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!
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.
The weather this Spring has been gorgeous, hot sunny days interspersed with a few rainy ones here and there. Wetter than normal and the rain seems to have lasted a great deal later than usual which has kept everything green and fresh.
Loads of food around for all of nature to take advantage of and we’ve had great fun observing it all.
One of the nicest places around the Quinta is the little Cortebrique Valley about three miles away, and I’ve spent many happy hours there during the past few months. It has a mixture of habitats from scrub to grassy meadows to kitchen gardens and fields of maize and wheat to patches of cork oaks and woodland. I’ve posted quite a few pictures of birds I’ve seen there on the Quinta’s Birding website, and it’s sometimes difficult to know where that blog ends and this one begins – or vice versa – but this beautiful Southern Gatekeeper belongs here I think.
There were quite a few of them yesterday in a small patch of wood, flitting about early on in the morning warming up; this is a male.
He’s smaller than the female, (only about 15mm wide rather than 20mm), who lacks that beautiful pattern on the top forewing shown above. The pattern is actually scent glands called androconia that are used in attracting the female. They feed on grasses and like it hot with dappled shade, so the Cortebrique Valley suits them right down to the ground. They fly in one brood from June onwards throughout the summer, extending from Portugal eastwards to Turkey and along the north African shore, though apparently absent from the eastern Mediterranean.
I got most of the above information, including the original id, from Matt Rowlings and his excellent website, so “Thanks, Matt!”. If you’re interested in butterflys I can heartily recommend a visit.
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!
The warm days of Spring have produced a truly wonderful brood of butterflies this year, and these Spanish Festoons are some of the best. Everything seems to be buzzing at the moment and with the streams all still flowing it really is the most perfect setting for long lazy walks nearby.
We had a lovely walk this morning along a new valley I’ve found near the Quinta. I’d already dropped the children off to school and in-between the first drop and the second had had time to sit quietly by a stream for a quarter of an hour and watch the Kingfishers, (we saw four different individuals), and an Otter….. the sun was shining fit to bust and everywhere there was the hum of insects and the call of birds, Bee-eaters, Corn Buntings, Melodious Warblers, Stonechats, Linnets, Goldfinches, Wood Larks, Turtle Doves ….. and we had a good view of a Bonelli’s Eagle soaring above us too, but the walk we did up the valley was primarily in search of Butterflies, Dragonflies and Damselflies and these pictures are the result; I hope you enjoy them as much as I did taking them! (To see pictures and read news of the birds around the Quinta it’s best to visit my Birding Blog at www.birding-in-portugal.com)
We only saw a few Cleopatras, and it was a pity that there was some shade across this photo ….
The gardens at the Quinta were planted with nature in mind and it’s wonderful to see the myriad different species attracted to them nowadays, from Serins hopping around on the lawns through Red rumped Swallows nesting (again) in the garage and Rock Buntings down by the gate right the way down to the Geckos, Tree frogs, Lizards, Skinks and of course Butterflies like this Scarce Swallowtail. Above and below were just too lovely not to post.