In the north of Portugal there is a set of mountains known as “Serra da Freita”. These mountains are part of Arouca Geopark, known for its exceptional geological heritage of international relevance. Among all geological attractions, the giant trilobites of Canelas, the “Pedras Parideiras da Castanheira” and the ichnofossils of the Paiva valley stand out. But this beautiful place is not limited to the geological particularities. The Serra da Freita is full of biodiversity and the landscapes are amazing.
One of the greatest relics that this region hides is the “Frecha da Mizarela”, a waterfall of 60 meters high, being one of the highest in Europe. A true giant! I have already visited this place several times, but I have never had the opportunity to photograph it. So, I decided to go back with that goal, along with the idea of photographing the water lizard (Lacerta schreiberi) and the Iberian frog (Rana iberica), two species that can be found on the banks of the river. I think that both, sunrise and sunset are good times of the day to photograph the waterfall, but I opted for the second. I packed my bag with everything I needed and I made my way to the location. There is a viewpoint, from where it is possible to photograph the waterfall, however, I wanted to make an image with a different composition and I also wanted to photograph two species that exist by the river, thus I decided to go all the way down the hill.
The path to the base of the waterfall is not easy, especially with several pounds of equipment on the back. The descent is steep, but the real challenge is the way back. Once by the river, I was finally able to rest a bit and enjoy the sound of the water hitting the rocks and the birds singing. Then I began my search for the frogs and the water lizard. The Iberian frogs are fairly easy to find, when we look in the right places, I found them by the dozen. This species, as the name suggests, only exists in the Iberian Peninsula and is therefore endemic to Portugal and Spain. It is a typical species of mountainous regions and usually it is associated to the water, occurring next to streams with abundant vegetation. It is classified by the IUCN as "Near Threatened", as its populations are in significant decline and their global distribution is very restricted. The main threats to their survival are the habitat loss and direct human pressure (for example, tourism).
This photo is far from excellent and I actually have better images from this species, but I am satisfied with the result.
The water lizard was a little harder to find, but after some time I was able to find a female. In fact, I was face-to-face with the animal when I looked for it in a crack of a rock. All the sudden the lizard was literally a few inches from my face, then I moved away and sat waiting for him to move to a better place. The water lizard is also endemic to the Iberian Peninsula and it is known for its beauty. During the breeding season, the males have a blue head, which contrasts with the green body and the orange tail. Initially, my objective was to photograph a male, but I didn’t find any. This was the first time I photographed the species and despite not having found a male, it was extremely gratifying to have the opportunity to photograph a water lizard.
As the sunset approached, I looked for a composition that conveyed the beauty of the place, set the tripod, and programmed the camera. I waited at least two hours for the light of the setting sun, but this never happened, because clouds started to come in. I decided I would have to go back in another day. On the second day, I prepared the photo exactly the same way I did the first time. Although, the light did not happen again the way I expected (clouds reflecting the orange color of the sun) I got a significantly better image than the first one. I opted for a vertical panorama of 5 photos, because it was not possible to include everything in a single photo.
This place is beautiful, and its tranquillity gives the feeling that we are isolated from the modern world. I will certainly return in the future to shoot under the conditions I initially wanted.
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