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.

Word Wednesday.

Reck / Reckon


Verb, Intransitive Verb.

1: Worry, Care. To have care, concern or regard. 1b: To take heed.

2: archaic: to be of account or interest: Matter.

Transitive Verb

1: archaic: to care for; regard.

2: archaic: to matter to: concern.

[Origin: Middle English, to take heed, from Old English reccan; akin to Old Norse roekja to have care, German (ge)ruhen to deign, akin to Old High German ruohhen to take heed.]

(Before 12th Century.)

Note: I grew up using reck and reckon. I still use reckon, because most people recognize it, but I had to give up reck, it’s unfortunately been lost to most people. I would say I don’t reck instead of I don’t care, and doesn’t reck rather than doesn’t matter.


Verb, Transitive Verb

1a: count <reckon the days to Christmas> b: estimate, compute. c: to determine by reference to a fixed basis.

2: to regard or think of as: consider.

3: chiefly dialectal: think, suppose.

Intransitive Verb

1: to settle accounts.

2: to make a calculation.

3a: judge b: chiefly dialectal: suppose, think.

4: to accept something as certain: place reliance.

-reckon with: to take into consideration.

-reckon without: to fail to consider: ignore.

[Origin: Middle English rekenen, from Old English –recenian (as in gerecenian to narrate); akin to Old English reccan.]

(13th Century.)

The girl had the good grace to blush. “I came in to get a Valentine’s card,” she said, “only I can’t choose. Look.” She pointed to the display near the counter. “Funny, sexy, or romantic – what d’you reckon?” – The Witch’s Daughter, by Paula Brackston.

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!

© Nightjar, all rights reserved.

S Is For 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!

© Nightjar, all rights reserved.

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!

© Nightjar, all rights reserved.

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!

© Nightjar, all rights reserved.

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.

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© Nightjar, all rights reserved.

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.

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© Nightjar, all rights reserved.

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.

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© Nightjar, all rights reserved.

Word Wednesday.



1 a: rigid in or as if in death. b: rigidly conforming (as to a pattern or doctrine): Absolute <stark discipline>

2: archaic: strong, robust.

3: utter, sheer <stark nonsense>

4 a: barren, desolate. b 1: having few or no ornaments, bare <a stark white room> 2: harsh, blunt <the stark realities of death>

5: sharply delineated <a stark contrast>

-starkly, adverb.

-starkness, noun.

[Origin: Middle English, stiff, strong, from Old English stearc; akin to Old High German starc strong, Lithuanian starinti to stiffen.]

(Before 12th Century)



1: in a stark manner.

2: to an absolute or complete degree: Wholly <stark naked> <stark mad>

(13th Century)

“But someone had left the lights on active mode, and their reflections made the night simultaneously bright and spooky. Flashing off trees, creating gargoyles that lurked in the stark shadows of the underbrush, making people move in stylized slow motion all around me.” – In Dark Woods, Jeannette de Beauvoir.