A very different kind of excursion last Sunday, to Evoa, a nature reserve near the Tejo estuary.
Quite a drive from Lisboa: along the highway to Vila Franca, and the iron bridge which was the last bridge across the Tejo before the two new bridges in the city were built; over the bridge; then 12.5km along the kind of road you find in the Australian outback (gravel, potholed and corrugated) to the reserve. Along the road we saw several creatures which we took at first to be huge scorpions; we learned later that they were Louisiana freshwater lobsters, introduced by the Spanish (who apparently liked to eat them) – now, it seems, storks like to eat them.
The land here is dead flat, in contrast to the hills on the other side of the river. Farmers grow rice and raise fine black horses and bulls for the bullring. Among the horses we saw many white egrets, with whom they have a symbiotic relationship.
The weather had changed after the cool damp days of my visit so far, and it was quite hot as we went for about a 5km walk around the several lakes of the nature reserve, along tracks with tall reeds towering overhead. From the reeds came a lovely warbling sound, and indeed a reed warbler was sitting on a sign to welcome us to the first hide. (Their Portuguese name means “nightingale”; I have never heard a nightingale, so I don’t know how the song compares.)
We stopped in several hides and saw a variety of waterbirds. Among them were gulls, terns, grey herons, white egrets, mallard and teal ducks, coots, avocets, stilts, and for me the highlight: a spoonbill, holding its bill just under the water and waving its head from side to side to catch small aquatic creatures.
After some delay when the car refused to start, we left along the same track, seeing many more herons and egrets and a couple of hawks.