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August Mayhem

Polishing the cutlery

Polishing the cutlery

This time of year seems to be a never-ending series of meals – and before each one all the cutlery has to be polished. Over the last few weeks I’ve taken to doing it myself when I can, (yes, it took me by surprise too!), and the above is a normal August meal’s worth. I know, a bit pernickety to polish them and then lay them down like this just to pick them all up again a couple of minutes later and lay up, but it looks nice for the short while they’re there!

Ready for the "Off"

Ready for the “Off”

Ten minutes later and, bingo, the table’s laid …

Lively conversation

Lively conversation

… and ten minutes after that, aided by a nice glass of wine or two, there’s the hubbub of lively conversation while we all get stuck in to another of Daniela’s delicious meals …

Barbie Pink skies

Barbie Pink skies

… while outside the window Nature lays on another stunning light show for us across the lake!

Oh, I nearly forgot, our new website is going live any day now, (so let me know what you think please), and one more thing … the Quinta’s exhibiting at the Birdfair in Rutland next weekend so come and see us if you’re able. We’re on Stands 90 & 91 in Marquee 2 under the name “Birding in Portugal“, (not “Birds and Nature” or “Birdwatching Tours in Portugal” who are one of our dastardly competitors!) . See you there!

Full on!

1st day out

1st day out

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 …

Here she comes ...

Here she comes …

... and down it goes.

… and down it goes.

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!

Some Nature shots from this Spring

One of the best Sunrises this Spring

One of the best Sunrises this Spring

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.

A misty morning at the Top of the World

A misty morning at the Top of the World

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.

The Water Rail Hide

The Water Rail Hide

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.

Cetti's Warbler

Cetti’s Warbler

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 …

"Our" Water Rail

“Our” Water Rail

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,

One of the Otters

One of the Otters

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,

The Polecat with its Water Vole prey

The Polecat with its Water Vole prey

but a week later they were back in view again so we needn’t have worried.

Our resident Kingfisher

Our resident Kingfisher

The Hide is a great place to see Kingfishers also, as well as Common Waxbills, who nested literally underneath us.

Common Waxbill

Common Waxbill

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,

Male Black-headed Weaver

Male Black-headed Weaver

and this the female. I’m not sure really which is the more beautiful …

Female Black-headed Weaver

Female Black-headed Weaver

But it wasn’t just birds and mammals in the Water Rail Hide. There were Dragonflies and damselflies – like this female Copper Demoiselle,

Copper Demoiselle

Copper Demoiselle

and a great assortment of Butterflies too. Western Dappled Whites,

Western Dappled White

Western Dappled White

Spanish Gatekeepers,

Spanish Gatekeeper

Spanish Gatekeeper

Southern Scarce Swallowtails,

Southern Scarce Swallowtail

Southern Scarce Swallowtail

Berger’s Clouded Yellows,

Berger's Clouded Yellow

Berger’s Clouded Yellow

and a fair smattering of Painted Ladies,

Painted Lady

Painted Lady

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,

Spring Flowers

Spring Flowers

and the Butterflies have been making full use of them all.

Spring Flowers

Spring Flowers

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,

Bee-eater

Bee-eater

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.

Roller

Roller

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.

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

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.

Great Bustards

Great Bustards

Montagu’s Harrier numbers appear to be stable,

Montagu's Harrier

Montagu’s Harrier

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!),

Hare today, gone tomorrow

Hare today, gone tomorrow

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.

Short-toed Eagles scrapping above the Plains

Short-toed Eagles scrapping above the Plains

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!

Collared Pratincole

Collared Pratincole

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.

Collared Pratincoles

Collared Pratincoles

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.

Collared Pratincole

Collared Pratincole

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.

Black-eared Wheatear

Black-eared Wheatear

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,

Yellow Wagtail

Yellow Wagtail

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 …

The Quail in the garden

The Quail in the garden

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.

Hoopoe

Hoopoe

 

Building up

Back in the day!

Back in the day!

Through sheer force of geographics we’ve always been “eco” here, long before it became fashionable, and slowly, slowly we’re always working towards becoming better and reducing our carbon footprint; I doubt there are many “establishments” our size in Europe that are so totally reliant upon solar energy even nowadays. To begin with, more years ago than I care to remember actually, our sole source of light was candles and paraffin lamps like that above … then we managed to get hold of some small solar panels – from Wales if I remember correctly – and rigged up a second-hand car battery and 12 volt lights, then we doubled it all up and became 24 volt. The light was never enough though, and trying to run a business – even a tiny one like the Quinta was back then – on 24 volts was a right headache, so over the years we slowly expanded our solar arrays to become 240 volts like everyone else, but with a huge bank of batteries, and this process of expansion has continued ever since. This winter we took another huge leap forward with a whole new array and a new inverter.

This array was going to be BIG, and to start with we had to give it a solid foundation with an 8 cubic mt reinforced base,

The "Cage"

The “Cage”

four below ground and four above, (and it’s nice to have a post with two photos of Archie, some 25 years apart),

New Solar array base

New Solar array base

and now it’s all operational, pumping out megawatts!

The new Solar Array

The new Solar Array

We also built a birdwatching hide down in Santa Clara this winter, overlooking the slow-moving river, and have had all kinds of brilliant sightings from it – Water Rails, Bullfinches, Cirl Buntings, Rock Buntings, Cetti’s Warblers, Otters and even yesterday a trio of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. We built it not just for “Birding in Portugal” but for the community in general, but, as ever, we had to keep the costs as low as possible, so we built it more or less from scrap and old building materials we had left over from building projects at the Quinta.

Building the Water Rail Hide

Building the Water Rail Hide

Old pallets, shuttering boards, old floorboards and bits of roof, anything we could lay our hands on, and it’s turned out better than even we expected, (probably because we had the help of the SAS!), with wicked views over a water lilly covered pool with reeds to our left and right.

The view from the hide

The view from the hide

Our primary species here was Water Rails, and in that we haven’t been disappointed as there’s a pair nesting nearby and we regularly see them walking along the shore opposite oblivious to our presence – a fantastic opportunity for photographers as they’re a rareish and extremely shy species scarcely ever seen out in the open. We normally see them on their own, but occasionally they take a stroll together and I’ll close this post with a shot of the couple – to see two together like this is as rare as dragon poo in Oxford St!

Success!

Success!

 

 

Good News! Good News! And a Happy and prosperous New Year to all my readers!

The Week on Socrates

The Week on Socrates

I don’t enjoy crowing – but I am so fed up of living in a state where corruption on a truly massive scale is simply taken for granted, something that is so normal as to rarely warrant a mention in everyday life, that I am overjoyed to bring you the news that our last Prime Minister is now awaiting trial in Evora Prison on charges of corruption, money laundering and tax evasion.

The article above is from The Week, (a newspaper that I endorse as being bias-free, enjoyable to read, interesting and informative, and a subscriber to which I have been ever since its inception), and it pretty much sums it up – apart from some lovely intercepted phone call quotes along the lines of, “I’m far too big a fish for them to catch – they wont have the balls to try to get me”. This is the man that until a few years ago was the leader of our country.

Following on from the latest bank failure where it was just the same, all buddies “loaning” each other cash that wasn’t theirs and truly believing that if they had all their own wealth in their family members’ names they could never get caught, it is a welcome piece of good news when a courageous judge goes for the very highest. We await the fall-out and hope against hope that it is the start of a new story for this beautiful land.

Another piece of good news – apart from the awards that we’ve been given this year by Tripadvisor that I’ve mentioned before – is last week’s article in The Telegraph where the Quinta is chosen to be one of the top 5 Activity Holidays in Portugal.

Happy New Year to you all and I hope we see more than our fair share of you this coming year!

We won 3rd prize for our stand at the British Birdwatching Fair!

Paradise blog-022

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.

Salgados update – and an award!


My apologies for such an absence.
The Quinta’s been buzzing lately and time is always short during the Spring as our Nature activities here mean early morning starts.
Today however I have some news for anyone interested in our battle to save Salgados.
For those who don’t know, this is a wetland down in the Algarve and here at the Quinta we’ve been actively engaged for over ten years in trying to save it from an unwanted development.
There’s a full report over on my birding site, but in short we’ve discovered the largest colony in the world of a red-listed plant, Linaria algarviana, growing on the site to be developed, so we have hopes that this will put the kybosh on the destruction of the site. Nothing in the bag yet of course as there are some large players with deep pockets involved, but at least there is hope and the issue is beginning to be reported on by the local news channels.
What else? Oh yes, despite my rant back in January, we’re rather proud to have won the industry’s highest Guest-generated award!

Tripadvisor rip-off gets us hot under the collar.

It’s not often that I become this wound-up – well, not that I show publicly in any case – but right now I’m steaming. It’s all to do with Tripadvisor.

It’s a brilliant concept of course, (and we wish sometimes that we had the same sort of thing for some of our less welcome guests, but that’s another story!), but what a lot of people don’t realise is that it’s not free. It looks free, sure, and of course it remains free to the general public and if you don’t want to “use” its marketing potential, but at this end of the equation we pay for our “Business Listing”, and for those of us who do promote our position in its rankings, for those of us who DO use it, it is an expensive tool, and this is especially so of places like the Quinta, i.e. small independent enterprises.

To date it has been worth the money – even if it was expensive – but I’m not so sure any more and the attitude shown towards us by this massive company has left such a sour taste in our mouths that we will be actively searching alternatives from now on.

Y’see, we’ve always told potential guests, “Check us out on Tripadvisor and see what other guests have said about us.” In other words we’ve increased their hits in our own tiny, tiny way, but there must be many others just like us around the world, and taken together we must be HUGE, and this is where their attitude and actions towards us have made me so upset.

They have just re-vamped their website – not that anything needed re-vamping as it worked fine just as it was – but with this unnecessary re-vamping has come a price increase. “So, what’s so bad about that?”, I hear you ask. Well, they’ve worked out their price rise via our Tripadvisor ranking and the number of rooms we have, that’s what.

In essence it means that the better we are the more we have to pay; if we’ve put a load of effort in over the years to be a wickedly good place to have a holiday and asked our guests to write reviews on their site, sent potential guests there and generally interacted positively with them, thus increasing their hits and securing excellent rankings on their site, WE ARE CHARGED MORE than someone who never sent anyone their way at all.

It’s not peanuts either; last year the cost was 350 euros – this year it has increased by 17.5%, (yes, that’s not a typo – in the worst recession in a century they’ve increased their charge to us overnight by 17.5%) to 446 euros.

You will understand why I am not putting a hyper-link to their site into this post … I will be researching this further starting here

Now, where’s that stiff drink?

Autumn Sunsets just blow you away!

November Sunset-2951, originally uploaded by Paradise in Portugal.

We’re not called “Paradise in Portugal” for nothing of course, but every now and again something happens to bring it home to us and right now it’s the sunsets we’re lucky enough to be experiencing every evening, and they just seem to get better and better!
This one was a few nights ago and I just had to share it.
Our Salgados fight goes on and the latest news is on our Birding site, Birding-in-Portugal.com so pop over there to read all about it – and forgive me for not writing it all out again!