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Some Nature shots from this Spring

Friday, June 5th, 2015
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

Thursday, April 9th, 2015
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!

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014
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!

Salgados update – and an award!

Saturday, June 21st, 2014


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.

Monday, January 6th, 2014

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!

Saturday, November 16th, 2013

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!

The Pontoon at night

Saturday, November 9th, 2013

The Pontoon at night, originally uploaded by Paradise in Portugal.

This is NOT my photo, but I absolutely love it and can’t wait to try the method out for myself!

Birdfair 2013

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

Birdfair 2013-1607, originally uploaded by Paradise in Portugal.

Another year, another Birdfair! Wonderful to have the chance to chat to so many old friends there and we’re looking forward to the next one already. However, let’s have a Salgados update before I dip my hand in the bag.
Your response to my request for comments on the EIA was humbling. So many of you wrote in and the government offices concerned have been swamped by well over 700 emails of disgust that this development should still be on the cards. I hope we’ll be able to swing them around.
They have a few of weeks left to read all your emails and then we’ll find out what they’ve decided. In the meantime we’re trying to talk to as many politicians as we can – there are fuller details on my Birding Blog about this, and I will post up there any news.
I must take this opportunity though to let it be known that I wrote twice to Dr. Artur Rego, the Algarve’s MP, to ask for his views on this matter. He never replied, which was upsetting but probably gives an idea of his thoughts about this. A point to bear in mind in the forthcoming elections!

On a more positive note, we have a very well known national politician holidaying here at the Quinta and I will be trying to get him on our side over the next week during dinner.
I’m also in touch with the Wetlands Manager for the World Wildlife Fund thanks to an introduction from an old friend. He in turn has raised Salgados with the Regional Advisor for the European Region at the Ramsar Convention Secretariat and they will be having a meeting later on this week where Salgados will be at the top of the agenda.
Now it’s just a waiting game …. but let’s not wait any more as regards the raffle, so who feels lucky?

:::::::::::::::::::: UPDATE 11.9.2013

We drew the Raffle once and only one of the lucky winners claimed their prize, (well done David Brooks), so we’ve drawn it again and the winners’ names are published on our Birding Blog.

Will a holiday in Portugal be the same without Salgados?

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

You remember that we started a petition last year to urge the Portuguese authorities to think again regarding their permission to allow the area surrounding the Lagoa dos Salgados near Armação de Pêra, Silves, be “developed” with the construction of three hotels, two tourist villages and yet another golf course – adding to the 40 or so golf courses already built in the Algarve.

To remind you, the area surrounding the lagoon is pretty well the last intact piece of countryside adjoining the central Algarve coastline, and any building nearby will be hugely detrimental to the wildlife that uses the lagoon itself and the natural area surrounding it. The lagoon is unique and used not only by thousands of birds on migration, but also as an over-wintering and nesting location, and there are various rare species that use it and that the Portuguese Government is under an obligation to preserve. This preservation will not happen if the go-ahead is given for the Finalgarve ‘Praia Grande’ development.

Thanks to your help and the almost incredible success of the online petition, which so far has gathered over 21,000 signatures, you helped persuade the government to insist that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was carried out before any further action by the developer. This was a huge step forward in the campaign – but it is only one step along the way.

This EIA has now been published, but unfortunately it is in no way an independent one as it has been commissioned and paid for by the developer.

Of course this is an extraordinary situation, but that is how the game is played here.

We have until the 26th July to submit our ‘comments’.

The Portuguese wildlife and nature NGOs that have helped enormously in this fight are responding to the technical aspects of the EIA, but what is also needed are the comments of “everyday folk”, in other words everyone and anyone that has valued the area in the past and hopes to be able to enjoy it in the future, i.e. US!

However, the full document in Portuguese can only be seen as a hard copy in various places in Portugal, and nobody can leave comments unless they actually travel there in person.

The non-tecnical resumé of the EIA is on-line in Portuguese here for anyone who wants to take a look, but for those of us who either don’t speak or understand Portuguese too well there seems to be little that we can contribute at this stage … WRONG!

Please take a minute out of your day, (why not right now?), and write your thoughts as to why the Lagoa dos Salgados and the surrounding area should be preserved as a countryside and wildlife area and not be turned into another development. There are already far too many of these littering what used to be the Algarve’s pristine countryside; many of them are failed projects, and we really don’t need more when the area that will be “developed” is, quite literally, so importantly unique and the last one of its kind.

Once gone it will never come back. Think about it …

All emails should be addressed to “Exmo. Presidente CCDR”, sent to geral@ccdr-alg.pt and cc’d to gabinete.presidente@cm-silves.pt and geral@apambiente.pt with the subject line “EIA Praia Grande”.

The fight is not over and with your help enormous progress has already been made to preserve this wonderful area, much to the disappointment of the developer, which by its own admission lacks the funds necessary to build the development and which intends to sell the project on at the first opportunity.

Together we have the chance to make our voices heard and to save this very special place.

It will take you very little time to drop them an email and I feel deeply that is the responsibility of all of us to give a voice to those who cannot be heard – both the wildlife that uses the area now and our descendants who have yet to see and appreciate this unique Algarve habitat that we are still lucky enough to enjoy.

Thank you.

Napoleão, Salgado and Archie

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

Napoleão & Salgado-7604, originally uploaded by Paradise in Portugal.

It’s time I introduced you all to a new addition to the Quinta, Napoleão. He’s the little chap you see in the picture and is now Salgado’s best friend – it’s hilarious to watch them playing together every evening on the lawn.
Napoleão came from a little village, Corte Pequena, out on the Plains where we often stop for a coffee when out birding. I’ve known him for years and always asked the owner that if ever she wanted a new home for him one was available at the Quinta, and a few weeks ago she said “Yes, OK”.
His name then was Loopé, but as soon as he got here and started bossing everyone else around the name Napoleão seemed far more appropriate! He settled in amazingly quickly and is now a much loved friend and firm favourite with all guests.
While I’m here I want to do a plug for an old friend; you will have noted that I don’t do this often so this, being exceptional, must be cool …
Some of you might remember the “Bish Bosh Boys”, Tony, Keif and Vern, from way back when … well years and years ago!
Keif now has a band and they’re very good. They’re called Pimlico Road and their style is “a totally different sound, acoustic americana/country vocal harmony”. Their Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/pages/Pimlico-Road/128770147180009?sk=app_2405167945 and their web is http://www.pimlicoroad.co.uk They’re hitting it big now with a new EP in the offing. You should have a listen and sign up for their mailing list. I especially like their song, “Juliana” which you get for free when joining. Remember you heard it here first!
And, talking of listening to stuff, I woke this morning to the song of a Nightingale. Nothing unusual about that at the Quinta, but this song sounded different, foreign somehow. Opening my eyes I realised it was Daniela listening on her computer to a link sent by a friend to us. Very poignant.

Nightingale glimpsed through dense cover photo Nightingale-0176_zpse5f72fe5.jpg

The BBC were doing a live recording of bird song from a Surrey garden on the evening of 19th May 1942 and they inadvertently picked up the sounds of a bomber raid departing. Here it is, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_MHqW5KVds
It got me thinking of all the current fuss about the UK and the EU and how in our family mine is the first generation that hasn’t been in the Forces as there has been no major European war. I put this down to the EU, the Common Market, “Europe”, call it what you will. Moreover I am married to an Austrian, we live in Portugal, we’re bringing up children of five different nationalities or “part-nationalities” and we’re able to give really wonderful holidays to people from all over the world … that is also due to the relative peace we have enjoyed over the last 60 years.
No matter how much we might dislike the idea of “losing our sovereignty” and “big brother” – and I dislike it just as much as anyone! – it’s worth bearing in mind … and being thankful for.