Dan’s images from the Winter Birds of El Taray

A lone Marsh Harrier stares intently at the photography hides within the estate of El Taray in Spain photographed during the NaturesLens Winter Birds of Toledo photography holiday

This was my second visit to the estate of El Taray, but the first time I have visited during winter. The contrast was fantastic with temperatures exceeding 35C in summer, but now, in winter we were looking at sub-zero misty mornings. The summer migrants have gone, but the raptors have swelled in numbers & the bearded tits are making use of the food on offer – if anything, winter makes the setting even more impressive!

While the Winter Birds of Toledo photography holiday offers a vast range of raptors, I loved photographing the bearded tits. They are incredibly tame & continuously active in front of the hide giving great opportunities for a range of photos including what became known as ‘The Money Shot’ amongst the guests – an adult male strangled between two reeds. Not an easy shot because of their speed but there are lots of chances to nail it & with a few goes in the same hide most people were able to hone their focus & get the shot!
The hide is in a vast reedbed, so there are excellent opportunities for something smaller in the frame as well as natural feeding behaviour on the reed heads surrounding the hide. Other species visit too, including Spanish sparrow. bluethroat & cetti’s warbler.
The constant stream of visitors makes this an energetic hide, knowing which way to point your camera is the biggest challenge, & that’s no bad problem to have! There are so many opportunities, especially once the sun casts warm light over the scene in front.
Of course, we were all here for the eagles, myself & the guests had an incredible visit from a Bonelli’s Eagle, the bird fed in front of the hide for well over an hour. It sent everything else scattering when it arrived! Once the eagle had fed & moved on the marsh harriers returned & put on a brilliant display in gorgeous light. The flight path of the harriers became relatively predictable, so flight shots were not too tricky. We also had lovely opportunities with buzzards & a hen harrier as well as small passerines such as this water pipit, a species usually tough to find & photograph in the UK.
The setting in front of the hide is lovely and natural, representing the Spanish plains with the odd low tree stumps and picturesque branches. When the Bonelli’s Eagle started moving around all the beautiful perches, we couldn’t believe our luck.
Such an impressive and powerful bird and being eye level while it fed on the ground gave a great perspective. The area is an essential place for juvenile dispersal, so there were at least six individuals visiting the estate at the time of our visit.
As the sun sets behind the marsh harrier hide, with the eagle long gone, we were blessed with a moody sky and warm light. This allowed for some striking portraits as well as evenly lit flight shots.
It was a perfect way to end the session there and fill up the few spaces left on our cards after the eagle! This final close up flight shot from the afternoon shows how close they come while swooping into land either on the ground or one of the perches.
The estate of El Taray is wonderful at any time of year, but with the comfortable temperatures & shorter days, this tour was brilliant. Add in lovely home-cooked food, friendly staff & spacious rooms & there’s no negative. Every evening an impressive starling murmuration would form with the odd flock of cranes also moving over ready to roost. Magic!

PHOTOGRAPH THE WINTER BIRDS OF EL TARAY YOURSELF

To photograph the Winter Birds of El Taray yourself, join Dan, in Spain during January 2021, over 4 ½ days of photography, you will have the use of a collection of brilliant hides to capture images of a range of birds, including the raptors, that call the estate of El Taray their home during the winter months.
Our Winter Birds of El Taray photography holiday is offered on a full board, non-shared basis. Group size for this photography holiday is a minimum of 5 participants & a maximum of 7, plus Dan. Until the end of March 2020, there is a special offer reducing the price to £1599.
All the details of the Winter Birds of Toledo photography holiday are available on the dedicated event page.

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