European Rollers Of The Lower Alentejo

I remember being in South Africa in 2010 and spotting my first ever Lilac Breasted Roller, a stunning bird, so you can imagine my excitement when I found out that the European Roller breeds in the Lower Alentejo, just 30 minutes from the Quinta.

Although I’ve now lived in Portugal for almost 4 years I have never planned to go and photograph them. They are not great around humans and they are certainly one species of bird that I don’t want to interfere with. Although worldwide they are successful, they are an endangered species here in Portugal. The Liga para a Protecção da Natureza (LPN) centre near Castro Verde has certainly helped with their survival and has a dedicated nesting building for them. The lower Alentejo region has many abandoned and ruined farm buildings which makes it perfect for these birds to nest. Many buildings have been equipped to help too. Where you find the European Roller, you often also spot Lesser Kestrels as they use the same buildings to nest.

They always remind me of a colourful Jackdaw as their size, stock and beak shape is very similar.

I have been monitoring them at a site on two occasions over the last few weeks and yesterday I decided to head to the location before sunrise. I arrived at 5:30am and everything apart from the distant noise of early morning Crows was silent. I headed to a spot I had planned which was in thick overgrown flowers and crop, crouched down under the a camo net and waited. They were soon flying around making their really loud Crow-like call. Soon enough I had the chance to photograph a few. As you can see in the first photo, I have named this one (difficult to determine the sex as they are both identical) Scruffy due to the lose feather. I assume this will fall out so won’t be able to ID it next time. It spent most of the time I was there chasing off the Lesser Kestrels. Even after just one session, I can already see some different characters.

(Click photos to view in a Lightbox)

The European Roller is the only Roller that can be found in Europe and like all Rollers, the name is derived from their incredible display which is similar to that of the Lapwing but I think it’s quicker and from a larger height. They fly sharply upwards (almost vertical) before diving, spinning and rolling of the body. It is an incredible thing to watch.

Whilst I was hidden Scruffy decided to start displaying in front of me. However, crouched uncomfortably on the floor with a 1.4x teleconverter on my 500mm lens is very difficult to track and shoot something this fast especially as I also didn’t want to give away my position. I think Scruffy knew I was there and eventually seemed quite comfortable knowing that “something was watching”. In fact when I returned to the car, Scruffy came flying straight past me almost to get a better look!

My next trip to this location will be to concentrate more on the displays and although not great, I did manage to snap these photos of Scruffy displaying. I love the way the sun was shining through the wings when it turned away from the sunlight.

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