Bee eaters 69I7971

The mayhem that is August is dying down and I've been able to get out a little more over the last few days - what a magical time of year this is! 

Bee-eaters are passing overhead in great chirruping flocks, too high for the eye to see this morning, but I found a flock that was feeding up in the Corte Brique valley two days ago .

I'm afraid the pictures above and below are not as good as I'd hoped, but they were hard - it was before the sun had risen over the hills to the west, and there was a low-hanging mist too, so I'm surprised they came out with even this quality quite honestly.

Bee eater flock on migration 69I7966

Getting closer would have been the ideal solution of course, but they had the urge to go and we didn't want to push them, so we left them to feed and a few minutes later saw them in a great band on the way south.

Cattle Egret on sheep 69I7765

The prevailing colour on the Plains is now yellow and most birds keep their heads down, but not so Cattle Egrets which feed with the flocks of sheep in a constantly moving tableau across the scorched stubble.

It's rarer nowadays to see free-moving flocks of sheep, accompanied only by a man and a few dogs, as ever more land becomes fenced, but sometimes one still comes across them, a flock of hundreds lost in the enormity of their landscape.

Cattle Egret on flock of sheep 7754

Most other smaller species spend their efforts on being brown and unobtrusive, but cheeky Zitting Cisticolas, those butterfly-like grassland pygmies, occasionally stand their ground, inquisitively staring one down from the strands of roadside wire.

Zitting Cisticola on barbed wire 7873

Talking about keeping one's head down, it's been an interesting time for Little Owls recently, as they take things to extremes  ... take a look at the picture below - there's a Little Owl tucked away there,

Little Owl hidden in rocks 69I7769

but they're the masters of camouflage and inconspicuosity when they want to be.

A slither of his head is visible below those two diamond-shaped rocks in the middle of the frame as he warily keeps an eye on me, the intruder into his domain.

Little Owl hiding in rocks 7778

There's a large and stable population hereabouts, and the following few shots are just some of the Little Owls I've been able to photograph during the last two weeks.

Litte Owl in plain view 69I7793

Little Owl 6687

Little Owl 6962

Little Owl 7689

Little Owl crouching in rocks 69I7848

Little Owl hiding behind roof ridge 69I8024

They seem to be able to blend into any background and we pass dozens daily without noticing I'm sure, but every now and again, like this family I found last month, they seem to mind not one jot to be as visible as they choose!

3 Little Owls 4102

However, most of the time being a wildlife photographer involves many hours of patient waiting, and it's never a foregone conclusion that the hours or the patience will be rewarded.

Take my three hours in our Water Rail and Kingfisher Hide a couple of days ago for instance ... I was watching a female Blackcap when my eye was drawn to a shadowy, eye-lined form deeper in the same bush ... what could that be?

Sedge Warbler 2

Was it a Cetti's?

No, that eyeline was too bright.

What else has an eyeline that bright? Could it really be a Sedge Warbler?

They're not resident here, only passing through on migration, so it's quite a red-letter day to catch a sight of one near the Quinta ...

It dropped down into the reeds and I could see the little blighter deep inside, (streaky head, definitely not a Cetti's Warbler), and chipped away at the clues. No central stripe, so sadly not an Aquatic Warbler - that really would be a coup! - and the eyeline finished distinctly, so not an errant Moustached Warbler either, (which would have been another coup),  so a Sedge Warbler it must be, and lovely to see him it was.

But would he come out and give me a proper shot?

Sedge Warbler 2 4

Of course not!

I followed him with my five and a half kilos of lens through the next 15 minutes, my arms aching more with each passing second.

I couldn't let him out of my view, for he was invisble to the naked eye, but he kept well hidden the whole time just behind the first scattering of reeds as he preened.

Sedge Warbler 2 3

Then he started to feed and moved tantalisingly towards me ... and then, sadly, away again, until I lost him as he settled ever deeper back into the reed-bed.

Sedge Warbler 2 2

The best I could ever grab was the shot below. 

Sedge Warbler 8351

Mind you, after the first ten minutes or so it was only ever going to be a lucky shot, as it became more and more difficult to keep the camera steady, my mind dreaming of my missing monopod, my shivering forearms shaking with the effort.

So no result that morning despite the effort.

Ahh, well, there's always another day, and the morning wasn't entirely wasted as I did grab a couple of nice shots of a Red-veined Darter,

Red veined Darter 69I7921

and my faithful male Water Rail posed for a second or two as well, before he too slipped back into the reeds on the other side of the river. 

Water Rail in good light 69I8199 2

Looking forward to tomorrow already!

 

 

 

 

 

 

I've been lucky enough over the last eight years or so to have spent many hours watching "our" Water Rails from our Water Rail and Kingfisher hide close to the Quinta and it's satisfying now to have gathered quite a selection of photos detailing their intimate lives. They often take a short cut across the lilly pads that cover a small inlet right in front of the hide, so with a little patience it's not too difficult to enjoy wonderful views of this shy species, and there's nothing better than to watch them raise their broods during the Spring and Summer.

It's not often both male and female are seen together out in the open but there's always the chance during the Spring,

21 Water Rail 8739

and the first chicks appear as small black bundles around the end of May,

21 Water Rail 8956

leaving the nest and following the adults as they search for food very soon after hatching.

21 Water Rail 8837

Hereabouts they feed mostly on the plentiful crayfish,

21 Water Rail 6913

and are cared for by both adults.

The chicks grow fast, sometimes giving wonderful photographic chances as they bask and enjoy the sun.

21 Water Rail 8764

Normal clutch size is three or four, and they usually try to raise two broods, but it is seldom that the full clutch reaches maturity,

21 Water Rail 8817

and by the end of July there is competition between the survivors, (and territory is aggressively guarded throughout their lives),

21 Water Rail 4633

though the adults continue to feed the chicks until mid August.

21 Water Rail 3900

But whatever the time of year, the clean air and bright Portuguese sun give endless opportunities to capture this shy and elusive species as it searches for its food,

21 Water Rail 5540 2

sometimes in flight, 

21 Water Rail 2966

but usually walking around the shore or across the lilly pads,

21 Water Rail 0948

and, as they grow, juveniles, like this,

21 Water Rail 1092

are just as beautiful as the adults. 

21 Water Rail 2343

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Had to pop down to the village this morning to get some supplies for the Quinta, so went early and spent an hour and a half in the Hide getting these photos.

Such a shame the one above isn't quite in focus, and I shouldn't really post it at all - but it's as close as dammit and just good enough to go in here. The ones below make up for it ...

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The Hide's actually called our "Kingfisher and Water Rail Hide", and, true to form, this morning it wasn't all Kingfishers as, sheltering under the hide itself was an adult female Water Rail and at least two chicks still too young to be independent - and sadly out of view from the hide itself, but this male came across the river from the other side to check them out and gave me a lovely opportunity for some action shots as well as trying to get that elusive reflection.

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Kingfisher with fish 2737

Over the last month I've been enjoying birding a few days every now and again - it's an excellent time for it right now.

Adults are busy, busy, busy gathering as much food as they can for hungry chicks whenever they're not sitting on new clutches, and there're quite a few new chicks around to test our powers of recognition, but what I've really been enjoying more than pretty well anything else is testing myself by trying to get decent shots of birds in flight - and none are more difficult to capture than Common Kingfishers, so I was particularly chuffed to have grabbed this sequence a few days ago ...

Kingfisher 3865

Kingfisher 3866

Kingfisher 3868

Kingfisher 3869

Kingfisher 3870

I dread to think how many hours or how many wasted shots I spent to finally get this sequence, but it was worth it in the end I think you'll agree. These shots were taken down at our "Water Rail and Kingfisher Hide" of course, which really does keep on producing stunning opportunities, and is an excellent place to study the unfolding of life along this little stretch of river.

While I'm on the subject, the Water Rails themselves have had a productive year down there with at least two fledged clutches of four chicks apiece, and the adults have been as busy as any other species finding enough food for their broods, but luckily the river's well stocked with crayfish which seem to be everyone's cup of tea.

Water Rail with crayfish 3701

I was down there yesterday for a couple of hours with a couple of friends, one of whom mentioned they'd only ever seen one Water Rail in his life, but within the following few minutes he'd quadrupled his Life sightings of this elusive species when the female popped out of the reeds right opposite us with a couple of chicks in tow and proceeded to feed them out in the open.

Water Rails 3900

It's a cryptic species at the best of times so to see adults and chicks together was a real winner. I never cease to be amazed at my good fortune to be able to live in this little piece of paradise.

But I digress a little; I was writing about birds in flight and feeding chicks wasn't I, so here're a couple of European Bee-eaters,

Bee eater 3359

and here's one of a male Eurasian Golden Oriole carrying food to its chicks. 

Golden Oriole 3519

The Golden Orioles are easily seen at the moment in our Golden Oriole Hide in the Quinta's garden, and I think we have about forty or so there every morning. It's another species that, despite its bright colours, is a surprisingly difficult one to see well - or even see at all! - so to be able to see three adult males and two juveniles in a single shot, (like that below), is a revelation to those of our guests who have been struggling to catch a glimpse of this bird for many years.

Golden Orioles 3546

I must bring this blog to a close and get out there again - make hay while the sun shines, and it's certainly shining at the moment so I think I'll pop down to the lake for a quick dip before heading out again, but, before I go, here're a couple of little species that either tend to be missed or are difficult to identify.

First of all an Iberian Chiffchaff, a well camouflaged and flighty individual, more easily identified by its distinctive song than by any plumage difference to the more well-known Common Chiffchaff,

Iberian Chiffchaff 2588

and finally a juvenile Subalpine Warbler, looking completely unlike its more colourful and infinitely more easily-recognised adult self, but the white moustache can just be made out and the dark tertials with light brown borders are a diagnostic marker.

Subalpine Warbler 4013

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Our Water Rail and Kingfisher Hide keeps coming up trumps, oh yes it does!

I had a couple of hours to spare this morning so grabbed my camera and high-tailed it down there just to see what was around.

The male Kingfisher was very busy and kept flashing past me, first one way empty, as above, and then back again with food for its mate further upstream.

I thought he'd never settle in front of me, but eventually he chose "our" pool and I managed a few shots ... first on one perch ...

 69I9908

... and then on another.

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But it wasn't just the Kingfisher that was so beneficient. 

A Common Nightingale gave good views as it foraged in the open,

 69I9880

and of course the female Water Rail popped out a few times away from her brood. There must be three or four chicks in the nest opposite the hide as they were quite audible in the reeds just the other side of the water. I don't know when I'll ever become tired of taking shots of this bird that is usually so retiring but that with us gives such brilliant views.

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Then a European Serin came down to drink from the safety of the Water Lillies,

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and this was followed by an Iberian Magpie, a species often seen but seldom close by, so that was a bonus,

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and a bonus too was a new species of Dragonfly for the hide, a Four-spotted Chaser, (Libellula quadrimaculata), not an uncommon species at all further north but not so common this far south and totally absent from the majority of Portugal.

 69I9844

Not a bad couple of hours really!

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Birding in Portugal

Quinta do Barranco da Estrada
7665-880 Santa Clara a Velha
Portugal

Email :
Phone : (+351) 283 933 065
Whatsapp : (+351) 938 386 326