When I visited southern Portugal in December a few years ago, my guide assured me that if I returned in the spring, I would find the fields full of wildflowers…and that promise figured largely in my plans for our April trip this year. I was not disappointed. The Portuguese practice a form of agriculture which includes a rotation of crops, grazing, and fallow fields…and the fallow fields, not to mention roadsides, hillsides, orchards, cork groves, hedgerows, and riversides, are indeed full of wildflowers in the spring. I photographed well over 70 species. I have only begun to identify them (and may have already mis-identified some). Here is first small sample. The English name is on each photo, but you will probably have to view the photos full screen to read it. Some of the most interesting wildflowers I found are proving the most elusive to identify. The situation for wildflowers seems to the same as the situation for birds in Portugal. The only resources I could find were English language, published in England, by Englishmen (and women). It would certainly be possible to spend as much time in the Alentejo and Algarve studying the wildflowers as you could spend on the birds…which is to say a lot of time! All photos taken with the Sony RX10iv and processed in Polarr.
I will be out to sea and out of contact for the next few days, doing the Dry Tortugas and spring migration, so I will post this early and hope it holds you all until I am back in touch. 🙂 This is another view of the one of the European Bee Eaters that we found nesting in a little wash at the edge of a small town in the Alentejo, somewhere between Castro Verde and Mertola, Portugal, the second week in April. Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode with my custom birds and wildlife modifications. Processed in Polarr.
Birding a little river-side park in the Tagus Estuary on our first full day of birding southern Portugal, we saw our first Sardinian Warbler. The Sardinian was by far the most common Warbler we saw in Portugal. These are old world warblers…mostly drab and plain…not a patch on our colorful North American warblers…but still…great to see. Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode with my custom birds and wildlife modifications. Processed in Polarr.
Black-crowned Night Herons were nesting in the Tagus Estuary when we visited this month. We saw them around a pond on the edge of the marshes and we saw them, including this handsome specimen, in the mixed rookery on the island in the Tagus. This is the same species as the North American bird…but since the Europeans only have one Night Heron, it is often called just plain Night Heron. It is a rarity, not in numbers, but in the fact that it has not been split off from its North American counterpart. Many birds have North American and European versions, or close matches, and most are the Eurasian something or other and are classified as separate species. Not so the Night Heron. Which is odd, as unlike most true circumpolar species, I don’t think of the Night Heron as being a strong flyer, or tied to the ocean. ??? Sony RX10iv at 600mm. Program mode with my custom birds in flight and action modifications. Processed in Polarr.
While it is generally difficult to get close to birds in southern Portugal, there are exceptions. One is the Heron Rookery on an island in the Tagus near the small town of Escaroupin. A few enterprising boat owners make an income from taking birders (and tourists) out to see the birds, and to explore the banks of the Tagus up and downstream. The whole area along the river seems rich in birdlife, perhaps because the rookery is such a draw. We besides the rookery we saw Booted Eagle, Osprey, and Black Kite. It is a mixed rookery, with Eurasian Spoonbills, Grey Herons, Black-crowned Night Herons, Glossy Ibis, Cattle Egrets, and even a few Squacco Herons actively nesting. All but the Squacco Herons, which nest deep in the brush nearer ground level, are easy to see. They are busy with their nesting and young, and, because of the steady flow of boat traffic, are more used to human proximity than most European birds. We made two passes around the island, one going out, and one coming back, and had some of our best photo opportunities of the trip. This Eurasian Spoonbill was in full display. Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode with my custom birds in flight and action modifications. 1/2000th @ f5 @ ISO 100. Processed in Polarr.
The Black Kite was by far the most common raptor we saw in our 10 days of birding in southern Portugal. They were everywhere we went, from the Tagus Estuary, to the Alentejo, to the Algarve. We saw them flying and we saw them perched. From any distance at all, they do indeed look black, but, of course they are much more richly colored. They are described in the field guides as “grey-brown” but as you see in this photo, in the right light they can look a fairly bright rich rufous. Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode with my custom birds in flight and action modifications. Processed and heavily cropped in Polarr.
Southern Portugal is rich in Eagles, compared to the Americas. There are 5 breeding in the region, and another that winters there…plus recent records of Steppe Eagle at least passing through (we saw one!). Of the possible breeding birds we saw all 5, plus the Steppe Eagle. Some were just little black dots soaring high on the thermals over the Castro Verde plains, but we got several closer views. These are immature (I believe), Booted Eagles from the banks of the Tagus where we took our boat trip. Two individuals sitting near each other, perhaps a potential pair. Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode with my birds and wildlife modifications. Processed in Polarr.
Over 4 days in April 2019, we saw several Great Bustards in the steppe country between Castro Verde and Mertola in the Alentejo of southern Portugal, but all at great distances, on the hillsides across the swales, and through heavy heat shimmer. Not totally satisfying, and frustrating for photography. This is a heavy crop from a 600mm equivalent frame, and the only photo of a Great Bustard from the trip that I am willing to post. Still, it is an amazing bird. According to our Portuguese guide, the world’s largest bird that can still fly (if you ask in Africa, they will tell you that honor belongs to the closely related Kori Bustard…but that is to be expected). From the distance at which you see them, they look small ships moving through a sea of high grasses. To get a closer photo, I am told, you have to visit one of the specialized “hides” that are maintained near leks. You have to crawl into the hide before daylight, and stay until after dark, so it is a daylong commitment. I might try to do that next time I go to Portugal, if I am still up to crawling at that point. 🙂 Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode with my custom birds and wildlife modifications. Manual focus to get accurate focus through the heat shimmer. Processed in Polarr.
There were White Storks nesting everywhere we went all over southern Portugal: in the Tagus Estuary, in the Alentejo, and in the Algarve. Most nest on telephone poles and high tension towers, or on poles put up for them to keep them off buildings, but we did see quite a few nesting in trees in a more natural setting. This was taken in the Alentejo, and is the greeting behavior as the mate returns to the nesting bird…weaving and bobbing and bill clacking. Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode with my custom birds and wildlife modifications. Processed in Polarr.
Looking from the hill where the faithful believe the angle of peace appeared across the little valley to the Basilica at the site of the apparition of Mary in Fatima. The Hungarian Pilgrim way runs from there to here. The Basilica is just to the right of the trees on the left. Sony a5100 in-camera HDR. 16mm prime with UWA converter for an 18mm equivalent field of view. Processed in Polarr.