I heard two swallows babbling on the wire a week ago, just after I’d posted the previous blog. It wasn’t the sound of the Barn Swallows, it was something ever so slightly different, a difference contained in – for me – a greater feeling of familiarity: it was a pair of Red-rumped Swallows. I wasn’t expecting them for some weeks yet, as I had declared in the blog post. Last year, when I was so keen to see them for the first time, they showed up only in late March. Their reappearance was heart-lifting, like the return of old friends.
Of course, no sooner had they alighted on the wire than Mr Sparrow arrived and muscled up to them in a repeat of last year’s avian soap opera. He also chased off a nuthatch and a greenfinch from the alfarroba near by. He thinks he’s cock of the walk all right. One bird he cannot chase off, however, is the eagle. Yes, we have eagles. During lunch with friends in the back garden last week, two Short-toed Eagles appeared over the hill, causing spoons to clatter into soup bowls as cameras and binoculars were reached for. Then this week we saw one of them again, this time over the valley in front. It perched on a telegraph pole across the river, perfectly caught by the light, and stretched its neck. After a while it took off and glided away, turning one way and then the other, giving us a perfect display of its colours and patterning.
But it isn’t birds that have preoccupied me this week. I haven’t even been wading up and down the river these past few days.
Tourism trade fair
You see, we decided – with some other active citizens – to go to the tourism trade fair (BTL) in Lisbon and see if we could engage more of the industry’s support in making a case against oil and gas exploration here in the Algarve. The mere idea of it gave me a couple of sleepless nights. We turned up at the Feira Internacional de Lisboa on one of the days given over to professionals – not the public – and got in under slightly false pretences. Then we went around the stalls, asking people what they knew about the fossil-fuel extraction plans, offering some information and asking if they wanted to sign the petition. And this was the outcome:
People who were friendly and nice about being approached in this way: 100%
People who wanted to sign the petition: 90%
People who’d heard of the plans to turn the Algarve into an oil-producing land, vs those who hadn’t heard anything about it before: roughly 50/50
People who were in favour of turning the Algarve into Texas: one. One solitary man. He was in favour for economic reasons, and I tried to show how it wouldn’t make the country rich, nor even the government rich, and he agreed to give that strange notion some thought. We shook hands on it, amicably.
Difference this will make in the world: almost none, but you have to try, don’t you? I don’t like having to use economic arguments against the fossil fuel industry, when the slow suicide that is climate change should be enough, but it just so happens that the tourism industry is already tipping more into the government’s coffers than the fossil fuel industry ever could, certainly at current oil prices. Granted, it is an argument based on one against the other. Arguably an oil industry wouldn’t wipe out tourism altogether and immediately, but it certainly wouldn’t do it any good.
Dwelling on this subject does not allow for much serenity. The more you look into it, the worse it gets. The government’s arguments all along have been that the initial stages are exploratory and they just want to know more about the geology of the land. (Incidentally, ‘exploration’, rather than ‘exploitation’, can legally be done without Environmental Impact Assessment reports.) Then a keen journalist uncovered the transcript from an investor meeting given by the (non-Portuguese) oil company that holds the offshore contracts closest to us here, in which it clearly showed that they already know exactly what’s there for the taking, and they are cock-a-hoop over the cheap contracts they’ve managed to get to extract it all.
I started the week with the heart-lifting sight of the Red-rumped Swallows. And now, at the end of the week, it was another bird that lifted my heart all over again: coming over the concrete bridge on the way from Flaviano’s emporium, I saw a bird I’ve longed to see here but had never yet spotted. Finally, there it was: the unmistakable, life-enhancing, turquoise flash of a kingfisher in flight. The earth wins.*