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Water Life

Are you fascinated by water? I don’t mean the wet stuff that falls from the sky, but the places it ends up – in streams, rivers, lakes and the ocean. I’ve always had a fascination for water and the life contained in and around it. When travelling I try to look for a place to stay near a river as you can guarantee there will be something interesting to look at.

Starfish Madeira
Starfish in Madeira

When I was young, many moons ago, my aunt and uncle lived in a house that had a tiny stream at the bottom of the garden, I loved going down there, ever hopeful that I might find a minnow or two, or some kind of fishy life. Sadly, it was quite devoid of water life but it didn’t put me off!

When our children were young, we had tropical fishes in an aquarium. They were very pretty but my husband’s favourite was our Plecostomus, a suckermouth catfish, beautifully patterned in brown and beige with a dramatic sailfin. Normally feeding on algae on the bottom and sides of the tank, we soon found that our Pleco loved cooked chicken!

Plecostomus - Wiki
Plecostomus (Wiki - Staszek Szybki Jest)

As our little fish gradually died out and Pleco was getting bigger, finally reaching a length of 12 inches, we opted for a pair of large Oscar Cichlids to keep him company. Amazingly intelligent with great personalities (honest!) and velvety skin, they can recognise their owner and can even be taught tricks for food!

Oscar Cichlid
Oscar Cichlid

I’ve always loved amphibians, especially frogs and toads. While frogs were plentiful where I lived in the UK, toads were scarcer, although we did have one living under our garden shed. Did you collect tadpoles as a child and watch them gradually turn into little froglets and then complete lose their tails? An amazing transformation. We discovered tadpoles liked cooked chicken too! When we moved to Portugal, we found numerous toads in the lanes after it had rained. The photos show the beautiful little green and red natterjack toad and the enormous but very handsome common toad.

Natterjack ToadCommon Toad
Natterjack Toad / Common Toad

We also had black and yellow fire salamanders visit the garden at night when it was wet. Some salamanders are fully aquatic throughout their lives, some take to the water intermittently and others are entirely terrestrial as adults. The fire salamander likes to hide in fallen leaves or under wood and other objects but need small brooks and ponds for the development of their young. The skin is toxic so they are best left alone and viewed from a distance!

Salamander Portugal
Salamander Portugal

I am very interested in macro photography and love to take photos of little critters. When my husband and I used to go on photography jaunts he would be looking upwards for birds and I would be looking downwards for bugs. We made a great team! One such outing was to the Brecon Beacons in Wales with a guide who was very knowledgeable about dragonflies. These graceful creatures are fascinating. Most of their life is spent underwater as a nymph, this stage can be anything between 2 months and five years. When ready to turn into an adult the nymph makes its way to the surface, remaining stationery with its head out of the water while its respiratory system adapts to breathing air, then climbs up a reed and moults into the beautiful creatures we see hovering over pools of water. Another fantastic transformation!

Male Goldenringed Dragonfly
Male Goldenringed Dragonfly

Who doesn’t love exploring rock pools on the beach after the tide has gone out? There is no telling what might be found – crabs, starfish, anemones, sea urchins, shrimps –a tiny glimpse of ocean life which normally we might be unaware of.

StarfishSea Urchin
Starfish / Sea Urchin

We sometimes see jellyfish which have been washed up on the shores but usually these poor creatures are deceased. We were lucky enough to observe a live one at close quarters when we visited Lagos marina in Portugal. With its semi-transparent head seemingly illuminated from within, it resembled something from outer space. Beautiful to watch, we hoped that it made its way safely back out to the ocean again.

Jellyfish in PortugalJellyfish in Portugal
Jellyfish in Portugal

A brilliant way of observing life in the ocean is to go snorkelling. I was introduced to this when on holiday with friends in Madeira. Not being a strong swimmer, I was very apprehensive but was assured that, as long as I could float, I would be OK. So, I did several circuits around the swimming pool before plucking up courage and venturing into the ocean, It was so worth it! It was incredible to see shoals of brightly coloured fish up close and I’m so glad that I overcame my nervousness and literally took the plunge!

Madeira SnorkellingMadeira Snorkelling
Madeira Snorkelling

I hope my article has encouraged you to take a closer look and interest in the life that is all around us in that precious commodity – water!

Brecon Beacons - Underwater World
Brecon Beacons - Underwater World


Contributed by Chris

(Published 26th Jul 2023)

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