Thursday, 11 December 2008

Bunting hunting

It was a little over a month ago that we received a call from Simon Wates telling us that Thijs Valkenburg had just trapped and ringed a Little Bunting at a site near Portimão. At that point the bird had still not been released but we were in Tavira, a 90-minute drive away, much too long a time to keep it held in a bag. Little Bunting is quite a rare species in Portugal and it would have been nice to see one here but clearly this wasn’t going to be it.

And then earlier this week came the news that a Little Bunting had been seen again at the same ringing site! Assuming that this must be the same bird and that it had been in the area for at least a month, we figured that it probably wasn’t going anywhere any time soon. Waiting for a day when the weather was forecast to be sunny and warm seemed sensible and so we fixed with Ray Tipper and Simon that we would all go bunting hunting today.

Well our luck changed! We were well on our way west when once again a call came from Simon. The message this time was quite simple - he was already at the ringing site and we were to join him there as quickly as possible! Thijs had just caught a bunting…but it wasn’t a Little Bunting!
When we arrived, there was a certain amount of excitement amongst those present as Thijs was processing what we could quickly see was a Rustic Bunting, a first-winter male. We are currently aware of only one previous record of this species in Portugal, one trapped at Alvor in November 1990. Our timing was perfect!

Rustic Bunting

Later, we spent a long time searching for our original target, the Little Bunting, but to no avail. The site is extensive and comprises rice fields with adjacent marsh and reedbeds. Birds in the rice stubble were almost impossible to see. We did see Water Pipits, Meadow Pipits, White Wagtails and Corn Buntings and there were 20 or more Reed Buntings to scrutinise but it was like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. More obvious were Common Snipe, Green Sandpiper and a couple of Black-winged Stilts, plus a Marsh Harrier and a Peregrine Falcon that flew over, while Blackcap, Bluethroat, Common Waxbill and Spotted Munia were amongst the species mist-netted while we were there.
Eventually we gave up and headed for home, making a brief visit on the way to the Parque Ambiental at Vilamoura. Here we had good views of a first-winter Black-crowned Night Heron, never an easy species to find in the Algarve.

Black-crowned Night Heron

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