Some group members have already booked up for a repeat next year, so if you’re interested make sure to get in contact with us soon. It’ll be running from the 13th June … see you there!
In my last post a month or so back, (yes, I know, I’m not as active with this blog as I should be!), there’s a picture of a Barn Swallow.
Well, he’s the Papa of the little lot pictured above and today they left their nest for the first time. It’s been a good breeding year for him as this is his second clutch and there were five in the first also, so he’s the proud parent of ten of the Swallows cruising around the garden at the moment. Now all those chicks have to fatten up quickly before they start the long journey south.
Most species that nest in and around the Quinta’s gardens have now fledged and everywhere one looks there seem to be juveniles. Quite honestly there don’t seem to be enough trees for them all! Even as I write this a Swallow took a short cut past my head, in the window at the back of the house and out of the window at the front, and there’s a Golden Oriole feeding one of her chicks in the Cork Oak just outside the window – hang on, I’ll take some pictures …
It means that we’re in High Summer – as if we didn’t know, because it’s fairly warm at the moment and I’m going down for a swim … Ciao!
It’s about time I did a quick update on what’s been happening at the Quinta over the last couple of months …
Anyone who reads this will know that we’re pretty “Nature Orientated” here and do a fair amount of Nature Trips from the Quinta as “Birding in Portugal“. One of the best times to get down’n’dirty with nature is before anyone gets up so I’ve been seeing a fair few sunrises recently, and they’re always spectacular, but the one above, taken from the top of Foia, was one of the best.
Even when we left “late” after the sun had risen, we were treated to wonderful views from the “Top of the World”, especially during the early Spring with the mist rising out of the valleys surrounding the Quinta.
These later mornings have often been expeditions to the new “Water Rail Hide” down in Santa Clara which has proved a real success, able to seat eight people fairly easily and with wicked views over a slow moving part of the River Mira where something always seems to be happening.
One of the stars of the show there has been Cetti’s Warblers, normally such a difficult species to get a glimpse of, and of course we’ve had the resident pair of Water Rails showing well most days …
There were several weeks when they were noticeable by their absence and we were concerned that they’d been taken by one of the Otters that live along this stretch of the river,
and then when we saw the Polecat with a Water Vole in its mouth we were doubly sure that they’d been eaten by these fierce predators,
but a week later they were back in view again so we needn’t have worried.
The Hide is a great place to see Kingfishers also, as well as Common Waxbills, who nested literally underneath us.
Maybe it wont be that long before we get to see another escapee there, as it’s perfect habitat for Black-headed Weavers, who seem to be found in ever-increasing numbers down in the Algarve. This is the male,
and this the female. I’m not sure really which is the more beautiful …
But it wasn’t just birds and mammals in the Water Rail Hide. There were Dragonflies and damselflies – like this female Copper Demoiselle,
and a great assortment of Butterflies too. Western Dappled Whites,
Southern Scarce Swallowtails,
Berger’s Clouded Yellows,
and a fair smattering of Painted Ladies,
among many others. The countryside roundabouts has been, as always, stunning this Spring and the flowers unsurpassable. Huge swathes of Corn Marigolds, Viper’s Bugloss, Camomile Daisies and Poppies seemingly everywhere one looks,
and the Butterflies have been making full use of them all.
My mother used to say that this is what the British countryside used to look like; I wonder whether my children will be saying the same to their offspring about the Portuguese countryside in years to come. I certainly hope not of course, but I have noticed a sharp decline in the numbers of some bird species that used to be very common. Bee-eaters for instance seem to be becoming fewer and harder to find,
though other species seem to be on the increase. Rollers are being aided by nest boxes put in place by SPEA and the ICNF and there are some days when we see more of them than the Bee-eaters that used to be so common.
Barn Swallow numbers, from my very limited understanding, appear to have stabilised, and though I am afraid that this is only temporary, we’re lucky enough to still have reasonable numbers around the Quinta.
Great Bustard numbers are increasing and Portugal is apparently the only country in the world where this is happening, (barring of course the UK who continue to import them to their re-introduction scheme), and though they disperse at this time of year now that their breeding season is over, it is still easy enough to see double figures on any day out to the Plains.
Montagu’s Harrier numbers appear to be stable,
and this might be due to the availability of huge numbers of prey items such as Iberian Hares out there. I have never seen so many as I have this year. Wherever I go in the Alentejo they seem to be in greater concentrations than ever before and several times I have come across more than five together, (I cropped one out of this picture!),
and though these are not high on the diet of Short-toed Eagles, they are a prey item, especially when young, and may have some bearing on the increasing number of these birds also.
One species that we’ve been lucky enough to see a huge number of this year is my favourite, and I beg your indulgence therefore that I post up here three, (yes three!), pictures of them, but they are extremely special, quite rare and definately sexy, so here you go, tararraarrraaa boom, please give a big hand for Collared Pratincoles!
A couple of years ago I was told of a place that regularly hosted breeding pairs of these birds and visiting it one day I came across the owner of the land in question who was there issuing instructions to an engineer to deepen the lake around which the Collared Ps were nesting. As a ground nesting species they are particularly vulnerable so I asked him if he would be so good as to leave an island where they could breed in peace, to which he kindly agreed.
What a success! That colony, previously limited to just a few pairs, now has over 50 and not only are they increasing in numbers but they’re also easy to appreciate as the island is only just offshore and can be approached without disturbing the birds, hence photo opportunities are easy and it’s really not difficult to get shots like those above – or the one below.
The area nearby has also attracted a few pairs of Black-eared Wheatears this year so they’ve been an added bonus whenever we visit.
What else? Every Nature trip has had its stars – like the Yellow Wagtails breeding on the coast and giving us such good views this year,
but sometimes we haven’t had to go far at all. The Quail below was pecking around right outside the back door earlier on this year, and this picture – not the best I’m afraid – was actually taken out of the kitchen window …
All in all it’s been a busy Spring as I’m sure you can see, and I should get on now with some essential maintenance around the Quinta, so I’ll sign off, wishing you all well, and letting this Hoopoe take the bow.
We took our usual place at the Birdfair last week – only we doubled the space and had a bigger stand. It was a huge amount of work to design and organize it all, but we wanted it to go well and to make a splash out of the expansion of our sister company, “Birding in Portugal” and our new website – and all the work paid off when we won 3rd prize out of the whole Fair for it! Well choughed!
We also ran our annual raffle for a week’s free accommodation here at the Quinta and the winner this year is Andy Davis.
Congratulations! we look forward to welcoming you here next year.
Breakfast at the Quinta can be a lot of things; getting ready for the day, nursing an over-indulgence from the night before, lively conversation, a relaxed start or just a time to contemplate while enjoying the fresh croissants and the Quinta’s honey.
In the background Uncle Harry is most likely welcoming everyone with “Olá” and squawking away like a wound-up toy while he clambers from one branch to another, and so it was this morning, but I found the Nightingale singing just outside the window too and grabbed this quick film which I hope you’ll enjoy!
In these days of economic crisis and general doom and gloom it’s easy at my wildly advanced age to become ever more Colonel Blimpish and whinge and moan constantly about how hard everything is, how nothing seems to work, how expensive Life is becoming, how, “it wasn’t like that when I was a kid” etc etc, and I do my fair share.
Recently, for example, I’ve been beating my gong about the ridiculous bureaucracy we have to fight our way through here in general – and principally the outrageous price that Turismo de Portugal has seen fit to burden all of us Birding Guides with by making it obligatory to have a license if we’re to take anyone birdwatching. 950 euros plus extra insurance; totally obscene in my opinion.
Y’see what i mean? There I go again; whinge whinge, moan moan, grumble grumble, and all the time my eyebrows become bushier, my nose redder, my hearing more selective and my blood pressure rises to dangerous levels, so it’s nice to balance this constant gripe with a tale of success, a tale to lighten your mood, a tale to bring a ray of sunshine into your life.
I don’t suppose this’ll help the great majority of the readers of this blog, but here y’go anyway …
To start with you must remember that the Quinta’s in the middle of nowhere, with the nearest town a good 45 minutes drive away; this has its advantages in that we live in gorgeous countryside with a view to die for and, apart from the bureaucracy, (careful Frank, keep your eye on the ball), very little stress, but it also has its disadvantages in that it’s a long way to go if an emergency takes one by surprise … like this morning when one of my teeth decided it didn’t want to be part of me anymore and took a hike. Saturday morning, oh blimey, now what do I do?
Well, more in hope than anything else, I rang our “local” dentist, a great practice in Odemira running under the name of Juvenal Patriarca, (for you local bods, 283 322678, email@example.com), and was surprised when I was answered politely straight away. Explaining the situation I was told to come in, and an hour later was in the chair, with the job done within 45 minutes, at a very reasonable rate too, just 60 euros.
Brilliant! What an antidote to an irascible Colonel! Long may their practice thrive and I take my hat off to ’em and thank them sincerely. 10 o’clock tooth goes awol; 11.45 new one in place at dentist 45 minutes away. Stunning, efficient, friendly, well-priced service; I’m not used to it here at all. Perhaps they could have a word with Turismo de Portugal?
And what does that have to do with the picture of the Great Spotted Cuckoo above? Nothing at all, but I hope that the picture makes you feel as happy as I do today! Have a nice one!
We’ve all been horrendously busy during the last few weeks as Spring is Springing like nobody’s business and we’ve been choc-a-bloc with Nature enthusiasts. I’m out guiding most days, so when the forecast last night said rain it was with a sigh of relief that we looked forward to a small lie-in, but it wasn’t to be …
A huge thunderstorm broke over our heads in the middle of the night and I was up and down the stairs protecting our electricity – most of the time splashing about with a tatty old umbrella and an equally tatty hat and dressing gown!
I finally got back to sleep again in the wee hours, only to be woken by an excited Flora at half past six gabbling on excitedly about something or other, and my excitement matched hers as she told me about the Fire Salamander she’d just found outside.
Rushing downstairs again we found him where she’d left him. They don’t wander far – nor too fast either, though this one was quicker than most as it was only young – and they’re territorial so it’s a real bonus to have them around here. They love this warm, wet weather and come out on nights like the one we’d just had, so it was a real silver lining to all that lost sleep.
Contrary to the forecast it turned into a beautiful day as well AND we found a Death’s Head Hawkmoth.
These moths are huge and love honey, regularly raiding bee-hives; we have a few of these here at the Quinta as you may know – it’s where our delicious honey comes from – but this moth had been attracted to a hive in the roof of one of the staff rooms and become trapped inside. We took some photos and let him out and he’s been resting on one of the poles on the terrace all day, getting ready for the night’s activities …
It was great to spend a day at home, the first in quite a while, and to take a little wander around the “home patch” too; we were even lucky enough to come across this Dartford Warbler who’s got a nest in some scrub in the garden; what bliss!
We noticed a real rarity in SPEA‘s recent newsletter to us which we received last week. A Red-knobbed Coot had been seen on a lake close to a village near our normal Plains Birdwatching tour, so we decided to try to find it, and on the third lake we checked there it was.
It’s not often I find a lifer nowadays on my “home patch” and all the more exciting for that …
Another new species has colonised the Quinta’s gardens!
It’s fantastic how as the garden matures so it becomes more and more attractive and new birds appear here.
This Cirl Bunting has been singing away prominently for the last week or so but every time he’s seen my camera he’s high-tailed it into the undergrowth … until yesterday afternoon, and I’m over the moon with having got this shot.
I spend, as a lot of you will know, an inordinate amount of my time showing our guests the birdlife that surrounds the Quinta, and many many mornings I’m up before dawn to be in the right place at the right time. The early bird, as they say, catches the worm, but if you want to catch the bird then there’s no option than to be up even earlier.
I know some people have trouble getting up early, especially on holiday, but there are some wonderful compensations, and none better in my opinion than to see the sun “come up like thunder” across the Plains of the Alentejo.