The unexpected beauty of the Algarve’s hidden wildlife.
They are not the most commonly spotted animals in the wild, but if you’re patient enough and enjoy birdwatching/photographing from a hide, you may be surprised by some truly amazing wildlife sightings. From red fox cubs exploring the Monchique hills to a black pig roaming freely around the countryside in Sagres, or even rarely seen rabbits hopping around just before sunrise in Beja (Alentejo), the list of animal species to be spotted — and photographed — is long.
This is exactly what has been happening to Carl Hawker, a nature enthusiast who spends most of his spare time pursuing his love of birdwatching and nature photography. For the past four years, Carl has travelled all over Portugal with his camera around his neck, capturing photos of hundreds of birds: “There are around 300 species of birds in Portugal. So far, I’ve been able to photograph 278, so I’m nearly there,” says Carl, who is also one of the leading voices in the campaign to protect Lagoa’s Alagoas Brancas wetland, a haven for many bird species.
His hobby took a more serious turn when he started using a photographic hide which he made himself to blend in with the surroundings when he is ‘out and about’ doing what he loves the most — photographing the region’s wildlife. His other passions include yoga and generally getting fit (he owns the Just Body gym in Lagoa and is known for his pursuit of the ‘healthy mind, healthy body’ way of life).
The hide helps him remain unnoticed while he snaps stunning photos of animals that are rarely spotted in the Algarve. But some animals aren’t so easily fooled. “The black pig that I photographed, which probably had escaped some farm, came sniffing around the hide. I had to throw some food out so that he’d go away, but he then came back for more!” Eventually, Carl was able to scare the pig away and take another photo for his collection. While his main goal continues to be photographing birds, the hide provides him with the perfect camouflage for other animals to unwittingly steal the spotlight. So, as well as loving and respecting nature, what else do you need if you want to start taking your own wildlife photos? “You’ll need a good lens,” Carl says. “To take good quality photos from a distance, you’ll need a lens of at least 400mm.” If you’re using a hide, however, a 200mm or 300mm lens can suffice.
Plenty of patience is required, too. You’ll have to free up a lot of your time if you want to become serious about wildlife photography. “I usually spend around six hours inside my hide. I set up before the sun comes up so that the wildlife is not aware that I’m there.” Take plenty of water and, of course, some snacks as the wait could be long.
Can Carl recommend an area for aspiring nature photographers to get started? “There’s a bird hide overlooking the lake at Quinta do Lago golf course which is open to anyone. There are dozens of bird species that people can photograph there.” Otherwise, a quick Google search on ‘Algarve birdwatching’ will take you to many good sites and guides on the subject.