Another very early alarm call pushed me out of the bed. It was quite strange to hear the sound of occasional traffic outside rather than a chorus of frogs. After a brief bit of stumbling around my room to gather my belongings I headed down to the hotel reception, where I had chance to grab a quick coffee before boarding the minibus with the other three photographers. Our destination today was the Macin Mountains. After about an hour we turned off the main road and headed up a dusty dirt track across a patchwork of flat farmland to finally come to a stop at the lower slopes of the mountains.
As we travelled down the dirt track away from the hide, the occasional Corn Bunting could be seen flitting between song perches and Isabelline Wheatear dashed on to the track to grab an insect. I noted there were a few puddles on the track from recent rainfall. The first bird we managed to put in front of the lens was a Short-toed lark quietly calling from a large boulder in the early sunlight.
We carried on along the dust track for a while before we heard the ubiquitous cuckoo call and decided to stop for a while as Rene was keen to get some photos of the three birds that were preoccupied chasing each other around.
By the time we had finished with the cuckoos the sun was well and skyward with the light becoming increasing harsh. However, more importantly and has been my experience of photographing on farmland previously, a heat and water vapour haze was very quickly developing. Heat haze is a major cause of people thinking their camera has malfunctioned as the wobbling air can make it very difficult to produce sharp images. This was well demonstrated as we came across a perched European Roller but the images all went in the trash. There are only two approaches for these conditions which are to pack up or to get very close to the birds to reduce the amount of wobbling air between you and them. Even if you can get very close there is still a need to take a lot of images as a good proportion of them will not be sharp.
The next bird which we managed to get very close to was the familiar sight of a Goldfinch which was busy pulling apart a globe thistle seed head.
Onwards down the track and we came to a small section that was relatively busy with birds including Tawny Pipit and a new species for me, the Crested Lark. The latter is very similar in an appearance to a Skylark but with a permanently erect head crest.
The dry dusty farmland with its assortment of sandy coloured birds was a stark contrast to the lush vibrancy of the Delta that we had recently left. We returned to the hide to collect Michael and Hans who reported a very slow morning with only a Turtle Dove and out of condition Hawfinch showing up. The drinking pool hide at Macin can be very productive particularly during prolonged hot and dry conditions. However, the puddles on the tracks were a sign of recent rainfall providing the birds with other places to find essential water.
We all headed off into Macin to check in to another hotel where we would fortunately only be staying for one night. To say the hotel was very grim is an understatement. My door lock was hanging on by a single screw having obviously been forced open on several occasions. Certainly somewhere to sleep on top of the bed covers with your boots on to prevent being eaten alive by the mattress wildlife and also allow a quick exit if needed. Everyone quickly decided it was not the place to leave any camera equipment which would now stay with us for the rest of the time in Macin.
We had a pasta lunch outside of a roadside restaurant before heading back to the farmland and hide. Rene and I were dropped off for our afternoon session. For those of you not familiar with a drinking pool hide it is basically an infinity pool for birds with a hide at one end. The design of the pool tends to force the birds to visit the far end and the low set hide allows photography near water level.
As we sat and waited in what felt like a mini-sauna, there were sounds around would have been a delight to any bird lover's ears. In the tree behind the incessant calling of cuckoo and gentle purring of Turtle Dove, to the left the metallic jangle of a Corn Bunting, in the large distant tree ahead the flute-like calls of Golden Oriole and in the bush to the right the scratchy warbles of a Red-backed Shrike. In front of us to photograph....nothing. Eventually a bird appeared in the shape of a male Ortolan Bunting, a promising start. The attractive bunting stayed for a while on a small perch before deciding it was safe to bathe.
Another hour past with no signs of birds except the occasional flash of a male Golden Oriole chasing away a cuckoo. The next arrival was a Corn Bunting which paused briefly before getting down to the important business of cleaning its feather.
After the bird departed we were forced into a prolonged wait once more. We sat there hoping that a Golden Oriole might come in to bathe but it never happened. The arrival of the next bird did jolt us from our late afternoon lull, a stunning male Red-backed Shrike which has been there the whole afternoon just out of sight in the bush to our right. For me this was definitely bird of the day.
A Jay was the next visitor. When these birds decided to get a bath they don't mess around and soon the bird was completely soaked.
The final bird to arrive was a Turtle Dove. These are such beautiful birds but under so much pressure across Europe from intensive farming and hunting pressures. In the UK, this once common bird, is very sadly rapidly heading towards extinction as a breeding species. Efforts are being made to try and help the species in the UK but I wonder if the external pressures are too great and it is too little and too late to save this attractive dove.