This shot is one from the same session as last week. Trying to photograph birds in flight with a 500mm f/4 lens and 1.4x teleconverter is difficult at anytime, even more so when crouched on the floor amongst thick foliage covered with a camouflage net. It’s fair to say that the memory card had a lot of missed shots, but when you get a keeper like this, it makes it all the more worthwhile.
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.
I’m about to add a new project to the “To Do List” and for those that have followed me for a while will know that I often spend at least one, usually more, session with the subject before planning the shoots. The reason for this is so that I can understand the behaviours and also work out angles of light and position of myself.
The European Roller has been on my wish list for a while but not only are they difficult to get up close to but also attract what I call the “eBird Magnets”. These are the people who watch the eBird website for sightings of birds and then flock in large numbers. I’m really not a fan of this and it’s not good for vulnerable species such as the European Roller.
This morning I was in the lower Alentejo region, shooting a commissioned landscape (I’ve had to wait since January for the perfect conditions for this shoot) so I decided to use the afternoon as a scouting trip to monitor a location I have known European Rollers to nest. Luckily I was alone and spend a few hours watching them perform their spinning displays which is very similar to that of a Lapwing. Even though these trips are not to get photos, I never miss a chance to grab a shot if one comes along. (More information about these birds below)