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The Quinta’s Conservation contributions – and the Birdfair raffle winners!

We’re very proud here that we’ve just topped £3,500 in Conservation contributions over the last six years from our efforts at the British Birdwatching Fair alone.

For those who don’t know, the British Birdwatching Fair is “The Birdwatcher’s Glastonbury”, the largest Birdwatching and Nature Fair in the world, which takes place every year in Rutland in the UK.

Birdfair 2015 0880

Every year we have a large stand there under the name “Birding in Portugal” to promote Portugal as one of the best places in the world to go birding and watch nature, and every year we give a free week’s accommodation at the Quinta as a donation towards an auction that helps Avian Conservation projects worldwide. Of course this is on top of the contributions we make by other means towards conservation worldwide and also here in Portugal; it all adds up, and it’s wonderful to really feel the truth in that old adage, “Giving is better than Receiving”, especially to such a worthwhile cause.

Every year we also run a raffle there, with a first prize equal to the auction contribution, (as above), and a runners-up prize of “three-night, mid-week free accommodation” at the Quinta.

The 2015 Raffle winners with Frank & Daniela

The 2015 Raffle winners with Frank & Daniela

Last year’s 1st prize winners were Liz and David Hughes, pictured above at the Quinta.

Both prizes are subject to availability of course, but are valid for any time between March 15th and July 15th or September 10th and October 31st next year, a wide enough window that should suit everyone. A smaller window is the time during which we should be advised by the winners, as both have to be claimed by midnight of the 13th September this year.

I’m glad to say that this year both prizes have been claimed so congratulations to Kenny Hall and Kevin Woods. We look forward to seeing you out here next year.

Just one more thing before I sign off; we’ve been awarded Tripadvisor’s Certificate of Excellence again, the fifth year in a row now. This is the industry’s top Customer Review site so we must be doing something right!

Good luck and I hope we’ll see you out here soon!

This year's Certificate of Excellence

This year’s Certificate of Excellence

 

Batik’n’Birding

Batik'n'Birding Week 2016

Batik’n’Birding Week 2016

We’ve just had the most wonderful week mixing Batik with Marie Therese King and Birding with Frank. The collage above is a small sample of the things we did and saw.

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!

A quick bonus book

A week ago a very good friend emailed me with the offer of making a couple of photo books, so I thought I’d make one of the birds we’re lucky enough to see in the area around the Quinta. Hope you like it!

Another winter’s work!

The new Helipad

The new Helipad

Another winter’s done’n’dusted and sometimes I have to take stock and actually walk around to see what we’ve achieved to make the Quinta an even better place to spend time.

It’s easy of course when you’ve got something like our new Helipad, (that’s ever so slightly “in yer face”), but so much of what we all do here in the winter ends up being below ground – or at least relatively unnoticeable. All the irrigation that we’ve installed this winter for instance, or the old roofs we’ve replaced, well, no-one in their right mind’s going to go “Wow!”, but it all takes time.

Even the “above-ground” garden alone is pretty well a full-time job now, as every year we have a blitz on it during November and December to keep it in check, prune it back, get rid of the old or dead and replace with bright new horticultural beauties. It takes time to grow back, and at this time of year it’s still feeling a tad dazed, but now the days are getting longer and there’s still some moisture left in the ground it’s recovering swiftly, and it’ll look right as rain within no time. The terrace below for instance, nude now, will be a tangle of roses, grapes and wisteria before another month has passed.

Goldfish Pond and terrace

The refurbished Goldfish Pond and bare Terrace

However, there are some things that stand out as much as the Helipad, and one that’s been on the cards for years, and that we’ve finally got around to doing something about, is a decent spot of shade for cars. The brief from Daniela was that it should fit into the surroundings and be in keeping with the Quinta’s ethos – as well as having as few poles that she could bump in to as possible and enough space so guests didn’t bash doors etc.

Following weeks of model-making, planning and cost analysis, it’s built now and so far so good; you’ll have to let me know what you think when you next visit!

At last, some decent shade!

At last, some decent shade!

What else is new? Oh yes, in line with our constant quest for reduction of our carbon footprint, we have been able to reduce yet further our genny use. Of course it’s another of those things that no-one’ll notice but ourselves, but to cut down from three hours a day to half an hour is quite a reduction, and eases us all the time closer to being 100% run off solar energy; now we have to save up for a new set of main batteries!

Something that our guests will notice this year though are two new SUPs – that’s Stand-Up Paddleboards for the uninitiated – which included me a few weeks ago! I haven’t tried them yet; far too chilly should I fall in, but you’re welcome!

Eco-Watersports with some Stand-Up-Paddleboards

Eco-Watersports with canoes, rowing boats, sailing dinghy and some Stand-Up-Paddleboards

 

Some sunrises are just better than others!

Foia Sunrise

Foia Sunrise

Couldn’t resist posting this shot, taken this morning from the top of Foia just south of the Quinta.

We were on a “Birding in Portugal” day, and it’s always best to start it off at sunrise, so there we were, dead on time, when up run two models and set the shot off perfectly!

It was a great day out too, with over 200 Booted Eagles seen along with Black Storks, Short-toed Eagles, loads of Red-billed Choughs and more Northern Wheatears than you could shake a stick at, but from a photographer’s point of view, this picture just took the biscuit.

Liz claimed her prize

The cleanest river in Europe attracts Otters in abundance

Considered to be the cleanest river in Europe, the Mira attracts Otters in abundance

For the last five years we’ve run a raffle at the Birdfair in the UK with a wicked prize of a week’s accommodation at the Quinta, and to date nobody’s ever claimed it and we’ve always given it away to the runner up, but this year is different as Liz Hughes has claimed and so we look forward to welcoming her to the Quinta soon.

The otter above was photographed today from our Water Rail and Kingfisher Hide down in Santa Clara on a Birding-in-Portugal stake-out and we hope it sticks around till Liz has a chance to see it for herself.

 

Good news from Salgados and the Birdfair

A Bee-eater spreads its wings ready for the long flight south

A Bee-eater spreads its wings ready for the long flight south

The picture above was taken a week or so ago from Birding in Portugal‘s Golden Oriole Hide in the Quinta’s garden as they got ready for the start of the Autumn Migration. They’ve left now, along with the Golden Orioles too, dead on time as ever. I find it extraordinary that they’re so punctual; over the last twenty years or so I’ve been keeping records of when our local Bee-eaters arrive and depart, and they’ve never been more than 36 hours out during all those years, arriving on the 1st April and leaving on the 31st August.

But enough gossip, let’s get down to some nitty-gritty … Great news from Salgados! This is the wetland in between Armação da Pera and Albufeira that we’ve been trying to save from being destroyed by over-rapacious development. I was asked to keep stumm about this over the last year as we didn’t want my soap-boxing to spook the judges while they ruled on the admissibility of the corrupted Environmental Impact Assessment carried out by the developers.

I say “corrupted” as the developers EIA somehow failed to note the largest colony in the world of a CITES’ red-listed species of plant! This is Linaria algarviana and it only exists in the Algarve … on the proposed development site this species has one of its last strongholds and this is made even more important by also being the largest. Rather surprising that they missed it, don’t you think?! Any way, we noticed its absence from the report even if they didn’t in their assessment and we raised a stink and challenged it, and for the past year or so it has been going through the courts, but now the judgement has been made and it has gone in our favour with a total ban on any development until an impartial assessment has been carried out over the course of the next year.

We’re not out of the woods by any means, but for the time being we should celebrate this small stepping-stone victory and thank those hard working souls behind the scenes who have gained us some breathing space, principally SPEA, A Rocha, Quercus, Almargem and their lawyers who have got us this far.

Our local Kingfisher

Our local Kingfisher

Next bit of good news is the Birdfair Raffle winners’ names, and the Kingfisher above is one of the birds you’re most likely to see when you claim your prize, as this was shot from our Water Rail and Kingfisher Hide down by the riverside a couple of days ago.

This is a Raffle Prize that we give away every year when we attend the British Birdwatching Fair in Rutland, UK. This Fair is the largest of its kind in the world and is always one of the highlights of our year, for as well as running the Raffle on our stand there, (whose prize you can read about below), we also give away a week’s accommodation as an item in their auction to help raise funds for species protection.

The Raffle itself has the same prize as that of the auction – the first prize is one week’s accommodation in a room for two here at the Quinta anytime between now and the end of October 2015 or from March 15th to July 15th 2016 – subject to availability of course! – and the winner this year is Liz Hughes.

Congratulations Liz, and thanks for contacting us; we look forward to welcoming you to the Quinta.

One of the runner-ups has contacted us and wins three mid-week nights accommodation at the same remarkable venue during the same time-frame and with the same conditions, so we look forward to welcoming him here too.

For those unlucky enough not to win this year, my commiserations … better luck next year.

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