Honey Buzzard Returned to the Wild at Quinta dos Malvedos

Peter Symington releasing the bird over Quinta dos Malvedos

A European honey buzzard — Pernis apivorus — nursed back to health by the UTAD (Universidade de Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro) Wildlife Rescue Centre was returned to the wild at Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos on May 18th. Peter Symington, the SFE’s retired winemaker, who has been staying at the quinta with family and friends, released the female honey buzzard from one of the property’s highest vineyards at 350 metres (1,148 feet).

The Malvedos honey buzzard was taken to the University’s Veterinary Hospital in August 2016 after it had been found by members of the public, downed and injured near Miranda do Douro, a town in the north-eastern extremity of Portugal where the Douro marks the international border with Spain. The bird had been illegally shot, sustaining two fractures in one of its wings. It was operated on successfully at the veterinary hospital — which works closely with the wildlife rescue centre — and from October it began its recovery programme which consisted of several months of flying exercises in the rescue centre’s dedicated circular flight tunnel, the only one of its kind in the Iberian Peninsula. It’s unique in that it allows large birds of prey to fly continuously, thus regaining muscular strength and recovering flying proficiency in preparation for a return to nature.

Although its steady recovery was completed during the middle of winter, the rescue centre could not release the bird as it belongs to a migratory species, which flies south to sub-Saharan Africa at the end of the European Autumn in search of better feeding grounds, returning to Europe only in the spring for the mating season. As its name suggests, the honey buzzard feeds on bees and wasps and their larvae, raiding their nests. Its thick plumage, its claws covered with thick protective scales and narrow slit nostrils, protect it from attack by its preferred prey.

Dr. João Tomás, the veterinarian who accompanied the honey buzzard for release at Malvedos explained to those present that during the second week of May, approximately 8,000 honey buzzards were tracked over the Strait of Gibraltar, flying north on their return to Europe where they will mate, usually with the same partner, build nests and raise their chicks. He said that sightings of honey buzzards had already been reported in the Douro Superior and in the Trás-os-Montes and Beira Alta districts of Portugal. This was the signal that the timing was right to release ‘their’ bird.

The Symington family has supported the University’s Wildlife Rescue Centre (Centro de Recuperação de Animais Selvagens — CRAS, for short) since 2011 and several species of birds of prey have been freed at different family vineyards in the Douro over recent years. Malvedos is home to a remarkable variety of bird species, which include golden orioles, bee-eaters, turtle doves, Iberian magpies and larger birds such as black kites, which frequently nest in the wooded areas of the quinta. Just moments after the release of the honey buzzard, João Tomás identified a Bonelli’s eagle gliding effortlessly on the thermals above the vineyards.

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Porto and the Early Days of Motoring

Andrew James Symington's (at the wheel) Daimler 1912
Andrew James Symington’s (at the wheel) Daimler 1912. Photograph: Unknown
Andrew James Symington was the first of the Symington family to work in the Port trade, and came to Porto in 1892. He is the great-grandfather of the current generation of the Symington Family running the company. In the below excerpt from his book, “A Life in the Port Trade”, James Symington briefly describes a Porto that once was, and his grandfather’s penchant for motoring.

“AJS (Andrew James Symington) prospered in the Port business and acquired a fine house in the Avenida da Boavista. This was a major new artery running from the city, through what up to that time had been farmland, down to the sea. His son, Maurice was born in this house in 1895 and was to die there in 1974, in the same room in which he had been born. The house had a fine garden and AJS built a lovely and very English drawing room which gave onto it. He also had a special ceiling constructed in the dining room with a ventilator so that the cigar smoke could escape.

My grandfather was an early enthusiast of motoring and acquired a 1912 Daimler in which he ventured on occasion to the Douro over the appalling roads of the time. More usually however the train was the comfortable and practical way to visit the Douro, some three and a half hours’ journey from Porto. Although AJS was a keen motorist his skill at the wheel never matched his enthusiasm and he regularly battered his cars. On one occasion when he had just acquired a new car – a 1922 Cadillac – he decided he did not much like its colour and resolved to have it repainted. His sons, knowing full well that it would require a repaint very soon in their father’s hands, persuaded him that the colour was very pleasant and so it remained unaltered. Sure enough a few weeks later whilst driving out of his front gate, he scraped the whole side of the car and it had to be repaired and was then painted in his chosen colour.”

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