Thursday, November 22, 2018

Exploring Extremadura: Day 4 - Hoopoes and Wind

Steve and I were going in separate directions very early in the morning on the 4th day. He was heading off to try Little Bustard, more of that later in this post, and I was booked in for a session with some Hoopoe. I was met by a brisk and surprisingly cold wind as I stepped out of the hotel to be whisked off to the Hoopoe hide. Steve was already long since departed to get into his hide during darkness.

Once more I was locked into a small wooden hide which was setup behind some old derelict farm buildings. Looking out front and there was an area of grassland with well spaced trees, with the nearest tree having an obvious perched wedged into its base, just below a hole where the birds were nesting. An overcast sky only providing some fairly 'flat' light.  The general limited activity suggested the female, which only made one brief appearance for a stretch during my time in the hide, was still sitting on eggs in the base of tree.

The male bird was out foraging and would occasionally return with a small grub to pass into the unseen female.

The low frequency of visits made attempting any flight shots impractical. The light did improve towards the end of the session but rapidly became side-lit at that point.  Having taken a few photographs of the male bird on the single perch there was not much else to do. Before me was certainly not a very imaginative setup conducive to obtaining a variety of images.

As some you will know I am not the greatest fan of the fixed hides particularly when little thought has been put into the setup in front of it greatly limiting photograph opportunities. With this hide it was obvious after the first 30 minutes I was not going to get any different images to those already on the memory card.

The increasing frustration with the setup as time passed was broken by the welcome arrival of a Turtle Dove. This was the first one of these beautiful birds that had ever been seen from this hide and was only present briefly on the solitary perch.

After around 4 hours in the hide the sound of an approaching vehicle to collect me was a welcome one. It had not been one of the most enjoyable hide sessions.

I sent Steve a text to give him an update. It seemed that it wasn't going to well at his end. He had to walk out to a tiny hide in the middle of huge field in darkness. As the light dawned he realised he was surrounded by 0.75m high grass waving in the stiff cold breeze. The only view he got of the Little Bustard was brief glimpses of its head through waving grass stems making getting any photographs impossible. He was not in the best of moods when he returned to the hotel. Again another example of a poor thought put into the setup.

Given the ever strengthening and cooling wind we decided to cancel the afternoon hide booking and just go out in the car around some local farm tracks to see if we could find some birds to photograph. It quickly became obvious that the strong winds had suppressed bird activity and despite slowly driving around many kilometers of farm track the only birds we could find within photography distance were the occasional Corn Bunting and Crested Lark.

Overall not our most successful day. What would tomorrow bring as Steve was heading to the Hoopoe hide and I was destined for one of the Little Bustard hides. Hopefully I would be put in a different one to which Steve had been placed that morning which turned out to be useless from a photography perspective.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Exploring Extremadura: Day 3 pm - An Evening on the Tiles

After waking from the afternoon siesta, I stepped out of the darkness into the brilliant sunshine bathing the small balcony of my room. It did not look promising for our planned evening session. The sun was drifting slowly and downwards to the right and a strong breeze was blowing from the left. With wind and light coming from opposite directions we were going to struggle in the hide as the birds would be landing or tending to face away from us.

We were collected outside the hotel and a after a short journey, we head down a rough farm track to an abandoned and derelict building with a partially collapsed roof which was being used a nest site by a colony of Lesser Kestrel.  A small hide, raised up on scaffolding had been constructed alongside of the building providing a birds eye view over the roof area. As predicted the light and wind were in completed opposite directions and the first kestrel there came into the land came in from behind us to land facing away from us and sat on the sloping tiles looking in the opposite direction. We were going to struggle for photos a little here. The photograph below gives a view from the hide to give you some idea of the scene before us.

Two things to note from this photograph. Firstly in the centre of the image is a male Lesser Kestrel facing away from us. The second is the Spotless Starling on the crest of the roof to the left. The Spotless Starling was very entertaining, as we sat in the hide waiting for the kestrels to appear, as it was singing continuously in winging fluttering full volume throughout our visit. It was also imitating the calls and songs of around a dozen different bird species and including Golden Oriole.

After the small disturbance of our arrival at the hide, the Lesser Kestrels quickly started to return. My estimate there was probably around 4 pairs nesting under the tiles on the side of the roof we could see and probably others on the other side of the roof.

Over the next 3 hours as the sun slowly dipped behind us, there was a steady stream of kestrels appearing in front of the elevated hide. Males would frequently arrive with giant centipedes to present to the female that would usually appear from under one of the terracotta roof tiles. It is obvious why these warmer areas are so productive for birds with the abundance of large insect prey. A feature that is notably absent from the cooler climate and more intensively farmed lands of the UK.

The wind being in the wrong direction was annoying as it not only prevented any flight photos but also on a few occasions we had pairs of kestrel mating on the tiles in front of us. However, it was always with their backs to the hide. 

Given that we had plenty of time left on the trip, we decided we would book another evening session in the hide when the wind would be in a more favourable direction.

As the light became low behind thin hazy clouds, we heard the rattling engine of the car approaching up the farm track to collect us. It has been enjoyable session watching the Lesser Kestrel and their interactions at close quarters but at the same slightly frustrating as a much greater variety of images could have be achieved if the wind had been in a more favourable direction.

Back hotel we went straight into the evening meal which was particularly unmemorable and not great at all, before going through the evening ritual of sorting kit and images out. The alarm clock was set to stun for another early start in the morning.


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