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 in to 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 trip 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.

10 more stunning images of the Spring Birds of Lake Kerkini

A night heron perched within the dead forest photographed during the Spring Birds of Kerkini photography Holiday conducted by NaturesLens

This is the second of the blog postings from David’s visit to photograph the spring birds of northern Greece in June 2019. The first blog post can be found here.

The squacco heron has replaced the green heron as my favourite comical heron. There’s just something about their features & character that makes me smile whenever I see photos of them. The low perspective really helps to make these two images.
Gorgeous light helped to illuminate the feathers on this cormorant. I think this is my favourite image from all the ones that David sent in.  A simple portrait but the bird just pops & I love all the detail in the feathers.
Lake Kerkini offers very different photographic opportunities in June and it is also a lot warmer! Lazy days gliding on a tranquil lake through a submerged forest filled with an impressive selection of nesting waterbirds.
For those of you who have been to Lake Kerkini with us, you will be pleased to know that we stay at the same hotel that we use for our Dalmatian Pelicans trip. For those of you who have not yet visited Kerkini with us, our hosts provide great hospitality, lots of delicious food and you also get to meet our amazing boatman.
Our guide will be on hand to offer guidance so that you go home with a portfolio of images that you will be proud to show off to your friends and family.
Thanks to David for sharing his wonderful images with us. We hope to see you again soon!

PHOTOGRAPH THE SPRING BIRDS OF LAKE KERKINI YOURSELF

To photograph the Spring Birds of Kerkini yourself, join David, in Greece during June 2020 for a trip lasting five nights. This photography holiday is ideal for photographing a wide variety of migrant & resident birds, including bittern, black stork, cattle egret, cormorant, dalmatian pelican, great crested grebe, great white egret, grey heron, night heron, squacco heron, white pelican, white stork & more!

The photography holiday is offered on a full board, non-shared basis. Group size for this photography holiday is a minimum of 3 participants & a maximum of 7, plus David. Until March 2020, there is a special offer reducing the price to £1599 available.
All the details of the Spring Birds of Lake Kerkini photography holiday are available on the dedicated event page.

Birds of Central Spain at El Taray

One of the estates fabulous raptors flies across grassland photographed during the NaturesLens Birds of Toledo photography holiday at Hides del Taray

Our photography tour to El Taray to photograph the Birds of Central Spain was a new trip for 2019 but I can see how it may well become our flagship Spanish birding tour. There is literally something for everyone whether you like raptors, pretty little birds or wading birds.

Ellen was one of our guests on our inaugural trip and she very kindly sent in these stunning images for us to share with you.

We were originally attracted to El Taray because it is home to the largest colony of lesser kestrels that we have ever encountered. However, we soon discovered that the number of species that can be photographed here is simply phenomenal! This includes wild Goshawk that is not live-baited.
But what really puts this trip a cut above all the rest, is the fact that we have permission to stay on the actual estate throughout the course of our trip. And what’s more, we have the services of an amazing cook to prepare delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner. All of this just makes for a more relaxing trip when you are not in the hides photographing the incredible wildlife.

The hides at El Taray have all been custom-built and include ground-level, floating, water-level & sunken hides, allowing you to capture dramatic images from the best angles. Ellen’s images of the stone curlew are some of the best that I have ever seen.

With seven nights at the estate, there are plenty of opportunities to brush up on portrait and flight shots of the various raptors.

The hoopoe is always a popular bird to photograph and they certainly didn’t disappoint.

Our Birds of Central Spain photography holiday will provide you with a week packed with hide sessions, where your photography will benefit from unparalleled access to locations and the best opportunity to photograph a stunning range of bird species.

Ellen said: “I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed the entire experience – the birds, the photographic opportunities, staying on the Estate with all the comfort and convenience that provided, and the leadership/organization of the trip.  I thank you both and I very much hope to repeat this trip in the future (maybe 2021).  Please note that I usually do not repeat trips!”

Thanks to Ellen for sharing her images. We hope to see you again soon!

PHOTOGRAPH THE BIRDS OF CENTRAL SPAIN FOR YOURSELF

Our first summer trip to Toledo is already fully booked but we have places available on our second trip in early July 2020.

The 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 David. Until the end of March, there is a special offer reducing the price from £2499 to £2249 – that is a saving of £250!
All the details of the Birds of Central Spain, Toledo photography holiday are available on the dedicated event page.

Lammergeier and Golden Eagles – Trip report

A Lammergeier soars above the hides wings fully outstretched photographed during the NaturesLens Lammergeier Golden Eagles of Spain photography holiday

Early December, I headed off to Spain with a lovely group of photographers to photograph lammergeiers or bearded vultures, griffon vultures, black vultures and golden eagles in the Pre-Pyrenees of northern Spain. I was especially excited about leading this trip because photographing the lammergeier has long been a dream of mine.

The drive to the base for the hides from the hotel took around 45 minutes. Once off the main road; the drive up was very picturesque with views across the mountains and valleys topped off with some wonderful autumn colours.

On the first day, we all went to the lammergeier hides. This was a short drive or a lovely walk up to the feeding site with a choice of three hides. Each offered a different perspective from the chance to capture close up portraits to wider angle flight shots.

The first visitors were the griffon and black vultures and in huge numbers too. Many waiting patiently and some not so patiently for the food, which is mainly bones. Once the food was put out, there was a feeding frenzy which after a while, settled down. I found that the Canon 500mm f/4 lens was great for in-flight shots and tight portraits but a telephoto zoom would have provided more flexibility.

There are many opportunities to capture the vultures as they fly in, feed, interact with each other and also capture some close up portraits. Once the griffon vultures left, the first of the lammergeiers started to appear.

Lammergeiers (Gypaetus barbatus) are truly fascinating birds. Although they are vultures, they have a very different appearance to other vultures. Not only that but their diet is very different too. Their diet is almost exclusively bones. They swallow the smaller ones which are digested within around 24 hours due to their highly acidic stomachs. The larger ones are carried off and dropped from height to break them open. This behaviour takes around seven years to learn and perfect.

These vultures, like many others, have been persecuted in the past. However, thanks to conservation efforts they are making a slow comeback with around 88% of the European population being found in the Pyrenees. The juvenile birds are much darker in colour and go through several moults until they appear much paler in the head, neck and body. They have an interesting bathing ritual where they rub themselves with iron oxides which give the adults the orange/rusty appearance.

On the second day, four of us opted to visit the golden eagle hides. These hides are a short drive and approximately a 15-minute walk through the woodland.. As we settled in the hides, we had our first glimpse of the male as he soared over the valley. It wasn’t long until he came in to feed.

There is one pair in the area that successfully raised a chick this year, and they have a feeding order. The male comes in first. Once the male had fed, he sat in the tree for a while before leaving. We had some quiet time and then the chick came in, followed by the female. We were fortunate to have all three eagles come in and spend so much time in front of the hides. There were lots of opportunities to capture images of them feeding, flying and interacting with each other. It was non-stop action with the female leaving just before we were collected from the hides.

We were treated to glorious weather for our three days in the hides with blues skies and wonderful light. This area is an important one for vultures and a spectacular place to enjoy both watching and photographing these stunning birds. We all came home with thousands of images to sort through after three action-packed days in the hides.

PHOTOGRAPH LAMMERGEIER & GOLDEN EAGLES FOR YOURSELF

To photograph these stunning raptors for yourself, join Victoria, in Spain in December 2020 for a 4-night photography trip.

The photography holiday is offered on a full board, non-shared basis. Group size for this photography holiday is a minimum of 4 participants & a maximum of 6, plus Victoria. Until the end of February, there is a special offer reducing the price to £1499 available.
All the details of the Lammergeier & Golden Eagles photography holiday are available on the dedicated event page.

10 stunning images of the Spring Birds of Lake Kerkini

A night heron hunts for fish in the shallow waters of Lake Kerkini photographed during the Spring Birds of Kerkini photography Holiday conducted by NaturesLens

David was another attendee on our Spring Birds of Lake Kerkini trip in June 2019. He sent in so many stunning images that we decided to spread them over two blog posts.

A regular NaturesLens client, David has also visited Lake Kerkini with us many times for the iconic Dalmatian Pelicans. In fact, after he visited Lake Kerkini for the second time with us, he asked us, “when are you going to run a trip to photograph the spring birds?”

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9 more images showing off the beautiful birds of Kerkini

An egret perched on one of the submerged trees in the dead forest photographed during the Spring Birds of Kerkini photography Holiday conducted by NaturesLens

This is the second of the blog postings from Steen’s visit to northern Greece during Spring 2019 with us to capture images of the beautiful birds of Kerkini – the first blog post. can be found here.

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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.

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22 Images from the awesome Zimanga Wildlife Hides

A backlit portrait of a yawning lion photographed during the NaturesLens Zimanga Wildlife Hides and Safaris photography tour

In September 2019, I led our second trip of the year to make use of the main reserve & Zimanga wildlife hides in South Africa. Our photography tour is a combination of hide photography & traditional game drives, with the main attraction being the overnight hides & the opportunities that may present itself.

The Big Five can be photographed here but on this particular occasion, the leopard eluded us. More on that story later!
Our first game drive set the tone for the remainder of the trip – we walked with a pair of cheetah brothers. This is a truly breathtaking experience – there are no words to describe what a privilege it was to be in the company of these stunning, graceful predators.
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