A few weeks ago, you may remember the exciting news of how, for the first time in the Algarve, a colony of 3,000 Greater Flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus) has successfully nested in the saltpans between Castro Marim and Vila Real de Santo António and we all got to see the beautiful pictures of 550 cute little grey additions to this flamboyant family.
Of course, to avoid a flurry of press (or just curious people) turning up and putting them off during this delicate time, the Instituto da Conservação da Natureza e das Florestas (ICNF) had kept this exciting development under their hats for quite a while before actually announcing it. In fact, throughout the entire process, the ICNF only trusted one man to go carefully out into the marshes to get the shots, and that man was Agostinho Gomes.
All of the incredible pictures and videos we all enjoyed were taken by him, and after he very graciously let us use them, The Portugal News thought it might be interesting to go find out a bit more about the man behind the camera, as well as to get a little update on how the newest members of the flamboyance are doing, from the man who really knows.
Agostinho Gomes and his photos of birds
I drove up to Vila Real do Santo Antonio and found him at the office of his real estate company, Janelas do Marques. Yes, that’s right he’s not a photographer by trade but as he told me when we sat down for a coffee, it’s his real passion and if he could pay the bills with that, it’s what he would do all the time. He must love it, as he told me that he often wakes up in the dark to get out there at sunrise to catch the birds when they are most active (as well as with all that glorious golden light that photographers love so much) and spends a few hours there before he has to get to work. He has been doing this since 1984.
I began to pick his brain a little about photography, and said that the world of cameras must have changed a lot since he first started and that it’s probably cheaper now? As in this digital world, you don’t have to pay to get your films developed and you can afford to be a little more ‘trigger happy’. He said, well… yes. But one problem disappears and a new one arises. He can now take so many that he’s burdened with choice, and since he can’t bring himself to delete any he ends up having to invest in more and more hard disks to store them all in. Not to mention how the sensors on the new cameras wear out pretty quick and need replacing every few years.
Agostinho says he’s almost exclusively a bird photographer, and his Facebook and Instagram pages are indeed filled with beautiful pictures of all kinds of Algarvian avifauna. I said that surely his friends and family try to rope him into being the photographer at weddings and things. He admitted that they do try... But it’s just not his thing to take pictures of creatures he has to ask to say “cheese”. The only exception to this is his two year old grandson, who he proudly showed me was the wallpaper on his phone.
Over the years, he has learned a lot about the local birdlife and even takes people out for bird tours in September and October to share his knowledge on where and when to get the best snaps.
“So,” I asked eagerly, “how are the baby flamingos doing?” And the exciting news that I can now reveal is that they are just starting ‘flight school’, with lots of them flapping frantically away trying to get airborne.
Agostinho told me how exciting it was, back in November, when the flamingos all started to do their mating dance (that I’m very tempted to call the flamenco) where they all come together and flap their wings, showing off their very pink under-feathers. Come April, they all started to suspect that they had laid their eggs, but since they were all huddled around them, Agostinho couldn’t actually spot any. (Nobody wanted to get their hopes up, as there have already been unsuccessful nesting attempts in Portugal in the 1980s and in 2010.)
But in May, Agostinho couldn’t believe his eyes, as a grey carpet seemed to be following the adults around and, after blinking twice, he realized it was a band of baby chicks. Caught completely off guard, Agostinho didn’t even have his camera with him and had to take the first pictures using his smartphone, which he said was tricky at such a distance.
And so, that’s it. The flamingos that normally fly off for the summer have stayed here and have been teaching their toddlers how to survive.
It’s a dangerous world for the chicks, as there are lots of things that would like to eat a baby flamingo. In some rather terrifying videos Agostinho took, you can see seagulls swooping around the group of preschoolers as they attempt to cross the river with their parents. But flamingos’ strength is in numbers. They are very social creatures and all look out for each other.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether this will all become a habit and the flamingos will choose to nest here again. But one thing is for sure, it will be Agostinho who will be the first to know.