Friday, 2 January 2009

Big Day

After five consecutive days of cloudy, gloomy weather with a lot of rain, yesterday was an improvement…of sorts. We did at last see the sun but only for an hour or so late morning. In fact once the fog had cleared it was pleasantly warm for a while. And then the clouds returned and by mid-afternoon it was almost dark and once again pouring with rain. Not a great day for birding!

However, it being the first day of a new birding year we went out early, before we knew how the weather was going to be, to see as many bird species as we could during the day. We started by driving to Ludo Farm where we arrived at 8.00am. Visibility was poor, we couldn’t even see the planes taking off from nearby Faro airport; finding birds wasn’t easy. As we set off for what was going to be a four-hour walk, Cetti’s Warblers were calling, a Great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming and a couple of Penduline Tits showed, but we decided not to worry too much about the smaller birds for the time being and instead hope for an improvement in the weather that would make them easier to see later on.

By the time we reached Lago do São Lourenço we had seen most of the expected duck species and we soon added Red-crested Pochard, Tufted Duck and Greater Scaup to the list, the last of these a bonus that we hadn’t expected. A single Glossy Ibis eventually made a brief appearance but there was no such co-operation from the Little Bittern that we had hoped for.

The walk back to the car produced all the wader, gull and tern species that we expected here. Weather-wise this was the best part of the day and whereas earlier we had seen only one or two other people, there were now quite a few walkers and joggers along the trail. In spite of this activity we found plenty of Serins, Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Common Waxbills, a couple of Corn Buntings and a Bluethroat as we headed back. Raptors were also flying: Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Common Buzzard and Booted Eagle were added to our list.

Before leaving Ludo we had three species to look for that we knew we wouldn’t find elsewhere: Firecrest, Short-toed Treecreeper and Crested Tit. We had parked the car at the edge of woodland, it was just a question of how much time we could afford to spend. In the event we settled for two out of three, gave up on Crested Tit and at 12.20pm set off to Castro Marim with our species total standing at 85.

After days of rain we needed our wellies for the trail around the saltpans at Cerro do Bufo. We planned to spend no more than a couple of hours here and we had a list of target species most of which we found without difficulty. Mostly these were birds that were exactly in places where we have seen them before: Greylag Goose, Shelduck, Golden Plover, Black Redstart, Southern Grey Shrike, Ruff, Audouin’s Gull. We were let down by the Peregrine Falcon that for once wasn’t sitting on the fencepost that we have seen it on at least six times; we simply didn’t reach the point on the trail from which we could have seen the flock of Black-necked Grebes. By 3.00pm it was pretty gloomy but a few hirundines were flying, including a single House Martin as well as the expected Barn Swallows and Crag Martin.

Next, as the weather deteriorated further, we wasted 45 minutes looking in vain for Little Bustards and Lesser Short-toed Larks. By now it was raining and very little was flying. There was time for one more stop before we returned to Tavira but not surprisingly there was no sign of a Little Tern.

In Tavira we went first to the quarry but it was now so gloomy we could barely see the rocks let alone the resident Blue Rock Thrush. We hoped for a Grey Wagtail here but that, too, was missing. We checked a Barn Owl roost-site but it was unoccupied. We were tempted to give up and go home. But no, there were two species of which we remained confident and both Slender-billed Gull and Northern Gannet were duly added to bring our total for the day to 106 (plus Feral Pigeon, if you will).

As always happens on these so-called “Big Days” we missed seeing several species that we would normally expect to find without even trying. For instance, we’ve seen Grey Wagtail in the town centre this morning and Dartford Warblers are fairly widespread and usually pop up somewhere. However, the weather was the important factor that limited our New Year’s Day total and given different conditions we would hope to see maybe 115 or more. Maybe next year!

We got wet and muddy and had some fun along the way but once a year is enough for this kind of birding. Now we’re back to actually looking at the birds, not just ticking them…

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