It was a moderately late start today, a lie in wasn't really needed as I was well and truly in a different time zone now. Today the sun was shining and we had two hide sessions booked, both of which Mike and I were doing together. I'm not sure if it makes life easier to organise things in pairs and I daresay lots of people actually travel in pairs and want to stick together all the time. I think Mike and I are indifferent on the whole. We enjoy each others company but we don't need to be together 24/7 by any means. We enjoy having the company of others too, mind you it helps if they speak English otherwise it would be a bit awkward spending the day and not being able to say too much!
Anyway, once again we were briefed on hide etiquette. The first one was to be the Southern Grey Shrike, previously known as the Great Grey Shrike until it was decided it was a bit different. In fact it might even be the Iberian Grey Shrike now but either way, that was the target species.
This particular hide was again, pretty compact. No room for tripods but no need either. Like the Hoopoe hide a screw to which you can attach your gimbal head is provided. It's always best to check what lens is most appropriate too, we had the benefit of advice from Steve and Rich as well as from hide operator Jose. At least for this hide you could take a bag as well, for the Black-winged Kite hide you are only allowed one lens so there is no possible disturbance from changing lenses.
Once again at the Shrike hide you are told to minimise disturbance by getting straight in to the hide both on arrival and departure. I was beginning to think this was all a bit OTT.
When we arrived the Shrike was waiting for us on the provided perch and only flew off when our driver went to bait the perch.
For the squeamish it's time to log off my blog !
For entree there were mealworms but the main course was mouse.
The unfortunate mouse, well and truly dead, was impaled on a thorn, Shrike like, which was part of the perch, all of which was set up on a table in the middle of a field.
Slightly surreal really.
If you think this fluffy little creature is a sweet little bird, think again.
They are not called the "Butcher Bird" without reason.
Within seconds of the perches being baited and our driver departed the Shrike was back and in no time cleared up all the mealworms.
The early morning light was at it's golden best.
What followed next was beyond anything I have personally seen before.
The Shrike attacked the mouse with a ferocity that took me by surprise and one which isn't really portrayed in still photographs.
Having pulled the mouses head off and taken that away the bird returned to proceed to skin the mouse which must have been very well secured to the perch.
Suddenly there were two of them!
and they both attacked the carcass together.
It was only when the mouse was completely removed that you actually got to take a few shots of the perched bird without the gory scene.
Maybe it was hoping for more food.
Maybe it realises it has an obligation to pose for the camera.
Anyway, a quick grooming session followed
then it was back to finding alternative food supplies.
The whole scene had unfolded in 45 minutes and we were collected soon after and returned to the hotel.
Shame really, we felt that more could have been made of the opportunity. We had heard Partridge calling within a few feet of the hide but out of sight. A bit of food might have tempted them out too but whatever, we now had quite a long gap before our Lesser Kestrel hide session which wasn't until late afternoon.
We decided to have a leisurely lunch at the local bar restaurant where it seemed lunch was the only main meal of the day. We hadn't had a proper meal for several days and we didn't fare much better here either. Ah well, we were there for the photography really.
Come late afternoon we were taken to the Kestrel hide, this time I took two lenses, a 100-400 and my 500mm. Again there were screws in place for a gimbal tripod head but unlike the other hides you were looking through a glass window. No way was there room for the 500 to swivel and besides some of the birds were incredibly close so it wasn't really needed most of the time.
Once again we had had stressed the need for minimising disturbance on entering and exciting the hide. To get in you had to climb a vertical ladder which took you to roof level of an old dilapidated barn. Once in the ladder was removed and Jose moved it around the front , climbed up and washed the window clean. Fair enough but that was far more disturbance than we would ever create. I don't think the ladder was put back in place until he returned to release us either. We had been warned to take water and just as well, it was pretty damned hot and there wasn't too much ventilation what with glass windows and a wired up door!
Once again, the birds soon returned and the views were incredibly close. In fairness that alone was an experience to behold.
There were quite a lot of pairs nesting under the roof tiles and they spent their time coming and going with food between resting on the electric wires (cables) between the pylons ( towers). I add the correct descriptions as it's another little tidbit I have picked up on my birding trips!
The prey was quite varied.
from Grasshopper to Mouse
and these huge millipede like creatures.
The bird brought this one back to devour for itself in the shade of the edge of the roof.
It was literally only a few feet away.
Of course one of the main attractions was trying to catch the birds in flight.Sitting where I was in the hide my view of the incoming bird tended to be slightly more restricted but with hindsight I don't think that mattered . At the time I was getting increasingly frustrated at my ability to lock on to my target no matter what camera settings and focus points I tried using.
I stood the best chance as they were almost on the deck.
Even when the bird just made a short hop from the ridge tiles I was still struggling.
The shots look OK
but at point blank range they should show a lot more detail than they do if you look closely.
I put the lack of sharpness down to shooting through glass. It would also explains the inability to lock focus even when the background was uncluttered. Still, it was certainly a rewarding afternoon.
It was only the third really decent day I'd had and already we only had three and a half days left.