Algeria – Forest of Madagh

The Forest of Madagh is roughly an hour’s drive west of Oran. It’s an area close to the coast on top of a cliff. In some places, the steep drops are a bit gentler and the forest and scrublands reach down to the sea. In the distance, one can see the Habibas Islands. Madagh itself is a tiny settlement and has problems with illegal landgrabbing as well as a non-functioning sewer system.

However, once we had left the fences and plastic rubbish behind, the forest was lovely. We greatly enjoyed being out and about. There was a decidedly autumnal feel and smell in the air. The plant life looked a bit different, but was definitely full of seasonal fruit and colours.

We went on this hike with a former student and a friend of hers. Algerians go hiking according to the principle of safety in numbers. I’m not a big fan of hiking in groups, but the four of us together worked out well. I’ve also only ever felt unsafe here when in a car (diabolic driving styles), but the locals know the situation better than I do so who am I to argue?

While many people go to the forest because of the views of the Med, I got excited about the wildlife. I saw my ever first wild chameleon! We also came across a baby tortoise (http://chinese-poems.com/blog/?p=1787), several kestrels, a Bonelli’s eagle and what might have been a False smooth snake. If your herpetology is up to scratch, please leave a comment. Thank you, Ichrak and Hossein!

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Dinosaur of the week: European Bee-eater

european bee-eater

In late August and in September we had plenty of Merops apiaster in the forest close to our house and also birds flying directly over our roof. The birds’ diet consists largely, but not exclusively, of bees. With the decline in bees and insects in general, well, you can imagine the consequences.

Dinosaur of the week: Little Owl

owl

I’ve rarely spotted any wild owls throughout the years, and although Athene noctua has been quite audible since we came to Algeria we only saw them first late this summer.

http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22689328/0 lists the major threats to the species:

  • habitat changes, including the loss of suitable nest-sites
  • the use of pesticides
  • a reduction of prey items such as voles and earthworms through industrialised farming practices
  • agricultural intensification
  • ground clearance
  • excessive use of toxic chemicals
  • road traffic deaths
  • loss of nest holes from the felling of old hollow trees and the restoration of old buildings
  • severe winters

Algeria – World Cleanup Day

We were not an official team for World Cleanup Day because the person I had contacted, well, didn’t seem to care much about cleaning away all the rubbish or to actually be involved. So my husband, some friends and I went out into the forest next to where we live to do our bit (which we do pretty much every weekend anyway).

We spent about two hours cleaning away plastic bottles and bottle tops, wrappers, wet wipes and vast quantities of styrofoam. We were seven to begin with, but some members of the public decided to join us on the spot and helped to collect rubbish and to carry it out of the forest.

The photos are maybe a bit odd because it was overcast, late in the afternoon and I wore gloves. But anyway, we had fun and did something good.

Algeria – Misserghin, Home of the Clementine

Misserghin is a small town just south of Oran on the banks of the salt lake Sebkha. It’s most famous for the Clementine, named after abbot Father Clementine who bred it towards the end of the 19th century. My guide book said one could visit the remains of the abbey, so while my parents were over for a visit we took the opportunity to go exploring.

We hired a taxi for a day (6000 Dinar). The driver had never been to the place but was also curious, and after a bit of asking and some U-turns we eventually found the entrance to the property. I immediately fell in love with the gardens. No abbey to be seen anywhere though, at least nothing that I would have recognized as such.

Turns out, when the French Catholics were here, they made use of much older buildings of Ottoman origin. The people who run the place now have turned it into some kind of agricultural commune, and welcomed us warmly. Communicating was a wee bit tricky since none of us had more than a smattering of French or Arabic and our hosts next to no English or German, but our enthusiasm for gardening and history more than made up for this.

We got a tour of the old office buildings of the abbey plus the stables with very content looking cattle and then we ventured underground. Tunnels! Originally, those had been used to hide from whoever was the enemy of the day. Nowadays, they’re used for growing mushrooms.

Then we were taken for a tour around the fields and the flower garden. Along the way, our hosts explained about the different grains, vegetables and what most people would call weeds and how they’re used as spices or ingredients for a salad. And at every stage we were given some samples to taste or to take with us.

It was incredible. Of course, we also admired a field with young Clementine trees. Fruit growers from all over the world still come to Misserghin to learn about the plant and how to handle it.

clementines

church

 

Towards the end of our tour we visited the old abbey church too. These days, it’s used as a community centre. When we were there, about a dozen people were learning about apiary. It was fascinating to watch how they got the tiny larva out of the honey comb to put it into a nourishing solution – if I understood correctly this is done to produce queen larvae. Tell me in the comments if that makes sense as I know nothing about bee-keeping.

So, a day full of new discoveries and plenty of organically grown food. Many thanks again to our hosts at the now-farm former-abbey in Misserghin.

apiary