Injured peregrine falcon recovers in the Wildlife Rescue and Recovery Centre at the Veterinary Hospital of the University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro

At the beginning of December 2015, the Wildlife Rescue and Recovery Centre (Centro de Recuperação de Animais Selvagens) at the Veterinary Hospital of the University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro (UTAD) in Vila Real, Portugal, was entrusted with the care of a young, male peregrine falcon. Shot, presumably by hunters, near the town of Esposende on the Northern coast of Portugal, the bird was making his first migration south for the winter.

Since 2011 Symington Family Estates has supported the important work of this specialist centre with which it shares the values and commitment of protecting and preserving all forms of wildlife in the natural habitats of the Douro region. Of the Symington family’s total landholding of 2,118 hectares in the Douro Valley, approximately half is under vine and the remainder is largely made of natural vegetation, woodland, olive groves, fruit orchards, etc. —  besides which all the vineyards are managed under integrated production management and organic viticulture, which translates into minimum intervention in the vineyards. This helps safeguard a balanced environment and many of the properties are in effect havens for wildlife.

The young peregrine falcon was brought to the centre on the first of December with a broken wing resulting from a gunshot. He has since undergone surgery and is now being prepared to return to the wild. What is interesting about this particular bird is that he was ringed by the West Cornwall Ringing Group in Morvah, Cornwall in July of last year. As the first ringed bird the group have ever relocated alive in Portugal, it was with great interest that they learned of the 2000 kilometre journey he made before his unfortunate encounter. You can read what they say on their blog, here.

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The vets, Dr João Tomas and Dr Roberto Sargo examining the peregrine falcon

X-ray images show that the bird’s wing was fractured by a relatively close range shotgun blast and some of the shotgun pellets are visible in the x-ray (below), and will now remain in the bird.

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X-ray of the peregrine falcon
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The peregrine falcon’s injured wing

Since its surgery the bird’s fracture has consolidated, allowing him to move from intensive care to a semi-covered aviary in which he will be able to further heal. Although a fracture in a bird this size can recover in approximately 3 weeks, it takes significantly longer for a bird to once again become fit for the wild. If things are made too easy for them in captivity they have a tendency to become lazy, something that creates difficulties when they are reintroduced into their natural habitats.

The next step in the bird’s recovery is for him to be introduced into the centre’s flight tunnel. A two-storey, octagonal structure, it is the only one of its size in the Iberian Peninsula and enables recovering birds to fly continually at some height in order to recover muscle mass. It allows all but the largest birds to manoeuvre in mid-flight, something that would not be possible in smaller tunnels, and is thus a very effective facility for the rehabilitation of wild birds, and in particular birds of prey. When the peregrine falcon is capable of flying 500 meters without stopping he will be deemed to have recovered enough muscle mass to be returned to the wild.

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Dr Daniel Mosteiro, Dr João Tomas and Dr Roberto Sargo (left to right) outside the centre’s octagonal flight tunnel

Long considered a noble bird, since the Middle Ages the peregrine falcon has been associated with the title of prince in the hierarchy of birds of prey. It is also the fastest member of the animal kingdom, and has been recorded flying at speeds of up to 389 kilometres per hour when diving to strike its prey.

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Dr Roberto Sargo preparing to weigh a Eurasian eagle owl

Also in the care of the centre at the moment is a magnificent Eurasian eagle owl, which following several months of care should soon be returned to the wild in one of Symington Family Estate’s vineyards.

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The Eurasian eagle owl in the care of the rescue and recovery unit

Hopefully by March the peregrine falcon will be fit enough to return to the wild accompanied by a GPS tracker that will trace his flight to his summer destination. In the meantime, we will follow his recovery, and the outstanding work of the centre’s dedicated team with several follow-up blog posts over the next couple of months.

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The Veterinary Hospital at UTAD
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Mesa Marcada by Graham’s

Last Monday the Portuguese food blog Mesa Marcada held its annual award ceremony for the Top 10 Portuguese chefs and restaurants of 2015. Sponsored by Graham’s, the event was held at Honorato Hamburguers Artesanais in Lisbon, and awards were presented in several categories, including Best Restaurant, Best Chef, Mesa Diaria or “daily table” (for a reasonable priced/”day to day” restaurant) and Rising Chef (for a chef who placed significantly higher in the competition this year than the previous edition of the awards).

For the second year running it was José Avillez, and his two Michelin Star restaurant, Belcanto, that were awarded both Best Chef and Best Restaurant. Belcanto, which first opened in 1958 in Chiado, Lisbon (near the house where one of Portugal’s greatest writers and poets, Fernando Pessoa, was born), was refurbished by José Avillez in the Summer of 2011 and has since become a reference in Portuguese cuisine.

Second and third place for Best Chef were awarded to Leonel Perreira, of São Gabriel, and Hans Neuner, of Ocean, (which also placed second in the Best Restaurant category) respectively.

Over the course of what was a great evening, Graham’s filmed several interviews with some of the award winning chefs, and over the coming weeks we will publish them here. In order to sate your appetite until then however, below is a teaser of what is to come. You can also find the full list of winners and more information on the Mesa Marcada blog (in Portuguese).

[wpvideo HuoazBtr]

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High Water in Vila Nova de Gaia

After a week of heavy rains over Porto and further upstream in the Douro, last night saw high water and partial flooding in the lower lying area of Vila Nova de Gaia. Reaching its highest at around 3 o’clock in the morning, the water crept to within inches of the shop fronts and Port lodges on the quays. However, by 9.30, the water had receded to the just below the level of the street (pictured) and an impressive current was visibly carrying the water out to sea.

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View of Porto across the high water of the Douro

While floods are relatively common in Porto, now due to the construction of successive dams on the river throughout the 20th century, they have become fewer and less destructive. The dams allow some degree of control over the water coming from the Douro catchment area, and only release when it is safer to do so.

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Blue sky appearing above the Chapel of Our Lady of Piety for the first time in over a week

Graham’s is not in a position to worry too much however, as our lodge, constructed in 1890, is located about 50 meters above sea level, and as such is not in danger from flooding.

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