole thing will start all over again.

©kestrel, all rights reserved

Jack’s Walk

Jack watches Freddy leave. ©voyager, all rights reserved

While Jack and I were waiting for Freddy Fox to make an appearance, Gnorman and I chatted amiably. I asked about his family, and he told me about his wife, Gmary and their children Gnancy and Gmatilda. They have a small farm in the eastern part of the forest, which is apparently where most of the Gnomes live.
“So are all the Gnomes farmers,” I asked.
“Nay,” said Gnorman. “Mostly, we be craftsmen. Cobblers. Tailors. Makers of fine furniture and the like. We Gnomes are good with our hands.”
“Say,” said Gnorman, looking at me pointedly, “would you by any chance be part elf?”
“I don’t think so.” I replied,  “My dad used to tell me we were descended from Vikings, but he never mentioned elves. I’m pretty sure I’m 100% human.”
“I’m sorry for ya, Lass,” Gnorman chuckled, “but you do look Elvish, you know. You’re small for a human, and more than a bit crooked, and you’ve got them big ears.” Gnorman reached out and stroked the top of my left ear.
I hunched my shoulders at his touch and shook my head. Crooked! Big Ears! I harrumphed and was about to say something when Jack raised his head sleepily and said to me,
“Mummy, you’re beautiful. I like your crooked back. It curves just the right way to curl up in. And your ears are only a little bit big. They’re not nearly as big as mine.”
“Thanks, Bubba.”
“Hey, I smell fox,” Jack said quickly, turning his head to the left, “coming from that way.”
“Show yerself, Freddy,” Gnorman called out.
A thin, reedy voice called out from behind a fallen tree, “Heh, heh. Snort. In time, Gnome. Can these two be trusted?”
” More trustworthy than you, Freddy. Now, show yer face.”

Slowly a young, lean-faced red fox with piercing amber eyes rose out of the leaf litter and stood before Jack and me. His ears were tipped with black, and he was quite handsome.
“Hello, I’m voyager, and this is my dog, Jack,” I said pleasantly. Jack smiled at the fox, but his eyes were serious and full of caution.
“Fredlich Fleetfoot Fox. I don’t like dogs, so let’s get this over with quickly,” he snorted.
“Be nice, Freddy,” Gnorman growled. “Oma is still missing, and this whole situation is your fault. Jack is a good dog, and his human seems pleasant enough, and they’re going to help us find Oma.”
“Heh, heh. I din’t mean to lose her,” Freddy said defensively. “I knew she was tangled up in my tail, and I tried to flick her off a few times, but she wouldn’t let go.”
“She was likely too scared,” said Jack glowering at Freddy.
“No, that wasn’t it at all, you dumb dog. Oma said she wanted to go for a ride, and since it was a nice day, I thought I’d give her a bit of a treat. I was plannin’ on bringing her back,” he rasped.
“So why didn’t you,” Jack grumbled.

“Well,” he said, “once we hit the open field, Oma started whoopin’ and hollerin’ for me to get goin.” Freddy was getting animated. His long, full tail was waving quickly, and he started to bounce on his knees while he spoke.
”’Faster, Freddy,’ she kept sayin,’ and the sun was shining, and I was full of spring energy, so I started to run. Oma was hangin’ on tight, and called out ‘Wheee! Oh, this is sooo much fun.’ Then she said something about it being like ‘snurfing with sneals,’ and I din’t know what she was talking about, but she was laughing and giggling like a drunken imp, and kept calling out to me, ‘Yippee. Yahoo. Faster, faster, go like the wind, fox!’ and she was swinging off my tail, holding on tight with one hand while she held the other arm out tryin’ to catch the breeze. When we crested the hill, I felt her let go, but I’d slowed down enough to do a quick turn, and I caught her between my ears. She sat up there for a minute while I caught my breath and then I headed down toward home. That’s when Oma started to cry,” Freddy snorfled dejectedly and sat down.
“She was probably crying because she was scared,” Jack said.
“Snort! No, you dumb dog. That wasn’t it at all.” Freddy shouted.
Jack issued a low grumble and stared at Freddy, who suddenly stood up and took a few quick steps backward.
Looking down, Freddy continued, “Simmer down, dog and listen, will ya. Oma told me that she never had fun anymore. That since she got old, people treated her like glass and that she just wanted to do something exciting for a change. She asked if we could go a bit farther, and since it was a nice day and I din’t have anything pressing to do, I said yes.” Freddy said, looking up. His eyes were moist, and he seemed about to cry.

I softly asked him where they went, and Freddy perked up again.
“We went down the hill to the east and headed toward Drumbo. Oma had slid down my neck and was sitting on my back, so I told her she had to hang on with both hands, and she did, but then she wanted to go fast again, so I started to run. The wind was at my back, so I got up a good speed, and Oma was trying to sing a song about flying, but she kept laughing and getting the words wrong, and we was both having a good time. I don’t know when Oma let go, but when I stopped at the ditch for a drink, she was gone,” he paused, then sniffled, “I never meant for it to go wrong.” Freddy then stood up and turned around slowly, almost as if looking for something or someone.

Jack said kindly, “Things go wrong all the time, Freddy. It sounds like you were trying to be helpful, even if it was reckless. Can you tell me where you were when you noticed Oma was gone.”
“Well, it was near Punkydoodles Corners. I could see the sign from the ditch near the highway to the west. About a 10 minute walk. I called for Oma, but she didn’t answer. I looked everywhere – in all directions, but I couldn’t find her. I looked for a long time, too, and I asked around. I talked to a few other foxes and a stinky skunk and even a rather surly badger, but no one had seen her. That’s when I turned around and started back here to tell all of you. I looked all along the way, but I din’t find her. I was hoping there was some fairy magic that could bring her home,” Freddy said, hopefully.
“Fairy magic doesn’t work that far, you ninny,” spat Gnorman.
“That is a long way from here,” said Jack. “We’ll need to drive, Mummy.”
“That’s why we asked for your human to help, Jack,” said Gnorman. “you’s can get there quickly. It’d take us days to get that far.”

“Of course,” I said. “We can get there in about half an hour. Jack, is there anything else you need?”
“I need to smell your feet, Freddy,” Jack said, and he took a step toward the fox.
“No, no, no. Not my feet,” said Freddy. “I’m ticklish.”
“And your bum,” said Jack.
Freddy’s eyes got big. “Ah…no to that, too,” he snorted, stepping backwards again.
“Stay right there, Freddy,” Gnorman yelled, and suddenly he was no longer beside me, but behind the fox.
“Wow, Gnorman,” I said. “How’d you do that.”
“Fairies ain’t the only ones with a bit ‘o magic,” he smiled at me. “Now fox, sit still while Jack sniffs out what he needs.”

“How do I know I can trust him,” Freddy snorted, almost blubbering.”Because I’m a Labrador Retriever,” said Jack with a touch of exasperation, “everyone knows we’re the most trustworthy dogs. We’re also good at finding stuff. I have an excellent nose.”

“Well, if your nose is so great, why can’t you smell me from over there,” Freddy blurted out.
“I can smell you from here, but I have a better chance of finding Oma if I can get a more detailed idea of the trail you leave behind, and I need to smell you up close for that,” Jack said, adding, “Why is it such a big deal?”
Freddy snorted a raspy sort of growl, and Jack responded with a low, husky noise that made Freddy sit down quickly and hold up a paw.
“Thanks,” said Jack. “Now the other one.”
Freddy giggled as Jack sniffed his other front paw. “Good,” Jack said, “now the back ones.”
“You don’t need to smell those, too, do you?” Freddy cried.
Jack coughed gently and said, “back feet smell different from front feet. Of course, I need to sniff them too.”
Jack moved around behind Freddy and asked him to lift his back feet one at a time, sniffing while Freddy giggled.
“OK, now I’m going to smell your bottom bits,” Jack finally announced, “please lift your tail.”
Freddy started making little nyuck, nyuck noises, but a grunt from Gnorman silenced him, and he slowly lifted his beautiful, long, bushy tail.
“Honestly,” said Jack, “I don’t know why you’re making such a fuss. It’s normal to smell each other,” Jack brought his nose up and took a deep sniff. Then he reached his nose farther in to smell between Freddy’s legs.
“Hey, I didn’t say you could sniff me there,” Freddy jumped ahead a few feet.
“I need to get as much information as possible. Anyway, I’m all finished now,” Jack stood back.

“Alright, Jack. Are you ready to go,” I asked?
“Yes, Mummy. I know what Oma smells like. She smells like acorn caps, trout lilies and trillium roots with a faint whiff of the ocean. I’m pretty sure I can pick up the trail from where Freddy stopped for a drink,” Jack said, looking up at me. “Do you know how to get to that ditch?”
“You, bet, Bubba. I know that road pretty well. We’ll stop when I see the sign, and since I’m taller than Freddy, that should be before where he stopped. We’ll pull over and start from there,” I said, mentally planning our route.

“That sounds like the place to start,” said Jack. “Thanks for your help, Freddy.”
“Can I go now,” snorted Freddy, who had started to bounce on his toes.
“Off with you then, fox,” Gnorman grunted, and in a flash, Freddy disappeared back into the leaf litter and was gone.
“Off with the two of you, now, too,” Gnorman waved his arms at us. “Oma must be frightened and scared. And it’s gonna be cold tonight. We wants her home safe before then.”
“Don’t worry,'” said Jack. “We’ll find her, won’t we, Mummy.”
“You bet, Bubba,” I said, not really sharing his confidence. “Let’s go find Oma Troutchen.”

Kites Arrived

And they sat on an old ash tree behind my house.

But taking pictures through a closed window at an angle, near noon and to the south-east of me is difficult. I cannot open the window due to the overabundance of bonsai trees and if I tried to go outside and get them from a better angle, they surely would flee.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

The Results are in….

©kestrel, all rights reserved

The tiny horse painting competition has been judged and Kestrel tells us,

I did not win anything but I got an honorable mention in the Gallery division, and the judge – a very well respected top level artist in the hobby – made nice comments about my entry. So that was nice, I appreciated that she made comments. Thought you’d like to know! 

Thanks for the update, kestrel. It’s too bad my vote doesn’t count because I think you should have won first place.

Jack’s Walk

First trilliums of the year, ©voyager, all rights reserved

It’s been a beautiful, sunny day and spring has decided to kick into high gear. Today we found may-apple, trout lilies and a small grouping of trilliums that are probably red because the red ones always come up first.  I carefully noted the spot and will try to get photos of them in bloom. I say ‘try’ because red trilliums are quite short-lived, often lasting only a day or two after they bloom. They’re also more fragile than the white ones. They’re thinner and more transparent, and their stems droop, so you need to photograph them from underneath. As you might imagine, at my age, getting underneath a short flower isn’t something you attempt willy-nilly. You need to make sure that a) you have room to maneuver, b) there is something to hold on to (sturdy saplings are preferred), and c) you have someone with you in case of emergency. The expression “Help. I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,” isn’t as funny as it used to be.

Stay sane out there.

Tree Tuesday

Gnomish Runes, ©voyager, all rights reserved

Recently, while talking with a couple of gnomes, I discovered that many of the markings we see on fallen trees and branches are actually a form of map-making done by the little people of the woods. I was told that they are mostly made by Gnomes and Elves, who are terribly forgetful, as a way of remembering where their caches of food are stored. I commented that they look convoluted and, after having a good laugh, I was told that they are convoluted for humans, but the little folk travel in circuitous routes because they like to see the sights and visit other little folks along the way. Well, then, I guess that explains it.