The Winter Birds of El Taray

One of the Harriers poses on a small tree stump in front of the hides on the photography estate photographed at the Winter Raptors of Toledo photography holiday at El Taray

During early-November 2019, after our Polar Bear trip & before I headed out to Costa Rica to run multiple trips back to back,I headed to Toledo in Spain, to the estate of El Taray, this is the estate that is our base for our summer trips that encompass a massive variety of species & also the Winter Birds of El Taray photography holiday – the estate at this time of year is a real mine of gold for those raptor loving photographers. During winter the number of harriers present on the estate increases & several other species become bolder or make use of El Taray to spend winter upon – it is not only raptors that make use of the estate, there are impressive starling murmurations – that have to be witnessed to be believed – & a large population of cranes also make use of the pools of El Taray, which of course have hides strategically positioned in adjacent positions.

Although I was only on the estate for two mornings & one afternoon, the species present meant that I left the trip with a massive amount of fantastic images of the raptors of the estate – including some that I was not expecting to see – & two that I hoped to see but had crossed my fingers for.
First up, the harriers, in the summer, these birds are plentiful, in the winter, even more so, but not only that, they look magnificent in new plumage – they are also emboldened by their higher numbers!
While it is reasonable to see the harriers at the hides & area specifically for them at all times of the year … during the winter, due to their emboldened state, they are frequently found at the other raptor hides in higher numbers than in the summer months … & are not afraid to stand up to most of the larger raptors!
The bulk of the harriers observed on the estate were marsh harriers; these are birds of prey of the harrier subfamily. Marsh Harriers are medium-sized raptors & the largest and broadest-winged harriers; it is only when they come soaring into the area of the hide that you realise how significant their wingspan is! Indeed, within the estate of El Taray, the harriers are most commonly found across the marshlands or hunting above the dense reedbeds.

From within the hides, the marsh harriers are first spotted flying low over reedbeds which form the backdrop to the hides, with their wings raised in the prominent & characteristic ‘V’ shape. However, the images above & below were captured at the location which is mainly the domain of the larger raptors & eagles.

An unexpected visitor to the hides was the red kite; I had no idea that this species was making use of El Taray during the winter. I was very lucky to observe the kites at both locations; firstly at the hide mainly used by the larger birds such as the Bonelli’s Eagle but then the following afternoon at the hide used primarily by the marsh harriers; on both occasions, the kites were reasonably bold, notably at the marsh harrier hide a squabble broke out, from which the kite was momentarily victorious – I say momentarily as the harrier left having been beaten, but return minutes later with several other marsh harriers to see the kite off!
Like the harriers, the red kites appeared to be in fresh plumage, which made them look fantastic from any angle, but none better than looking down their back at all the rich detail of their feathers!
Whilst at the eagle hide, the kite present was very interested in what was going on around it, I was later told that the birds had only arrived a few days previous & as such were still finding their feet.
The behaviour of the kites at the marsh harrier hides was far more bold – although they still stayed in the background areas & did not come that far forwards – thank goodness for lenses with a long reach!
Also present. although mainly at the eagle site, were buzzards, but sadly in comparison to the marsh harriers with their piercing eyes and the red kites, they were not as exciting or active.
Now we reach the big visitors to the estate, years ago, when El Taray was a shooting estate, most of the raptors had left, in the last 24 months when Bonelli’s Eagles first returned to the estate, it was a subject for much celebration, now with them being established visitors to the hides their return should be shouted about, it just goes to show that given the right circumstances, nature will recover & make use of the environment made available to it
There are several separate Bonelli’s Eagles that visit the hides – & more besides can be observed on the estate – meaning this as a population is growing well, for much of 2018 & 2019, they were the kings of the estate, but in the latter months of 2019, they have had to learn to share with the new visitors to Taray.
The new visitors are in the form of Imperial Eagles – again a species not even present when this was a shooting estate – but now they have returned & hopefully they will be an ongoing part of the wintering population of the Winter Birds of El Taray.
The bird that is the crowning glory of the winter visitors, in my opinion, is the Goshawk when the Goshawk decides to enter the area in front of the hides, every other bird becomes wary, when the Goshawk finally takes to a perch, everything else keeps its distance or leaves – hardly surprising as the Goshawk is pure aggression, it arrives, it scans the area & it eats – nothing gets in its way!
In 2020, you can join Dan to capture images of these amazing raptors for yourself, we have a trip heading out at the end of January, you will spend time on the estate in the hides, but even better you will stay on the estate itself in the estate main house on a full-board basis – this is priced at £1699 per participant for a holiday of 5-night duration, the dates for the trip are between the dates of 29th January – 3rd February 2020.


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