Week 44: Picapau


Lesser spotted woodpecker on our telegraph pole; the bird is about 15cm long. Not a great capture, but you get the idea


As I’ve no doubt mentioned before, we have poor mobile phone reception here at the end of the world. The best place to get connected is by the bougainvillea on the front terrace. When the kitchen installers were here, the bougainvillea was hung with so many mobile devices hoping to pick up incoming calls that it got nicknamed the Empfangsbaum, or Signal Tree. The fixed line can be very clear, however, and we have internet access, albeit slow. But over the past ten days or so, our landline and internet connection have been dropping off as well. We’ve also had some real downpours during this time. (Rain! We love it. It’s filling our well and drawing even more spring-time fecundity from the land. Not so great for our current visitors but, since the forecast is for incessant sunshine from any moment now and for the rest of their stay, they are sanguine.)

The telephone engineers came out a couple of hours after we first called. Carlos, the older of the two, climbed the telegraph posts in heavy rain – we all worried about him – and soon got a connection back up. He left his number, and we are to call him directly if we have any other problems over the next thirty days because the issue remains his individual responsibility for that time.

A couple of days later we had to call Carlos again. No answer from him, so we went to the sea to eat fish for lunch and called him again from there, rejoicing in the five-bar connection. By the time we reached home, he was already in our garden, at the top of the telegraph pole.

Picapau,’ he declared definitively, coming into the house to check our telecoms were working again, which they were. The woodpecker takes the blame. It is beyond doubt that the beautiful, tiny woodpecker spends a lot of time rat-a-tat-tatting the posts. We can hear him and see him. The power he delivers is considerable, but the main impact is taken by his own, tiny, specially reinforced-by-mother-nature skull. I don’t quite see how it affects the line. He’s interested in the wood, not the cables and the metal. And couldn’t the rain be a factor? Well, the engineers point the finger firmly at the picapau, and they must know.

Not that the bird cares, I’m sure.

Red-rumped swallows

The birds that are confiding enough to come right on to our front terrace are the black redstart and the robin. They both drink from the bowl of water I leave there at one end of the wall, for their benefit and for mine, because it allows me to watch them from my desk. They each bob, then dip into the water and lift a silver bead to the sun, which disperses from the end of their beak. A few days ago I heard other birds on the terrace, out of sight at the far end, swooping and curving in and out of the space, squeaking and trilling. I went to take a look: red-rumped swallows were checking out the nest. Bigger than the barn swallow, with less glossy colouring and beautiful tail streamers. At last! I was very excited and happy. I had never seen these birds in my life before, and here they were on our terrace, looking for a place to raise their young.

But they haven’t nested, and they haven’t been back. I read somewhere that they only nest in abandoned houses, and perhaps their mud-beaded home dates from a time when the Sensibles were away – they never lived here full-time like we do. Unlike barn swallows, perhaps the red-rumped ones won’t nest near human beings.

This is a shame. On the other hand, their nest is just above the point where two small flights of steps converge on to the front terrace and lead you up to the front doors. (Two front doors because it used to be two houses.) Everyone coming into and out of the house would therefore be risking a journey through prime guano land. And perhaps to add to one tiny bird knocking out our phone and wifi connection another one raining shit on our heads, would be to add indignity to inconvenience. But it’s OK. We know who’s boss here, and it isn’t us. We are still hoping the swallows might come back and take over the nest.


Finished kitchen

Finished kitchen

The kitchen is complete, and for us it’s perfect. The next task is to work on the bread-baking studio. Husband has managed throughout the rebuild to keep us, and everyone who comes under our roof, well fed with his fantastic bread, without any let-up, partly thanks to having frozen some loaves for when we had no working oven; his bread freezes very well. Hats off to him. Then hats back on if the swallows decide to nest here after all.


  1. Hazel

    Nature red in tooth, claw and drumming beak! I love that picapau, its ‘dogged’ determination. Wonder how many insects it’s finding in the telegraph pole. Pear tree at the foot of our garden looks to be on the verge of bursting into bloom so spring here is, at last, en route. Your new kitchen is heaven. But we have finally acquired a new fridge. Things are looking up . . .xx

  2. Nicole Hoogervorst

    How recognizable! I wonder if your ‘picapau’ is the same one that always ruins our telephone lines when it rains. Funny also that they get só active when it rains!! Latest news from our ‘picapau expert’ that visited us last night (yes, problems with the telephone line): this summer Santa Catarina da Fonte do Bispo will be connected to glass fiber wires. All the old copper ones should be replaced by the end of summer! Now we can only hope that the woodpecker doesn’l like glass fiber for breakfast!

  3. Fiona

    I love the colour combination of pale blue/grey tiles with the golden brown wooden cupboards in the kitchen. Blues and greys go so well with wood I always think. And the different coloured chairs add a nice edge, so the whole effect isn’t overly colour co-ordinated. Gorgeous.

    I like the story about the poor maligned woodpecker.


  4. fatma

    Flighty tales from the end of the world and a case of ‘whodunnit?’, or should I say, ‘whatdunnit??’ Time for Inspector Morse I think – perhaps one of the prime suspects could put his/her tapping skills to use……Still loving that pear wood. Glorious!


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