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.
This morning I was shooting a landscape commission in the Lower Alentejo and once I was done I took a quick look around the area. Within just 5 meters of the car (I was down a dirt track) I found a Female Tarantula Wolf Spider (Lycosa tarantula) burrow and also a Common Yellow Scorpion (Buthus occitanus).
Right next to our land there is a steep bank with Eucalyptus Trees that a number of pairs of Golden Orioles nest in. There is a natural terrace near the top that I can sit and look over the trees, I call this “Oriole Terrace”.
Now that I have confirmation that the Golden Orioles are returning I decided to have a morning session. You would think that this over-looking vantage point would make it easy to photograph them, however, Golden Orioles are renowned for their shyness and even though the male is bright yellow (the female not so bright) they are easily camouflaged amongst the branches.
This morning was more of a scouting trip but I did have the camera and I was luckily enough to grab a few shots of a male whilst he was, almost, out in the open. The light still wasn’t great and I was also using a 1.4x Teleconverter on my 500mm f/4 lens so the photos are not as sharp as I’d hope, but a great start to what has really been a difficult bird for me to capture. Hopefully, my luck with these amazing birds will change. Not only are they beautiful birds, their song is magical, almost flute-like.
This morning, I could hear a call that was familiar, but couldn’t quite place it. On taking a look, it all came back to me, there was a male Blue Rock Thrush calling in the garden. I grabbed the binoculars and waited. I wanted to see where it was going. Near to the house there are 2 ruins and I suspected it would head to the larger of the 2. I wasn’t wrong!
I didn’t want to get close as it’s obviously choosing a new nest site and didn’t want to destroy any chances of it being so close. Today is a terrible day for bird photography with heavy grey wet skies.
I did manage to get a a couple of shots of him from a distance. I didn’t spot the female, but in this terrible light, she would be quite difficult to spot as she is much more like a female Blackbird in appearance so would blend in with the trees and bushes. I really hope that they will remain here, the perfect nest site for them and I will bring you some amazing shots of them.