Sunday, 25 November 2012

Bald Eagle in Lisbon

Although we are both keen football fans and regularly go to matches when we are in England, not until yesterday had we been to a match here in Portugal.  Particularly since local team Olhanense were promoted to the First Division in 2009, we have often looked at fixture lists and talked about going to see them but somehow it hasn’t happened.

So what finally prompted us to go to last night’s away fixture against S.L. Benfica?  Well, you won’t be surprised to learn that there was a bird involved!

Mural in subway outside the Estádio da Luz

Benfica is definitely the biggest club in Portugal.  Based in Lisbon, they play at the Estádio da Luz, an impressive stadium with a capacity of 65,647 that was built for the 2004 European Championship.  So going to see and experience the stadium was one reason to go.

However, the clincher was probably the chance to see the Benfica mascot, a Bald Eagle named Águia Vitória that flies inside the stadium before each match and eventually lands on top of the club emblem.  Not that we haven’t seen plenty of Bald Eagles before, you understand, but we had heard a lot about this tradition and thought it might be fun to go and see it.

The opportunity to go presented itself when we saw in the local newspaper that we could travel on a supporters’ coach from Olhão for 25 Euros, a price that included the match ticket as well as the coach fare!  With the kick-off scheduled for 8.30pm, we were puzzled as to why the coach was leaving Olhão at noon for the 300km journey but that was the deal and we went along with it.

Unfortunately, as we headed north the weather worsened and by the time we crossed the Tejo river on the 25 de Abril Bridge, the city of Lisbon was shrouded in low cloud and it was raining.  It continued to rain all evening.

Across the road from the Estádio da Luz is the Colombo Shopping Centre, one of the largest malls in Europe.  Maybe that’s why we arrived at the ground four hours before the kick-off.  Maybe the Olhanense fans were treating this as a Christmas shopping trip!  Anyway, it was somewhere we could get a bite to eat and importantly stay out of the rain. 

We entered the stadium as soon as it was open and after some fairly stringent security and a steep climb to the third tier of the stand, we quickly found our seats.  One description of the stadium that we have read refers to its polycarbonate roof allowing the Sun's rays to penetrate it, lighting the stadium.  Unfortunately, we were there on a Saturday evening, long after the Sun had disappeared and the roof was also being penetrated by heavy rain!  Away fans everywhere seem to draw the short straw!

The match itself was fairly uninspiring.  The first half was played almost exclusively in one half of the pitch with Benfica creating quite a few scoring opportunities but managing only a single goal in the 26th minute via a fairly 'soft' penalty taken by Oscar Cardozo.  Olhanense did show a bit more ambition during the second half but seldom really looked likely to equalise.  They conceded a second goal in the 72nd minute from a Luisão header that bounced before going over the visiting goalkeeper.  The attendance was reported to be 24,107 but the crowd was quiet and we were surprised that there were so many – it was difficult to judge with people scattered about in the huge stadium.

Our view from behind netting at the Estádio da Luz

There were probably no more than a couple of hundred Olhanense fans and they made very little noise at all.  It seems that, much like their team, they had showed up at Benfica resigned to the fact that they were going to lose and on a miserable, wet night they weren’t going to get too worked up about it.  In fact, there was much more noise from them on the coach than there was during the match.

We arrived home at 3.30am, still drying out, but at least we had seen the Benfica eagle!  All this was on a day when June’s first love, West Bromwich Albion, scored a great win at the other Stadium of Light in Sunderand taking them to third place in the Premier League.   

Friday, 23 November 2012

African bee-eaters & kingfishers

It was fun to see European Bee-eaters in Botswana. I wonder where they were from. Possibly not from Europe as there is a resident population of this species breeding in Southern Africa and it is much more likely that they were 'local' birds. BWP suggests that birds that breed in south-west Europe migrate only as far as West Africa south to Ghana but whether there have been any ringing recoveries to confirm that isn't easy to find out! Six species of bee-eaters were recorded during the tour of which I managed to photograph four: Little, Blue-cheeked, Southern Carmine and White-fronted.

The number of bee-eater species seen on the tour was impressive but they were out-numbered by kingfishers. Eight species were recorded of which I photographed just three: Giant, Malachite and Brown-hooded. The last of these (photographed in Namibia) is the odd one out of the three as it is, like several African kingfishers, a largely woodland bird whereas both Giant and Malachite are mainly fish eaters. 

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Avian Adventure in Africa

Peter has recently returned from leading another Avian Adventures tour, this time in Botswana, Namibia and Zambia.  The tour was operated by Letaka Safaris, based in Maun, and the local guide was Gabatsholwe Disho, known to his friends simply as Disho.


After an overnight flight from Heathrow to Johannesburg and an onward flight to Maun, the tour began in the Moremi Game Reserve on the eastern side of the Okavango Delta.  Here we camped for three nights and explored the surrounding area of mopane and acacia woodland, floodplains and lagoons.

Lilac-breasted Roller

Camping in the African bush is a great experience!  The night sky in an area with absolutely no light pollution is magnificent.  Lying in a flimsy tent listening to Lions roaring and to the howls of Spotted Hyaenas can be a worry for some, but waking to a dawn chorus that includes the calls of Fiery-necked Nightjar, African Fish Eagle, Black Cuckoo, Black-collared Barbet and Red-billed Hornbill is simply wonderful.

Burchell's Sandgrouse

Great White Pelican

From Moremi we moved just a short distance to Khwai River for another three nights camping and then to Lake Ngami for our last night under canvas.  The whole camping experience was most enjoyable and something I would recommend for at least part of any trip to this part of the world.


African Fish Eagle

After that we were in comfortable lodges for five nights - Drotsky’s in Botswana, Caprivi River Lodge next to the Zambezi River in Namibia and finally, Taita Falcon Lodge in Zambia, close to Victoria Falls.

White-faced Whistling Ducks

Victoria Falls isn’t the highest or the widest waterfall in the world and November isn’t the best time of year to see it as the volume of water in the Zambezi is relatively low but it’s still a very impressive sight.

Wattled Cranes

Just a small part of Victoria Falls

Highlights among the many birds seen were Pel’s Fishing Owl, African Finfoot, White-backed Night Heron, Lesser Jacana, Slaty Egret, Wattled Crane, Rock Pratincole, African Skimmer and Schalow’s Turaco.  We saw five different Leopards, more than twenty Lions and about thirty other mammal species.  All in all it was a really great trip and there are lots more photographs!