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 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 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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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 ArmaÃ§Ã£o 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.
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.
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!
Ten minutes later and, bingo, the table’s laid …
… 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 …
… 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!
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 …
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 …
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,
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,
but a week later they were back in view again so we needn’t have worried.
The Hide is a great place to see Kingfishers also, as well as Common Waxbills, who nested literally underneath us.
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,
and this the female. I’m not sure really which is the more beautiful …
But it wasn’t just birds and mammals in the Water Rail Hide. There were Dragonflies and damselflies – like this female Copper Demoiselle,
and a great assortment of Butterflies too. Western Dappled Whites,
Southern Scarce Swallowtails,
Berger’s Clouded Yellows,
and a fair smattering of Painted Ladies,
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,
and the Butterflies have been making full use of them all.
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,
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.
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.
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.
Montagu’s Harrier numbers appear to be stable,
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!),
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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,
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 …
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.
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,
four below ground and four above, (and it’s nice to have a post with two photos of Archie, some 25 years apart),
and now it’s all operational, pumping out megawatts!
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.
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.
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!