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This is the week!

European Bee-eater

For those of our guests who stay with us for the Nature side of things, this is the week when there suddenly appear to be many more birds around – and it’s true, there are, for the last week of May and the first of June is when the main exodus of fledgelings from their nests takes place.

One of the most spectacular species to see of course is the European Bee-eater as shown above, but another stunning bird to capture on film at this time of year is the Common Kingfisher … here’s the back …

Common Kingfisher

… here’s the front …

Common Kingfisher

… and here it is in flight.

Common Kingfisher

Only a photographer will understand just how difficult it is to capture a shot like the one above, for this bird flies extremely fast and that’s how you’ll normally see them – in flight and disappearing fast – but around this week in any year that’s the exception for the juveniles are seemingly fearless of humans during their first few weeks out of the nest, and will perch in the open right in front of our Kingfisher and Water Rail Hide, so, if you want good shots of this species, time your visit here for the first week in June and you won’t be disappointed.

At the same Hide the Water Rails are often seen in the open at this time of year and it’d be a shame if I didn’t include a picture of one here,

Water Rail

but this week’s not just good for the gaudy birds, though there are plenty of these.

There’re chicks of all kinds leaving the safety of their nests for the big wide world. Things like Iberian Magpies with the dappled head and short tail showing their youthfulness,

Young Iberian Magpie

and the same might well be said of the head of the cryptic Common Skylark youngsters with their diagnostic white tipped headfeathers.

Common Skylark

And so the circle of Life continues – and I must get out of this chair and capture more of it while the going’s good! Ciao!

Trumpet blowing time

We’re in the top 1%!

It’s about time we blew our own trumpet a bit – just a little mind you, as I don’t want my head to become too big, but it’s good every now and again to take stock and see how we’re doing.

So, as you can see from the picture above, we’ve just been awarded Tripadvisor’s “Travellers’ Choice” Award again. That’s the third time in the last five years – and it takes some doing too, because it’s only awarded to the top 1% in any country, so we’re pleased as punch. We feel far prouder of this than any other award as well because it’s generated solely through genuine Guest Reviews, submitted by the guests themselves when they take the time, having stayed here, to submit a report about us to Tripadvisor. We also still have their Platinum Award as a Green Leader, reflecting our sustainability ethos, so that’s a double whammy, and, as I said, we’re over the moon about them both.

What else?

We’ve recently been taken on by Flown, an upmarket “Remote-working” agency who have recognised the Quinta’s suitability as a venue for individuals or groups to engage in this activity, describing the Quinta as “the ideal space to find a sense of perspective”. Couldn’t agree more!

Then there’re the agencies who continue to put their trust in us to look after their guests.

Lovely people like “Secret Places“, who we’ve been with for more years than I care to remember, and the same goes for “One-off Places” who have also supported us through thick and thin.

So if you’re feeling like getting away – I mean REALLY getting away – then there’s no place better, and with so much space around us we’re safe too, as Sawdays can testify.

There’s another bonus also as, in these “uncertain times”, we’re thrilled to hear that Portugal has been included in the UK’s Green List as being a safe place to go for a sunny summer holiday, and we’ve immediately seen an increase in the number of enquiries, so, as Daniela has succinctly reminded me, I should stop “scribbling” and start replying to emails.

Looking forward to seeing you!

In the absence of large numbers of guests, an update on our little friends at the Quinta …

We’re blessed!

Despite living in the middle of nowhere and being blessed with sunsets like the one above, our lives, like everyone else’s, are proscribed at present by Covid which just seems to rumble on – and on and on and on …

Of course the Quinta is about as safe as one can get as regards the pandemic, so it seems ironic that we’re still in Lockdown, which has been permanent here for the last six months. One wonders how the economy will recuperate should this state of affairs ever change, but I won’t go into this further – enough to say that, while our chins are still well up, it is starting to become rather boring.

We’re a whole lot luckier than most of course as we’ve plenty of space in which to move about and we’ve been able to keep ourselves busy in the Quinta’s garden which is looking as gorgeous as ever this year.

Nightingales are singing outside my window as I tap away, the first three nests of Barn Swallows have fledged,

and second clutches are already being sat on. The Golden Orioles are back, Collared Doves coo, Blackbirds trill, Blackcaps call, Serins and Greenfinches are incubating in the Cypresses while Goldfinches prefer the Jasmin outside the rooms – in general the Natural world is buzzing fit to bust.

A few nights ago I was chatting to a Portuguese couple on the covered terrace outside the bar when a Merlin flew through chasing a Swallow, passing so close to my head that I felt its wingbeat. A startling occurrence to be sure, but one that filled me with joy as the first phrase that came to my mind was, “Done it! This garden is a real “living” environment. We’ve got there!”. We’ve had Eagles, Buzzards and Sparrowhawks drop in on a fairly regular basis before, but a Merlin? That’s a new one, and especially flying through a covered terrace. It was a split-second moment but one that’ll live in my memory forever; when Nature gives you a thumbs-up like that it’s an unforgettable experience and makes the last thirty-five years of work seem very worthwhile.

And it’s not just the birds that have come to see the Quinta’s garden as a success. We’re always on the look-out when walking anywhere after dark as we have a fair selection of “Gardener’s Friends” to choose from, the most common being the Spiny Toad (Bufo spinosus). They’re widespread in the garden and grow to an impressive size, thankfully keeping the snails and slugs down to manageable proportions so our veg patches aren’t decimated.

Spiny Toad (Bufo spinosus)

Other friends that help around the place include Stripeless, (or Mediterranean), Tree Frogs (Hyla meridionalis),

Stripeless Tree Frog (Hyla meridionalis)

and Moorish Geckos (Tarentola mauritanica).

But it’s not just Toads, Frogs and Geckos …

It rained the same night that the Merlin flew past my head and the couple I’d been talking to went out with a torch and came across two species that, while not rare, are certainly difficult to come across. First they found a Southern Marbled Newt (Triturus pygmaeus), an Iberian endemic, wandering around,

Southern Marbled Newt (Triturus pygmaeus)

and then they came across another, a real thriller, a Sharp-ribbed Salamander (Pleurodeles waltl), sometimes called an Iberian Ribbed Newt.

Sharp-ribbed Salamander or Iberian Ribbed Newt (Pleurodeles waltl)

This last species is a delight to have helping us. Perfectly harmless to humans it has a wonderful defence strategy when threatened by a predator that involves those red spots along its flanks in the picture above; go on, click on the link to find out – it’ll give you something to do the next time we’re locked down!

Say Goodbye to the Summer with a touch of Yoga in Paradise

Breaking News is that the Quinta is hosting a Weekend of Yoga on the weekend of the 2nd to 4th October.

Kaian, the Quinta’s Yoga Instructor, is giving three hour-long Yoga sessions during this two night break away from all the mayhem to say “Goodbye” to the Summer. A shared room for the two nights of the 2nd and 3rd, along with the Yoga, two lunches and two dinners will set you back only €230, so it’s eminently affordable and just the way to make the transition from Summer to Autumn.

Get in touch if you’d like to make the most of this opportunity – we’re going to have a fun time!

Nature watching at the Quinta

Yoga Groups, Retreats in general, Family gatherings, Romantic Getaways and Family Holidays are some of the reasons why our guests choose the Quinta as a venue, but perhaps the favourite reason is as a base from where to watch nature, birds especially, but Nature in general, and recently we’ve been having some wonderful views of a particularly difficult species to get to grips with, European Otters.

This one gave us a real show the other day as it caught crayfish after crayfish right in front of us, surfacing every now and again to munch on them above water.

We have a very good place to watch them from, our Water Rail and Kingfisher Hide – and the otters seem to enjoy watching us too! Although this one could hear our cameras he seemed more interested in catching his dinner, but took some time out to float right in front of us. It was a real bonus to be able to be there and see it so close.

We had wicked views of some Water Rails too on the same day, another species that usually likes to stay well hidden, but our Hide is right in front of a little short cut they like to make use of across the tops of the lily pads.

If you’re at all interested in Nature you really couldn’t choose a better place to be!

So …, how’s it been for you?

This year’s been a trifle daunting to put it mildly, don’t you think, and I apologise for beating a drum, but I must get something off my chest. I have never written a blog before that was not up-beat, but there has to be a first time for everything. Personally those of us who live and work here at the Quinta and those of us who run “Birding in Portugal” are happy, in good health and thriving, but I have a deep, dark well of anger that I am keeping bottled up inside. This post will alleviate it a trifle.

A pandemic that has swept the globe has been handled with the utmost crassness by several “leaders” of the world’s economic powerhouses. They responded firstly by minimising its threat and followed this up by valuing their economies higher than those members of the population who contributed with their lives’ work towards making those economies successful, all the while sending contradictory and vague messages that reassured no-one and which have materially prolonged the devastation.

When the world needed leaders, those in charge of the wealthiest economies were found wanting and a pandemic that could have been beaten was left to run riot through sluggardly action. 

I feel deep sorrow for the many thousands who have had their lives cut short, and for those other thousands who will face debilitating consequences to their health for the rest of their lives. Add to these the millions who will be affected by the global crash brought on by these leaders’ ineptitude and my anger at the charlatans who are responsible is limitless.

I sympathise with anyone who has not been as lucky as us, those unlucky souls trapped in a flat for months on end, those trying to cope in inhospitable conditions, those with no access to the outside world. They have drawn a very short straw and from everything I have read to date it appears as if this virus attacks the “poor and packed” to a far greater degree than the rich. It makes me feel guilty to admit that we have actually enjoyed the last six months. 

We have not missed the ringing of the telephone, nor the eternal emails. We have missed seeing people of course, but this has been more than offset by the joy of having the Quinta all to ourselves for once. We have had plenty to keep us occupied and plenty of space in which to attack many projects that have been staring us in the face for far too long. The business has suffered hugely but we have continued raising money for conservation, and I am confident that the business to which I have given the majority of my working life will survive. We’ve been through this kind of thing before, we survived then and we can weather this one out too, but I feel very sad for those who will not be as lucky as us, those who took a punt at just the wrong time, those who had a dream and have seen that dream crumble to dust through no fault of their own, their hard work or their commitment.

There have been very few immediate impacts of Covid-19 as far as the Quinta is concerned. Portugal as whole “went hard and went early” and social distancing and the obligatory wearing of masks in all public places was implemented throughout the country in March with general acceptance by the populace.  Why the devil the USA and the UK have not taken this obvious step is beyond me – and everyone else in the world quite frankly. Too little too late and  … oh, I must stop, but it beggars belief. I suppose the biggest difference is that there’s a culture here that is best described as “us, us, us” as opposed to “me, me, me” and this was obvious from the word go.

I’ll just put this one out there though … in the whole of southern Portugal, the Algarve and the Alentejo combined, we’ve had 25 Covid-19 deaths, despite the vast majority of the population registering most decidedly in the “at risk” group, having an average age of 65. Obviously population density has a large hand in this, but that cuts both ways as the local infrastucture is nowehere near as comprehensive or advanced as areas more densely populated.

And that’s enough from me. I believe passionately in positivity and always look for the bright side – and there has been one for us – but I have seldom felt so angry. It’s good to have lanced that particular boil just a little as the various lockdowns come to an end and the Quinta fills up once again with our many guests and friends.

It pays to have a flutter!

We’re very proud to say that in 2019 the Quinta raised over €40,000 for conservation efforts worldwide!

Every year we donate a holiday here to the Birdfair that takes place during August in Rutland, UK, but last year we also donated one to the British Trust for Ornithology and they used it as their top prize in a raffle; together, these two donations raised the princely sum mentioned above – so this year we’re doing it again! Read on for how to win one of these holidays, but first I should mention the lucky winners.

Chris & Derek Allnutt won the BTO Raffle and Ian & Debbie Dury won the Birdfair Auction

If you want to see some of the species we saw when we took them out birding then pop on over to our Birding in Portugal site and look at yesterday’s blog.

So, do you fancy your luck? Go on! Both options contribute towards Conservation.

If you want to go for the Birdfair Auction you’ll have to wait till August and travel to Rutland – worth going to the Birdfair in any case! – but the BTO Raffle is current right now and you don’t even have to leave your chair. Just click on the link – it’s not just the birds that can have a flutter!

Retreats for All!

Shala Group 6578

For those wanting to find a Themed Retreat, we have plenty to choose from during 2020

There’s no problem coming on your own or with a group of friends, all ages and proficiencies are welcomed and we have Wellness Retreats throughout the year.

As regards other Retreats, following our successful Batik’n’Birding Weeks and Printing with Birding Weeks over the last few years we’re running some more again in 2020 with  Marie-Thérèse King and Lucy Gell 

Marie Theres King Lucy Gell

Marie Thérèse King & Lucy Gell

They’ll be sharing a “Batik and Printing with Birding” Week for the seven nights of 4th to 10th July. Included will be the option of 2 local walks or hide Birding mornings with Frank as well as the optional extra of a visit to a local potter and a Chocolate Museum. There’s limited space so book early!
Later in the year Marie-Thérèse returns for the seven nights of 3rd to 9th October for a Batik Week where she’ll be bringing along her own Yoga Instructor, Sally Padget.

We also have a couple of weeks for those interested in having a week’s holiday whose primary focus is Yoga and Wellbeing. 

Jamila Pumm

Jamila Pumm will be leading a “Yoga of Bliss” week for the seven nights of 31st May to 6th June, 

followed on the 9th June by Louise Brown 

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who’s running a five night workshop, “Relax, Restore, Reset”. This will include twice daily yoga + meditation (2 hour dynamic practice in the morning, 90min Yin and Yoga Nidra in the late afternoon), as well as one inversions workshop and one arm balancing workshop.

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The following month Rosie and Emma Markwick 

Rosie Emma Markwick

Rosie & Emma Markwick

will be leading a “Deep Dive Retreat” for the six nights of 12th to 17th July.

Later on in the year Wendy Palmer-Grove will be leading a “Wellbeing through Nature” retreat, (including Tai Chi Qigong, Mindfulness walks, meditation and yoga, Breath exercises, local Nature Walks and Coaching, all with no experience required) for the seven nights of 11th to 17th September.

Wendy Galapagos

Wendy Palmer-Grove

This retreat evolved through the passion and knowledge that she has for the great outdoors. These bespoke retreats harness Wendy’s professional therapeutic experience with the holistic benefits that nature has to offer. The retreats are run in partnership with her family’s business, “Experience Nature Holidays”, a well established wildlife watching holiday provider which ensures your holiday booking is professionally covered, ABTA approved. She is the founder of Coachgenie.uk, an established wellbeing consultancy, supporting clients to develop self-management skills for positive mental and physical wellbeing as well as being a clinical Mindfulness Teacher, Wellbeing Coach, and practitioner across five holistic therapies. Her programmes in Mindfulness are accredited by the British Psychological Society and Tai Chi Qigong is accredited by CIMSPA. 

So, just for clarity, the Activity and Retreat breaks we have for 2020 are as follows:-

7 nights of 31st May to 6th June inclusive Jamila Pumm “Yoga of Bliss”

5 nights of 9th to 13th June inclusive, Louise Brown, “Relax, Restore, Reset”

7 nights of 4th to 10th July inclusive Marie-Thérèse King and Lucy Gell “Batik and Printing with Birding”

6 nights of 12th to 17th July inclusive Rosie and Emma Markwick “Deep Dive Retreat”

7 nights of 3rd to 9th October inclusive Marie-Thérèse King “Batik with Yoga”

7 nights of 11th to 17th September Wendy Palmer-Grove “Wellbeing through Nature”

7 nights of 19th to 25th September Travelling Naturalist “Birding the Alentejo and the Algarve during the Autumn migration”

Birdfair Raffle Winners

Have you been hanging around waiting to see who won the Birdfair Raffle? Well, the first prize out of the hat wasn’t claimed so here’s the second draw

The first prize of a week’s free accommodation for two people in a double or twin bedded room at Quinta do Barranco da Estrada anytime during mid season 2019 or 2020 is Rachel Cross.

The 2nd and 3rd prizes of three free midweek night’s accommodation for the same amount of people during the same period have been claimed.

Rachel should contact me via the email address in the “Contact” page of this website, (using the same address furnished at the time of the raffle at the Birdfair), by 25th September to claim her prize.

Rock’n’Roll

This has got absolutely nothing at all to do with the Quinta, apart from the fact that I’m quite partial to photographing Nature – and birds in particular, as you can see from the Quinta’s other website, www.birding-in-portugal.com.

However, at the risk of muddling those who read this blog with no interest at all in our avian friends, I find these two shots quite interesting …

A few months ago Daniela and I were in Thailand chasing birds – what else?! – and the day before we left I was lucky enough to get a lovely picture of an Indian Roller …

Indian Roller (Coracias benghalensis)

… and then yesterday I was out guiding a birding trip from the Quinta and I managed a very similar shot of a European Roller.

European Roller (Coracias garrulus)

And they say that European birds are all “brown and boring” … I dunno about you, but they sure as hell rock my boat!