Birding with ZEISS Victory SF binoculars

In 2014 Zeiss brought out our new benchmark binoculars for Nature lovers, the Victory SF, and we searched high and low for somewhere special to make our promotional brochures. We thought of places from around the globe but finally settled on Portugal as offering the species, the location and the weather that was necessary – and we’re glad we did as that’s how we came across Quinta do Barranco da Estrada, better known as “Paradise in Portugal” – and not without reason.
The Quinta is a small lakeside eco-lodge in the south of the country and is the home of Frank and Daniela who run it with a care and attention to detail that is a rarer and rarer commodity nowadays.

Not that you’d ever know it, but it’s completely off-the-grid, with no connection to any state-run utilities whatsoever; all the electricity is generated on-site, 90 % of it solar, and of course the same goes for the piping hot water. Its carbon footprint is minimal, but that’s not the only reason it works for the betterment of the environment, for, added to that, it works hard towards nature conservation. In an area of low incomes and high unemployment, it works equally hard for the local economy, providing permanent employment for its staff, some of whom have been working at the Quinta for over 25 years. It’s about an hour’s drive away from Faro’s international airport, so it was easy and inexpensive enough to get to.

Once there the rest of the busy world seemed very far away.

It sits in isolated splendour overlooking a huge freshwater lake and the loudest noise is the hum of bees on the wing and the trill of birds in the trees that drop down to the water’s edge; where the canoes moored to the private pontoon invite the Quinta’s guests to explore the 250 km of the lake’s coastline. The lake itself is a refreshing change from the chilly Atlantic; it’s clean, (so clean you can watch the fish), and between April and October the temperature is never far off 28 ºC, so swimming is one of the most sought after of the various activities to enjoy.

But, quite apart from the Quinta’s position and amenities, there were two bonuses that drew us to the Quinta, and those two were Frank and Daniela themselves.

Not only are they both exceptional hosts and really work hard to make everyone’s stay enjoyable and memorable, but both bring individual skills to their hospitality matrix that made the Quinta live up to its alter-ego name of “Paradise in Portugal” and these two skills suited us in particular.

Complementing Daniela’s culinary skills, there’s Frank’s vast local knowledge – and local ornithological knowledge in particular. He’s been a professional Birdwatching and Nature Guide in the area for nearly thirty years now. What he doesn’t know about southern Portugal really isn’t worth knowing. For example, when he overheard one of our team expressing an interest in seeing Otters he at once organised two separate outings over the next few days specifically so we could watch these elusive creatures – and that was of course in addition to finding us our most desired species while we stayed at the Quinta, the Great Bustard, the heaviest flying bird in the world.

What’s more, he’d even bought a pair of Victory SFs before we’d got in touch with him, so we knew we were dealing with a professional here! We want to keep it to ourselves – a complement the Quinta’s heard many time before without a doubt – but we think it’s only fair we should share our good fortune in finding the Quinta with you, our ZEISS Family.

The websites of Paradise in Portugal and Birding in Portugal have a wealth of information about all aspects of a holiday there, but let’s look at one week of our itinerary with Birding in Portugal.

One week birdwatching itinerary with Birding in Portugal

Arrive Faro and explore salt pans and coastal lakes near Faro with a picnic, afterwards transferring to Quinta do Barranco da Estrada (QBE) – possible species include Flamingo, Avocet, Kentish Plover, Little ringed Plover, Squacco Heron, Little Bittern, Red crested Pochard, Purple Swamp Hen, Purple Heron.

Day 2
Local Birding near QBE. This would be a varied experience including some river valley, some open hillsides, some village gardens and some cork oak forests. Possible species include Nightingale, Corn Bunting, Azure winged magpie, White Stork, Common Waxbill, Serin, Golden Oriole. This would also be a rest day where the guests could make use of QBE’s facilities should they so wish.

Day 3
Explore the Plains of the Alentejo, returning to QBE. One hour drive to the start, another five to six hours birding and one hour drive back home. Possible species include Gt. & Little Bustards, Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Bunting, Red-rumped swallow, Rufous Bushchat, Stone Curlew, Black-winged Stilt, Thekla, Crested, Wood and Calandra Larks, Hoopoe, Short toed, Booted and Bonelli’s Eagles, Montagu’s Harrier, Black-winged Kite, Lesser Kestrel, Collared Pratincole, Black-eared Wheatear, Spanish Sparrow.

Day 4
We explore the alpine meadows and scrub in the high hills near Foia before dropping down to the west coast and turning south to Cape St Vincent.

Possible species include Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Bunting, Linnet, Cuckoo, Red-billed Chough, Spectacled Warbler, Woodchat and Southern Grey Shrikes, Pallid Swift and Peregrine Falcon.

Day 5
Rest day.

Day 6
Explore Lagoa Sto. André and then south along the west coast back to QBE. One and a half hours to the start. Possible species include Bee eater, Marsh Harrier, Zitting Cisticola, Gt. Reed Warbler, Savi’s Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Dartford Warbler, Bar & Black-tailed Godwits, Hobby, Black Kite.

Day 7
Local birding either in hide on the look-out for Water Rails and Cetti’s Warblers etc or on a walk around a local valley with self-sufficient farmsteads that hold good numbers of Azure-winged Magpies etc.

Day 8
Transfer to and fly out from Faro.