As I hadn’t been away since my big Africa trip last year I was starting to get impatient as to when I could next be off exploring a far flung country. University isn’t a great place for saving as surprise, surprise most students generally end up spending all their money, I’ll let you connect the dots on what… So when I came home to find the parents also wanted to get away and had booked a week away in Portugal, I was ecstatic!
I had no idea where we were going and what to expect, which was a welcome change from the norm and all I had to do was make sure I had all my camera equipment. I must thank my uncle Steve for letting me borrow his 400mm f2.8 lens, it was used extensively throughout the trip and allowed me to get numerous shots I would have otherwise been unable to obtain.
We were up early, 3.15am to be exact, staggering to the car in a dose, but the tiredness quickly wore off on the way to the airport as we were all excited to go to Portugal for the first time. As it is only a two and a bit hour flight and in the same time zone, the flying aspect was easy. However, once we had picked up the rental car our adventure began! Rather rashly we put all our eggs in one basket with the sat nav, rather than following the directions provided, and after an hour it tried taking us down some interesting dirt tracks that were too much for our little Renault Clio! Eventually programming it again and getting reassurance from Daniella at the accommodation where we were booked to stay, we were able to get to our destination. Far away from any large town, Paradise in Portugal is in a spectacular location.
Frank is professional bird guide and a very good one at that, besides being a very entertaining and hospitable host. Meanwhile, his wife, Daniella mustered up some amazing meals all week for the guests, including two birthday cakes for our party alone! We ate en familie sat round the dinning room table, sharing the meal with fellow guests and the rest of the very charming McClintock family who went out of their way to make us feel very welcome.
Dad arranged with Frank for us to go out the next day on an all day birding trip, which is one of the key attractions Paradise in Portugal has to offer. We were up at five and left at half past, heading for the plains where we were told we had a very good chance of seeing Great Bustards. Did we ever! Frank reckons we saw two hundred plus. These enormous birds are exceptionally rare, with only a few spotted in the UK, here though they are locally common.
Arriving before sunrise, we were greeted by a spectacular view, with the sun slowly rising exuding a spectacular warm, red light. Getting up so early has never been so worthwhile it really was beautiful, made even better by the location and some horses nearby.
We saw all sorts of different bird species at the same time as exploring the amazing landscape and with the added bonus of brilliant weather, all in all I was in a happy place. Among the bird species we saw a variety of Buntings and Larks, Stonechats, Lesser Bustards, Montagu’s Harrier to name a few and some hares to boot.
Eventually after a non-stop morning we pulled into a dried-out river bed and had some lunch, however Frank said there was a good chance of photographing Beeaters (top image) so, for me, lunch had to wait. Observing a favorite perch I went and sat under a nearby tree and sure enough they came toing and froing allowing me to photograph this colourful species as well as observing some interesting behaviour when the males present the females with a Bee as a courtship gesture. The females then proceed to whip off the sting and eat them whole. From here we continued driving around the plains that were covered in wild meadows, so welcoming to see. Eventually in the midday heat we headed for home , a much desired beer and the opportunity to relax and admire our day’s photos.
The next two days were spent relaxing, with more spectacular weather perfect for sunbathing/revising for exams (well that’s what my sister was doing anyway..). We had some pedalos to play with, it was while securing these back at the pontoon that we came across a snake. I ran to get my camera and came back to find the snake swimming by some of the steps. All of a sudden it sprang into action as a Nieve fish swam too close and was caught. I couldn’t believe my luck, the snake was so preoccupied I stood in the water next to it, roughly a meter away, or as close as my lens would focus. Eventually it swallowed the fish and carried on with its day, swimming away but not before another, lesser snake came to inquire about the fresh meal!
Unfortunately the weather on the next day was quite cold and overcast so we went to the local village Santa Lucia to have a little explore. Afterwards Dad, Frank and I went to a nearby Beeater nest site to set up a hide. Unbeknown to me the other two went to a bar while I sat it out in the hide! Sadly I had no success with the Beeaters, but I intend to keep on trying, it is an excuse to go back!
Another birding trip occurred the next day, with Frank, Dad and I up long before sunrise again to make our way to the coast where we spent a dim sunrise overlooking a lagoon filled with lots of Coots and other wading birds. Moving on we made our way along the coast until about lunchtime where we stopped at an amazing cliff top where the only White Storks in the world nest on cliffs. You can see White Storks all over Portugal, not just in this dramatic location. I was fascinated. Fortunately the weather was on our side. It turned out it wasn’t just Storks, there was also a pair of Kestrels and Peregrine Falcons.
This location was so special we revisited it later in the week taking the girls. A trip to the beach would have been a perfect way to spend the day if it wasn’t for the overcast weather and very strong winds, making standing on top of the cliff very interesting! When the others went off to a cafe I stayed behind enjoying the location, only to find I wasn’t alone! When I sat down for a little while I noticed crabs slowing creeping up and around the surrounding rocks which required me to keep incredibly still as any movement scared them off.
I was pleasantly surprised at how friendly the Portugese where, especially around the remote area of our accommodation, despite most not speaking any English they were always very welcoming and would often buy us a beer!
All in all it was a brilliant break and I must thank Uncle Steve again for letting me borrow his lens and say a big thank you to Frank and family, it was a pleasure to meet you. Until the next time!