White storks in the early morning

About 1 month ago I wrote about the white storks of the Southwest Alentejo Natural Park, describing my first attempt of photographing them this year.

In fact, every year this unique species returns to this coast, reusing previous nesting places. In April, my visit was during the late afternoon and sunset time; now, in May, I have returned before sunrise, hoping to photograph the birds under a different light and with different behaviors. Thus, I arrived before sunrise at Cabo Sardão, just past Almograve and Cavaleiro villages. Parking the car near the lighthouse, I grabbed my gear and walked towards the edge of the cliffs. I had with me the Fujinon 70-300mm zoom lens, mounted on the Fujifilm X-T3 camera, plus a tripod.

From previous visits, I knew that several nests had been occupied, namely in a tall sea stack with several ledges. In fact, there were 3 nests built in 3 different ledges, and they were all occupied with 1 stork per nest. The sun had just risen, and the mates had gone away to fetch food for their partners and little ones. I spent the following hour or so making photos of the different storks; for convenience, I have named them Storks 1 to 3, starting from the highest nest. The weather was nice, sunny with a light breeze, so it was safe to approach the edge of the cliff. Seems like grooming the feathers and taking a small walk are popular activities.

Stork 1 warming under the first rays of morning sunshine.
Stork 1.
Stork 1 grooming the feathers.
Stork 2 taking a morning walk.
Stork 2 grooming the feathers.
General view and setting of Stork’s 1 nest.

As the sun rose on the horizon, it progressively illuminated the 3 nests. After a while, I noticed Stork 3 starting to move, and to my surprise there were 2 chicks under it. I quickly adjusted the camera and lens, and made a few shots. The whole action lasted a few seconds, and pretty soon the bird was lying again over the baby storks, for protection and warmth.

Stork 3 checking its babies.
Stork 3 checking its babies.
Stork 3 protecting its babies.
Stork 1 bill – clattering.
Stork 1 warming under the sun.

It was nice to be able to witness the birds at the beginning of their day. After a while, I walked back to the car, making a couple of stops to photograph some wild flowers along the way.

Small yellow flower.
Pink flower.

Dawn by the river

Sorry, could not resist the reference to a famous Neil Young song… the river in this case being the Mira, in Vila Nova de Milfontes, where it reaches the Atlantic ocean. If you are familiar with this blog, you will know that I have photographed in this region of Portugal’s southwest coast many times before. I never tire of visiting and photographing this well – preserved piece on Nature, and last week I had the chance of spending a few days there. As the days are longer, it is not easy to get up before dawn at 5am to be on location well on time. Even though I am quite familiar with the place, I still like to arrive early and explore a little bit, looking for some new aspect or feature that might produce a different photo.

I planned this outing to coincide with the low tide, which exposes the river bank, and makes access to the water line somewhat easier. I walked down to the small pier, being careful to avoid slipping or burying my feet in the soft and squishy mud. This made for an overall slow photography process, but that was fine, I normally take my time composing. I had with me my trusty Fujinon 14mm wide – angle lens, plus my Fujinon 70 – 300mm zoom. My first shots were examples of the so called “blue hour”, those minutes before sunrise, where the light is still transitioning from night to day.

River Mira blues.

I made several photos using the small fishing boats as points of interest. The low tide had even exposed an old wooden boat rotting in the mud.

In the mud.

The hints of the first morning light were coming over the distant hills, and pretty soon the sky was acquiring warmer tones. There were some clouds in the sky, which were reflected in the quiet water below.

First light.
Morning quiet.
Tranquility reflected.

After a while I walked a short distance along the bank, arriving at a small beach, where the low tide had exposed some nice sand ripples. With the low angle of the sunlight, they made a very interesting subject.

Waiting for the tide.
Here comes the sun.
Sand ripples.

As I was walking around, I noticed the kayaking team leaving the nautical club for their morning practice, and I made a few photos of them in the distance. This is where my telephoto zoom (70 – 300mm) was very useful. The zoom was also useful to isolate the reflections of a colorful boat in the river, and to photograph another boat floating in the golden water.

Golden river.
Early morning practice.

After spending the early part of the morning photographing along the river bank, it was time to drive back home for a well deserved breakfast.

Up in the air over Coruche

One of the activities that I have always wanted to try was to fly in a hot air balloon. After a few cancellations due to bad weather conditions, a few days ago I embarked on such an adventure. There are several companies that provide this type of activity in Portugal, selling tickets for flights over various areas of the country. I bought a ticket with the company Windpassenger for a 1 hour flight over the town of Coruche, which is located about 100 km to the East of Lisbon, in the river Tejo plain. This type of activity starts very early, before dawn, and the participants had to assemble at 6 am on a Sunday.

Arriving at the location, I saw 4 balloons that were getting ready for the flight. The air was being heated with large torches to fill up the large balloons, which is a slow process. I took the opportunity to walk around and make a few initial photos. For this trip, I had with me my normal kit of 2 cameras and 2 prime lenses, a wide-angle 14mm and a standard 35mm, which offered enough flexibility. The wide angle lens was a good choice to include the large balloons in the frame, and the standard lens was used for the more general views.

Preparations before takeoff.
Filling up the balloon with hot air.

The balloon I was in was the first to take off, allowing me to make some photos during the initial ascent. We went up at sunrise, so the light was quite nice. The interior of the balloon reminded me of a kaleidoscope, with all the various colors. Our pilot, Guido, occasionally had to engage the gas burners, to control the altitude. For a brief moment, the flames and the heat could be felt.

Going up at sunrise.
The balloon’s colorful interior.
Guido piloting the balloon.
Hot air shimmering.

The morning was very still, with no wind, and our course took us over the village of Coruche and the surrounding fields. This is an area of rice crops in the flat lands that surround the river Sorraia, a tributary of the Tejo. The dominant feeling among the passengers was one of tranquility, as the balloon quietly floated in the atmosphere. The visibility was good, thanks to the clear skies.

Flying over Coruche.
Coruche from above, with the Sorraia river below.
In formation.
Over the landscape.
Shadow on the plain.

Unfortunately, 1 hour passes quickly, and soon Guido started to look for a place to land. There are supporting teams on the ground to assist in this phase of the flight, communicating with walkie-talkies. Once the location was chosen, the balloons slowly begun their descent.

Up in the air.
Flying quietly.
Birds’ eye view.
Looking for a place to land.

After an uneventful landing, the passengers had the opportunity to celebrate their first balloon flight with a glass of champagne, to follow the tradition. Flying in a hot air balloon is no doubt a wonderful experience, and I have especially enjoyed the quietness and the sensation of being part of Nature. Of course it is also an excellent opportunity to make unique photos. At closing, I would like to endorse Windpassenger and their staff for their friendly and professional behavior.