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It was one of the hottest days of the year at 42º in the shade and we were all feeling it, but not half as much as the juvenile Tawny Owl I spotted sitting right out in full sun while I was coming back from Odemira.

Screeching to an emergency stop I disentangled my passenger from the dashboard, reassured her everything was OK and rushed back to confirm that it was indeed a Tawny out in the middle of the day and sitting on the ground. Sure enough, there it was and it made no attempt to flee as I carefully approached. It was obviously on its last legs and would die soon if nothing was done.

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Well, it was too far gone for any official Nature Emergency body to get there in time so I scooped it up and took it home to see what we could do to save its life.

The first thing was obviously to re-hydrate it which we did with straws and teaspoonfulls of water over the next few days. It was definitely touch-and-go but with the help of an excellent video we found on the Barn Owl Trust website at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bp_Juv6_2k8 we wrapped Owlfredo, (yes, we gave it a name of course - we couldn't keep referring to it as "the owl"), in a towel four or five times a day and Daniela and Elias fed it up over the next few weeks.

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Owlfredo grew in strength really quite quickly. We kept him safe in a plastic crate with another one balanced on top over which we spread a blanket during the day and took him/her out every evening to sit with us a while after dinner.

Owlfredo in crate

Completely unfazed, Owlfredo would sit there with us, aware to every slightest sound, the huge eyes taking everything in, the neck seemingly swivveling 460º.

Owlfredo on the chair

We reckoned he'd show us when he was ready to leave, and sure enough he did. One morning we came downstairs to find he'd pushed the top crate off and was nowhere to be seen. Obviously we looked all around for him and a little later found him tucked down in the vegetation scarcely three meters away ... can you see him?

Owlfredo hiding

Here's the same pic blown up ...

Owlfredo hiding blown up

He was truly feeling at home, even with the five dogs we have at the Quinta - we actually find that a great deal of wildlife roosts/sleeps in the garden, preferring to take their chances with our sleepy dogs than the wide-awake predators we have roundabouts, but I digress.

We put him back just in case but the next morning he was gone for good. We like to think we hear him at night now, (and he was definitely around for a few days), but of course we can't be sure.

What we do have though is the thought that we saved his life, and a wealth of photos and many lovely memories of his sojourn with us, brief though it was.


Eurasian Jay with Terrapin

Following the extraordinarily successful and overwhelmingly positive Public Consultation undertaken last month to make the Lagoa Dos Salgados area near Armação da Pêra a Natural Reserve, (a Public Consultation which saw over 800 participations), the development company, Finalgarve S.A., has snuck in a counter proposal, also available for public consultation, that would make the whole idea of a Natural Reserve a travesty.

They propose that they should be allowed to build three hotels, a commercial centre and a golf course slap bang in the middle of the area so recently proposed as being the first new Portuguese Natural Reserve designated as such in the last twenty one years.

This would make any idea of a Natural Reserve a farce, and a successful application would fly in the face of the stated wishes of the vast majority of the many people who took the time and effort to struggle their way through the Public Consultation website so recently.

I urge everyone please to scupper their underhand and dastardly effort by making your feelings known on the Government’s website.

We’ve only got until the 18th Feb, so it’s urgent we write our opinions right now - there’s no time to lose!

Many of you contributed recently with your positive comments during December and January when the original Consultation was available, and I ask you to make another effort now with an equally negative comment on the latest Public Consultation. 

It can be written in any language, and it’s remarkably easy if you follow these instructions.

1. Click on this link, https://participa.pt/pt/consulta/recape-do-projeto-das-infraestruturas-da-ue1-do-pp-da-praia-grande

2. If you haven’t already registered you’ll have to do so. This is a bit of a pain but you’ll have to go through with it. If you have already registered when you commented last month then skip the next few steps and go to point 13.

3. Click on “Registo” in the top right hand corner.

4. Click “Individual”

5. Fill in your name, (where it says “Nome”), your email address, choose a password, (minimum 12 characters but no need for capital letters, numbers or special characters), confirm your password and choose “Silves” in the following box named “Concelho”.

6. Go to bottom left corner and check the box that starts ‘Concordo…’

7. No need to fill in anything else on that page; just click “Submeter” in the bottom right corner.

8. Close down the page - you’ll open it again in a minute, but close it for the time being.

9. The Portal Participa site will send you an email straight away. Open it and click on the highlighted ‘Ativação de Registo’  link.

10. This’ll open up www.participa.pt again on a login page but DON’t use it. Just close the page completely and then open it up again by pasting in https://participa.pt/pt/consulta/recape-do-projeto-das-infraestruturas-da-ue1-do-pp-da-praia-grande in your browser.

11. Now click “Login” in the top right hand corner.

12. Fill in your email and password and hit "Entrar".

13. Click “Participar”.

14. On the right hand side click “Classificador” and choose “Discordância”. 

15. Write your commentary in the large box. There’s plenty of room so feel free to politely let rip.

16. Click “Submeter” in the bottom right-hand corner.

17. That’s it - done - and many, many thanks to you from all of us thinking along lines of the greater good for us all and the future generations to come.

Emu 9600

Back when the dinosaurs ruled the world Daniela and I started a petition on Avaaz to try to save a little birding area down in the Algarve called "Salgados".  I say "little", but it's about 400 hectares of productive wetland and scrub, squeezed on all sides by high-rises, one of the last untouched pieces of original Algarvean countryside along the southern coast.

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We'd been supportive of the effort for quite a few years beforehand, but in the Spring of 2012 everyone else seemed to give up hope as the developers literally moved into the area. The latter had oodles of cash, local and national politicians in their pockets and planning permission apparently granted; it seemed that nothing could stop them. The first bulldozers were already on site …

Daniela and I were incensed that this unique piece of Algarve coastline was being thrown away in the never-ending rush for tourist dollars, so, as a last throw of the dice, we set up a petition and promoted it as if our lives depended upon it.

We threw ourselves wholeheartedly into the effort and largely put our lives and business on-hold. Everything went into the pot, all our family's energy, most of our time and more money than we could afford.

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We spoke to anyone and everyone, travelled here, there and everywhere, held demonstrations,

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garnered support from international celebrities,

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gave lectures, interviews and awareness-raising meetings both in Portugal and abroad,

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got the press to write articles, the TV to fill slots, NGOs from several different countries to lend their support, (most notably the BTO in the UK).

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We put our heart and soul into it and it took over our lives more than we’d ever imagined it would. 

Despite the normal, "Why bother? You'll never win" comments that came from all corners, we battled through the nay sayers, and slowly, but with an ever-increasing momentum, people joined us, an Action Group was formed with the help of João Ministro who'd studied the area in depth at University, Paul Rees from the Algarve Daily News and Natasha Bund from the Portugal Resident. We became not-so-alone, and the ball started to roll again. It became apparent that there was a groundswell of opinion very similar to ours - the petition just happened to be the catalyst.

Quite quickly, (in hindsight), we saw "our" petition rise to become Portugal's 2nd largest environmental petition ever.

On the strength of it we raised a great amount of interest, had meetings with ministers and took the petition, nominally in a large collection of cardboard boxes, to the Government in Lisbon.

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Then we struck lucky.

Thanks to a chap called Simon Wates, a knowledgeable and informed long-time resident of the area, we became aware of a rare, endemic, and beautiful flower on the site, “Linaria algarviana”. 

Linaria algarviana

This was a game-changer and larger, more knowledgeable organisations than lowly us, notably "SPEA" and "Almargem”, challenged the developer's Environmental Impact Assessment in court and all exploratory work on the site was stopped pending the judge’s decision - and that's where it's been ever since ... yes, don't become involved in a legal process in this country unless you're young, in good health and very, very patient.

With the affair in court our lives returned to normal again as nothing could go ahead until the outcome of the court case, but in the background the effort continued quietly behind the scenes until, a few weeks ago, the ICNF, (Portugal's Environmental Agency), announced out of the blue that it wanted to make the area a Nature Reserve, the first new one in the country for over 20 years!

Wow! What a success!

But hold your horses, it's not a done deal ... 

It has to go to public consultation before anything's approved - and that's where YOU come in. 

It's an on-line consultation, open for 42 days only starting on the 9th December '21, and anyone can make a comment, yes, anyone from anywhere, so I urge you, please, to do your bit.

5 minutes and you become a Superhero, cape, mask, winged boots, the lot. 

Make your voice heard; it's easy. 

Go to www.participa.pt, say “No” to more unwanted development and help us save a little bit of nature for everyone.

OK, the site’s all in Portuguese obviously, and it can be a little daunting, so here’s step-by-step instructions that make it easy-peasy to make your voice heard. It looks difficult but it is really easy if you follow these steps to the letter.

    1. Go to www.participa.pt
    2. Click on “Registo” in the top right hand corner.
    3. Click “Individual”
    4. Fill in your name, (where it says “Nome”), your email address, choose a password, (minimum 12 characters but no need for capital letters, numbers or special characters), confirm your password and choose “Silves” in the following box named “Concelho”.
    5. Go to bottom left corner and check the box that starts ‘Concordo…’
    6. No need to fill in anything else on that page; just click “Submeter” in the bottom right corner.
    7. Close down the page - you’ll open it again in a minute, but close it for the time being.
    8. The Portal Participa site will send you an email straight away. Open it and click on the highlighted ‘Ativação de Registo’  link.
    9. This’ll open up www.participa.pt again on a login page but DON’t use it. Just close the page completely and then open it up again by typing in www.participa.pt in your browser.
    10. Now click “Login” in the top right hand corner.
    11. Fill in your email and password and hit "Entrar".
    12. In the search box enter “Salgados” and hit the magnifying glass.
    13. Click on the big ICNF logo.
    14. Scroll down and click “Participar” on the left hand side below the text.
    15. Click on "Particular (inserir identificação e contactos)"
    16. Click on "Proposta de criação da área protegida de âmbito nacional: Reserva Natural da Lagoa dos Salgados"
    17. Choose “Outro”
    18. Now it is ESSENTIAL that you write something otherwise the next option doesn’t open.
    19. In the box below “Participação” you can write how much you value Salgados, how it’s wonderful that Portugal is looking towards the future and has its eyes on more than short-term profit for big business, how having natural spaces is so necessary nowadays and how pleased you are that this is now being valued by Portugal’s politicians for both Portugal’s citizens and its visitors etc etc 
    20. Now click on “Submeter” at the bottom of the page - NOT “Submeter anexo”.
    21. Apply for your Superhero badge.

Oh, and why not sign the petition as well? It’s still open and the more the merrier! It’s at https://secure.avaaz.org/community_petitions/en/Save_Salgados_a_unique_internationally_recognized_birding_sanctuary_from_being_destroyed/ 

Finally, a word of warning; just be careful  when you first start flying, OK? Birds make it look easier than it actually is ... Happy Christmas and a VERY Merry New Year!

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The mayhem that is August is dying down and I've been able to get out a little more over the last few days - what a magical time of year this is! 

Bee-eaters are passing overhead in great chirruping flocks, too high for the eye to see this morning, but I found a flock that was feeding up in the Corte Brique valley two days ago .

I'm afraid the pictures above and below are not as good as I'd hoped, but they were hard - it was before the sun had risen over the hills to the west, and there was a low-hanging mist too, so I'm surprised they came out with even this quality quite honestly.

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Getting closer would have been the ideal solution of course, but they had the urge to go and we didn't want to push them, so we left them to feed and a few minutes later saw them in a great band on the way south.

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The prevailing colour on the Plains is now yellow and most birds keep their heads down, but not so Cattle Egrets which feed with the flocks of sheep in a constantly moving tableau across the scorched stubble.

It's rarer nowadays to see free-moving flocks of sheep, accompanied only by a man and a few dogs, as ever more land becomes fenced, but sometimes one still comes across them, a flock of hundreds lost in the enormity of their landscape.

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Most other smaller species spend their efforts on being brown and unobtrusive, but cheeky Zitting Cisticolas, those butterfly-like grassland pygmies, occasionally stand their ground, inquisitively staring one down from the strands of roadside wire.

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Talking about keeping one's head down, it's been an interesting time for Little Owls recently, as they take things to extremes  ... take a look at the picture below - there's a Little Owl tucked away there,

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but they're the masters of camouflage and inconspicuosity when they want to be.

A slither of his head is visible below those two diamond-shaped rocks in the middle of the frame as he warily keeps an eye on me, the intruder into his domain.

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There's a large and stable population hereabouts, and the following few shots are just some of the Little Owls I've been able to photograph during the last two weeks.

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Little Owl crouching in rocks 69I7848

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They seem to be able to blend into any background and we pass dozens daily without noticing I'm sure, but every now and again, like this family I found last month, they seem to mind not one jot to be as visible as they choose!

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However, most of the time being a wildlife photographer involves many hours of patient waiting, and it's never a foregone conclusion that the hours or the patience will be rewarded.

Take my three hours in our Water Rail and Kingfisher Hide a couple of days ago for instance ... I was watching a female Blackcap when my eye was drawn to a shadowy, eye-lined form deeper in the same bush ... what could that be?

Sedge Warbler 2

Was it a Cetti's?

No, that eyeline was too bright.

What else has an eyeline that bright? Could it really be a Sedge Warbler?

They're not resident here, only passing through on migration, so it's quite a red-letter day to catch a sight of one near the Quinta ...

It dropped down into the reeds and I could see the little blighter deep inside, (streaky head, definitely not a Cetti's Warbler), and chipped away at the clues. No central stripe, so sadly not an Aquatic Warbler - that really would be a coup! - and the eyeline finished distinctly, so not an errant Moustached Warbler either, (which would have been another coup),  so a Sedge Warbler it must be, and lovely to see him it was.

But would he come out and give me a proper shot?

Sedge Warbler 2 4

Of course not!

I followed him with my five and a half kilos of lens through the next 15 minutes, my arms aching more with each passing second.

I couldn't let him out of my view, for he was invisble to the naked eye, but he kept well hidden the whole time just behind the first scattering of reeds as he preened.

Sedge Warbler 2 3

Then he started to feed and moved tantalisingly towards me ... and then, sadly, away again, until I lost him as he settled ever deeper back into the reed-bed.

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The best I could ever grab was the shot below. 

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Mind you, after the first ten minutes or so it was only ever going to be a lucky shot, as it became more and more difficult to keep the camera steady, my mind dreaming of my missing monopod, my shivering forearms shaking with the effort.

So no result that morning despite the effort.

Ahh, well, there's always another day, and the morning wasn't entirely wasted as I did grab a couple of nice shots of a Red-veined Darter,

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and my faithful male Water Rail posed for a second or two as well, before he too slipped back into the reeds on the other side of the river. 

Water Rail in good light 69I8199 2

Looking forward to tomorrow already!







I've been lucky enough over the last eight years or so to have spent many hours watching "our" Water Rails from our Water Rail and Kingfisher hide close to the Quinta and it's satisfying now to have gathered quite a selection of photos detailing their intimate lives. They often take a short cut across the lilly pads that cover a small inlet right in front of the hide, so with a little patience it's not too difficult to enjoy wonderful views of this shy species, and there's nothing better than to watch them raise their broods during the Spring and Summer.

It's not often both male and female are seen together out in the open but there's always the chance during the Spring,

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and the first chicks appear as small black bundles around the end of May,

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leaving the nest and following the adults as they search for food very soon after hatching.

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Hereabouts they feed mostly on the plentiful crayfish,

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and are cared for by both adults.

The chicks grow fast, sometimes giving wonderful photographic chances as they bask and enjoy the sun.

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Normal clutch size is three or four, and they usually try to raise two broods, but it is seldom that the full clutch reaches maturity,

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and by the end of July there is competition between the survivors, (and territory is aggressively guarded throughout their lives),

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though the adults continue to feed the chicks until mid August.

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But whatever the time of year, the clean air and bright Portuguese sun give endless opportunities to capture this shy and elusive species as it searches for its food,

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sometimes in flight, 

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but usually walking around the shore or across the lilly pads,

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and, as they grow, juveniles, like this,

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are just as beautiful as the adults. 

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Birding in Portugal

Quinta do Barranco da Estrada
7665-880 Santa Clara a Velha

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