We saw flocks of up to 1000 Greater Flamingos way out on the shallow sandbars of the Tagus River in Portugal, but close views were hard to come by. These birds, an adult in pink, and the immature more subdued in basic gray and dingy white, were in what I assume was still a tidal pool just at the edge of the estuary, just beyond where solid ground became the rule. My guide for Birds and Nature Tours Portugal assured me that they can be seen quite close when they congregate in the rice fields of the estuary, but we did not happen on any during my visit. Wonderfully impressive birds at any distance. Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode. 1/1000th @ f4.5 @ ISO 100. Processed in Photoshop Express.
The Purple Swamphen is not an uncommon bird in Europe, or even Portugal…it is just that its range is both isolated and restricted. I think it has mostly to do with its habitat needs. It needs marshy pools with reeds, not too tall and not too short…just prefect for clambering around a foot or three off the water. That is where we first saw this bird…well up in the broken reeds. This bird frequents a small pond on private land that Birds and Nature Tours Portugal has access to, just on the firm edge of the Tagus Estuary, along a fresh water stream, in the middle of a Cork Oak grove. This was a distant shot, from the other side of the pond and the pond’s width up on a hillside, but the Swamphen is not easy to see, and this is one spot where it can be seen regularly. If you noticed the resemblance to our North American Purple Gallinule then you are not far off. The Swamphen is larger and generally darker, but very similar in appearance. There is even an escaped population of Purple Swamphen coexisting with our own Purple Gallinules in south Florida. Because of the extreme crop needed, I enlarged this image in BigPhoto before cropping, and then processed it in Photoshop Express. It will still pretty much fall apart if you attempt to enlarge it, but at posting size it at least gives a good impression of the bird in its habitat. Sony RX10iv at 600mm. 1/250th @ ISO 320 @ f4. Processed as above.
By far the most visible, if not the most common (which it may be), bird in southern Portugal during the winter is the Northern Lapwing. It is a large plover with lots of attitude, flashy attire, and an outrageous plumes. It breeds all across the northern reaches of Scandinavia and adjacent Russia, is a permanent resident as far south as southern England, Northern France, and parts of Spain, and winters in huge numbers in southern Portugal. You see Lapwings in the Tagus Estuary and other wetlands inland in flocks of several hundred (and I am told much larger flocks later in the season), and you see them scattered in ones and twos in almost any agricultural field throughout the region. If fact it seem as though there is practically no view you could take of the Portuguese countryside in winter which would not include at least one Lapwing. You stop looking after a while, but that is a mistake. It is indeed an impressive bird, especially at close range, where iridescence lights up the plumage and those plumes just shout! Even in flight, especially in flocks, the strong white wings flashing is very impressive. This bird was in the rice fields of the Tagus Estuary, across the river from Lisbon. Sony RX10iv at 600mm. 1/800th @ f4 @ ISO 100. Processed in Photoshop Express.
Continuing with Winter Raptors of the Tagus Estuary: This is a female Common Kestrel. European Kestrels are a size bigger than even the biggest North American Kestrels, and don’t have as much of a “dainty” look. I saw many dozen female Kestrels on the Tagus Estuary over two days there, but not a single male. Perhaps the males winter elsewhere, or there are just that many fewer males. Sony RX10iv at 600mm. Program mode. 1/250th @ ISO 250 @ f4. Processed in Photoshop Express. My two days on the Tagus Estuary were part of my tour of southern Portugal with Birds and Nature Tours Portugal.
I seem to be developing a theme here: Raptors of the Tagus Estuary in Portugal. This is the Common Buzzard, certainly the most common raptor we saw on the Tagus and elsewhere throughout southern Portugal. Common Buzzard is the nominal species of Buteo, Buteo buteo, and closely related to our Red-tailed Hawk and the other buteos of North America. They are all called Buzzards in Europe, which causes some confusion for novice North American birders when they first begin looking at European birds, as they are in no way related to the group of Vultures we commonly call buzzards in North America. So it goes. Sony RX10iv at 600mm. Program mode. 1/320th @ ISO 100 @ f4. Processed in Photoshop Express.
Among the raptors gathered for the winter on the Tagus Estuary across the Tagus River from Lisbon Portugal are a number of Peregrine Falcons. This bird allowed us to approach, cautiously, over several stops before I got this image out the car window. It was still there, on this same pylon, on several subsequent passes up the road, this day and the next. Sony RX10iv at 600mm. Program mode. 1/1000th @ f5.6 @ ISO 100. Processed in Photoshop Express. Birds and Nature Tours Portugal trip to southern Portugal.
In winter, many raptors gather to hunt the marshes and rice fields of the Tagus Estuary, across the river from Lisbon, Portugal. Common Buzzard is most common, but the Black-shouldered Kite is close behind. The kite is an elegant bird, and striking close up because of the eyes. We used to have a “Black-shouldered Kite” here in the Americas, but it is (and was always) a different species…very similar in appearance…and so it was, relatively recently, renamed “White-tailed Kite” to avoid confusion. Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode. 1/800th @ ISO 100 @ f4. Processed in Photoshop express.
You can sometimes get much closer to this Little Bittern, but this is the best shot I managed in my Birds and Nature Tours trip to southern Portugal. Great scope views! This is from a little pond just above the flats and salt pans of the Tagus River Estuary across from Lisbon…only 20 minutes from my hotel. A Purple Swamp Hen haunts this same pond, and we saw it the next day…but did not see the Little Bittern again. So it goes. Sony RX10iv at 600mm. Processed and heavily cropped in Photoshop Express.
This is a Little Owl, as opposed to a little owl, though it is both little and an owl. One of the most common Owls around old structures in Europe, or Portugal as here. It likes eves and piles of stones. The early morning light caught this one at the roadside on the dirt track to Alvares Portugal, near Mértola in the Alentejo region. Sony RX10iv at 600mm. 1/1000th @ f7.1 @ ISO 100. Processed in Photoshop Express. On the next to last day of my birding and photo adventure with Birds and Nature Tours Portugal.
We are staying in Mértola, Portugal, exploring the Alentejo region. The town surrounds a short sharp hill, with its Castle on top, and its church just below. The both the castle and the church occupy sites that were fortified and sacred well before the Christian era. The current church was built as a mosque during the moorish occupation, and then rechristened as a church when the moors were driven out. The town is proud of all its history. Excavations are underway in many parts of town, and castle and church are national monuments, complete with museums and exhibits. It is a town hanging on to its history, and planning for a sustainable future. They like birders there! Sony RX10iv at 80mm equivalent. In-camera HDR. Processed in Photoshop Express.