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

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


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 ...



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.






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 ...


... and then on another.


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

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


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.


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


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


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.


Not a bad couple of hours really!

When I first set up this website it seemed only right that I should call it Birding in Portugal. After all, that's what it's about, yes?

Well, yes and no, for I'm interested in ALL of Nature, not just birds, and I think most birders are too, so I make no excuses today with a post about some of the other life we have here at the Quinta.

Due to this pesky virus, like everyone else, we've been requested not to travel anywhere for the last six months, so, apart from some shopping trips, a doctor's appointment or two and one outing for the yearly Census of Breeding Birds for Spea, we've kept ourselves to ourselves over the last six months. I must admit that it hasn't been that hard as we've plenty to do around the garden, and it's there that we've been able to enjoy the wildlife that the Quinta's garden now attracts.

Of course we have birds aplenty, Blackcaps, Sardinian Warblers, Goldfinches, Chiffchaffs, Sparrowhawks, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and many other species kept us company throughout the winter, and now that Spring is here again the Nightingales are singing and nesting while the Golden Orioles arrived a few days ago, so all's in order on that front.

Mammals are harder to come by but we have Field Mice, Weasels and Genets as relatively regular visitors and in February we had a Fallow Deer turn up one day while we were building the new greenhouse. It must have been an escapee from someone's land for it was far too trusting of humans,

but it's on the reptile and amphibian front that we've been excited recently for a week ago we came across a couple of difficult-to-see species, both listed as "Near threatened" on the IUCN Red List.

Of course we enjoy various species of reptiles and amphibians that're part of the food chain in our "living" garden and these all play their part in helping to keep our bug population under control so that we don't have to resort to chemical solutions that do more harm than good. 

Spiny Toads (Bufo spinosus) are plentiful,

Spiny Toad

 as are Moorish Geckos (Tarentola mauritanica)

Moorish Geckos 9994

and Stripeless - or Mediterranean -  Tree Frogs (Hyla meridionalis), and these last two species I had to originally introduce into the garden myself from several ruins in the neighbourhood.

Stripeless Tree Frog 1700

However, the two species that were exciting last week are two that have found their own way here and seem to be happy with the eco-system that the Quinta's garden provides.

First there's the Southern Marbled Newt (Triturus pygmaeus), a beautiful little creature,

Marbled Newt Triturus pygmaeus

and then there's the Sharp-ribbed Salamander (Pleurodeles waltl).

Sharp ribbed Salamander Pleurodeles waltl

This last species is somewhat less beautiful and has less delightful manners also. If you look closely you'll see there's a row of red spots running along its flank. These mark the place where this ugly little blighter shoves its own ribs through its skin if threatened by a predator. These ribs pick up poison from the skin as they pass through, so are a powerful deterrant. Once the danger has receded so too do the ribs and the skin re-heals. Quite a defense you'll agree!

We're thrilled to have them all here and their approval of our efforts to make a holistic environment here are the ultimate bonus.

Birding in Portugal

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

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