Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Old Friends

These last three days we've had multiple visits to Castro Marim and to the Tavira and Santa Luzia saltpans. As a result and not surprisingly we've been seeing the same birds - that's not just the same species, we mean the same individuals.

Some individuals are easily recognised. Yesterday, for instance we saw both of the local hybrid 'grey egrets' that have been in the Tavira area for several years. They each have their favourite feeding areas and can be found most days without too much effort. They're like old friends.

Presumed hybrid Western Reef Egret x Little Egret

Colour-ringed birds are another obvious example of individuals that can be easily recognised. We're currently looking for a Black-tailed Godwit that has been on the saltpans here during the last three winters. We're hoping it has survived to return.

Black-tailed Godwit

There's currently a Black-tailed Godwit at Santa Luzia that has a damaged leg and can therefore be identified as an individual. It feeds in exactly the same place day after day. The likelihood is that the other Godwits feeding with it are also repeatedly using the same small area - not just day after day but perhaps, year after year.

Each year we find wintering Bluethroats in the exactly the same small patch of vegetation, Caspian Terns on the same saltpan, Stone-curlews in the same field. How many of them are, we wonder, like the colour-ringed Godwit, individuals returning to places they know to be safe and to have a good supply of food? And, of course, it's not only the repeated use of wintering sites, for birds heading for sub-Saharan Africa it's reliance on the same stopover sites for 're-fuelling'.


So then there is the question of what happens to migrant birds such as these when the places they know and rely on are changed from one year to the next. What happens to the bird that flies hundreds of miles and arrives tired and hungry to find that its familiar reedbed has been destroyed, its usual wetland drained, a golf course where that stubble field used to be? Some will no doubt be able to adapt, to find another site, but for some it will be the difference between surviving or not.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Alentejo day

It was quality rather than quantity today as we made our first visit for some time to the Castro Verde area.

As always in the Alentejo, Great Bustards were a prime target and during the day we found 40 or more without too much difficulty. The first ones were a long way off, shimmering in the heat haze, but eventually we saw some at reasonably close range and had good telescope views.

Remarkably, we saw Great Bustards, a Golden Eagle, about 20 Eurasian Griffons, two Black Vultures and several Black-bellied Sandgrouse all from the same vantage point. The vultures were on a sheep carcass with several Common Ravens in attendance. All this was enjoyed with the sweet song of a Woodlark in the background, at times the only sound to be heard - definitely a 'cosmic birding experience'.

It was quite a good day for raptors - apart from those already mentioned we saw mostly Red Kites and Common Buzzards but we did get first class views of a Bonelli's Eagle, not an everyday occurrence. The only Little Bustards of the day were ones that were flushed by the Bonelli's Eagle although Red-legged Partridges seemed to be its main target.

Not a long species list but some first class birding in a beautiful area and with wonderful, sunny but not too warm weather.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Waders again

More 'admin' the last couple of days while the weather has been wet and windy but staying home has not been all bad news. At lunchtime on Monday we heard a Wryneck calling in the trees outside and when we went to look for it we found there were actually two of them. We were only out there for a few minutes but could see that the trees were full of newly arrived Blackcaps. Today a Black-shouldered Kite(or should that be Black-winged Kite?) was hovering out there briefly but was quickly carried off on the wind.

We did manage to get out for a couple of hours late on Monday afternoon to have a look at the local waders around Tavira. There were no rarities but plenty of birds to watch, photograph and enjoy.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Another Sunday at Castro Marim

When we arrived at Castro Marim this morning it was barely light and decidely chilly; for the first hour or more another layer of clothes would have been very welcome! However, by the time we finished our walk more than five hours later the temperature had reached a more 'normal' 24°C.

There was no salt harvesting activity this morning and for a while we had the place to ourselves. It being Sunday though, one of the days on which hunting is allowed here, inevitably a few shots were fired over on the neighbouring farmland and the birds were skittish. A couple of patrolling Marsh Harriers probably didn't help. The ducks in particular, mostly Mallard and Shoveler, were quick to take off and there were plenty of opportunities also for photographing Grey Herons, Greater Flamingos and Cormorants in flight. A Stone-curlew also came by at one point.

Grey Heron

Great Cormorant

Greater Flamingos


After seeing Greylag Geese at Ludo on Friday, it was no surprise to find 13 of them here. In fact there were no real surprises at all this morning; we saw more Curlew Sandpipers than on our last visit including 50 or so in one flock; the regular flock of Black-necked Grebes was a long way off, tightly bunched and frequently diving but numbered at least 60 birds; there were 16 Little Terns, two Caspian Terns and a handful of Sandwich Terns; Audouin's and Slender-billed Gulls went uncounted; Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits are in their hundreds and although they were impossible to count today it looked as though there were still at least 200 Spoonbills. The species count for the morning was 72 and while migrants such as Northern Wheatear are still here, more and more winter birds are in evidence including Common Snipe, European Starlings and Meadow Pipits as well as the wildfowl.

Probably the morning's highlight was a flock of 34 Little Bustards, not because we don't regularly see them here but because they perhaps had more sense than to fly. We were certainly able to get closer to them while they remained on the ground than we ever have done before at Castro Marim. They just looked back at us and slowly moved away, continuing to feed as they went. Maybe they can tell the difference between a tripod and a shotgun!

Friday, 16 October 2009

Woodland Targets

We had arranged to be at Faro airport at lunchtime and needed no more excuse than that for spending the morning at Ludo. Much of our birding here in the Algarve concentrates on wetlands, particularly saltpans so we decided today to have a change and look for a few woodland species that we don't see very often.

Within no more than ten minutes of leaving the car two of our target birds had been found: Crested Tit and Short-toed Treecreeper. This was actually not too difficult but photographing them was a different matter and we came away with just this one image that we're willing to share!

Crested Tit

Chiffchaffs have become more plentiful in the last week and were a distraction when looking for other small birds. Blackcaps, too, were in evidence but the most numerous migrants were European Robins, as often heard as seen. Eventually we found our third target, a Firecrest, but unfortunately that proved to be even more camera-shy. Azure-winged Magpies, Eurasian Jays, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Green Woodpecker all followed before we resumed our usual walk towards the farm.

An unusual sight on the saltpans was a group of five Greylag Geese. We are used to seeing a few as winter visitors at Castro Marim but these are our first ever at Ludo. Last year we saw our first on 30th September so we've been expecting them. They looked rather out of place and didn't stay around very long.

Greylag Geese

By now it was mid morning and we were looking directly into sun when viewing the saltpans. A few of the usual wader species were present and, of course, a bunch of Flamingos. On the river, the ducks all seemed to be Gadwall and Wigeon with a few Great Crested and Little Grebes, Cormorants, Moorhens and Eurasian Coots. Raptors this morning were a single Marsh Harrier, an Osprey and a Common Buzzard plus two distant specks in the sky which we believe were probably Peregrine Falcons.

And that was that - we had a plane to meet...

Thursday, 15 October 2009

A Break from 'Admin'

We spent most of Monday at Castro Marim including a decent walk around Cerro do Bufo in the morning. Most of the expected birds were seen although for once we failed to find Little Bustards. On the way home we looked in at Altura tank hoping as always to find something unusual but it's been a while now since this short diversion brought any real reward. Actually there were 60 Little Grebes which is quite a good number for such a small site but we live in hope of finding another Red-knobbed Coot there or maybe a Grey Phalarope. Next time, maybe! At the end of the day we had seen 77 species, several of them in quite large numbers so there were no complaints.

Since then far too much time has been spent on 'admin', a term that covers everything we do that isn't birding! Finally, late this afternoon, we cracked, we couldn't take any more and had to get out for a couple of hours. We grabbed binoculars and the 50D and headed for the local saltpans, five minutes drive away.

The light was fading fast as these photographs were taken and well before we got to the Audouin's Gulls the camera really ought to have been put away. We spent a while watching the Stone-curlews and trying to work out how we might get close enough to get some proper photographs. We reckon there are now about 80 birds and it was impossible to resist taking a couple of 'snaps' even from a distance.

Black-tailed Godwit

Common Redshank



Lesser Black-backed Gull

Kentish Plover

Audouin's Gull

After watching a flock of about 100 Greater Flamingos flying across the saltpans against the backdrop of a typically vivid Algarve sunset, we thought about heading for home. Instead, not yet satisfied, we drove a short way and then sat in the car listening to the Cetti's Warblers, Azure-winged Magpies, Crested Larks and Little Owls and watching Cattle Egrets streaming in to roost. A Fox appeared from nowhere and for a moment sat in the road and then we got our bonus, a Black-crowned Night-Heron - a really scarce bird in these parts even if we have seen lots of them elsewhere. It would have been greedy to have asked for more...

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Quinta do Lago

We had an enjoyable visit to Quinta do Lago this morning but nothing very unusual to report. Duck numbers are increasing with Wigeon in particular quite vocal and we saw Booted Eagle and Osprey and a nice selection of waders on the saltpans as we walked through from Ludo farm. A highlight for June was one of her favourite Iberian Green Woodpeckers.

At Lago do São Lourenço Purple Swamp-hen, Kingfisher and Glossy Ibis were popular as ever but none gave really good views during our stay and the only Little Bittern that put in an appearance was at the far end of the lagoon. The photographs below are ones that were taken on our last visit on 2nd October.

As to be expected on a Sunday there were plenty of walkers, joggers and cyclists to contend with and with the temperature reaching the advertised 27°C or more, after lunch at Faro beach we decided to call it a day.

Glossy Ibis

Purple Swamp-hen

Northern Shoveler

Little Grebe

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Another Day at the Cape

Yesterday we were at Cape St Vincent again - only two days after our last visit but it was quite different. The sun shone from a mostly clear blue sky and there was just a light breeze - no hint of rain all day. And the birds were different.

We began by stopping off at a small wooded area near Sagres where on Wednesday there had been no birds at all. Now there were several Spotted and Pied Flycatchers, Willow Warblers, a Chiffchaff or two, Blackcaps and Garden Warblers and half a dozen or so Blackbirds which were probably also newly arrived migrants.

Garden Warbler

Along the peninsula there were still plenty of Northern Wheatears and a few Whinchats but a short seawatch from the lighthouse produced only Northern Gannets and one or two Cory's Shearwaters.

We saw our first Black Stork of the day from the car and watched it disappear out over the sea. We like to think that this same bird was one of those we saw later from the raptor watchpoint after it had realised the need to make a U-turn. Raptors today included about 20 Booted Eagles and about 30 Eurasian Griffons, the latter being our first of the autumn. Mostly they were fairly distant but a Short-toed Eagle did fly more or less overhead.

Blue Rock Thrush and Red-billed Choughs duly obliged but for once Little Bustards eluded us. We should probably have been there earlier before the many surfers who inevitably cause a bit of disturbance on their way to the beaches.

A pleasant enough day was rounded off by a brief visit to the Alvor Estuary where the usual Spoonbills, Greater Flamingos and a few of the common waders were quickly seen before we headed back east.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Diamond Day

Some days are diamonds, some days are stones! A day that began looking like a stone with a torrential downpour ended as a diamond in bright sunshine. What seemed likely at first to be disappointing turned out to be an excellent day's birding.

A day when we see Little Bustards, Little Owls, Honey-buzzards, Booted Eagles, Golden Plovers and Red-billed Choughs probably qualifies as a good day. A day when we are able to photograph all of these is a very good day.

Add to these good views of Black Redstarts, Blue Rock Thrush, Northern Wheatears, Whinchats, Cory's, Sooty and Balearic Shearwaters, Great and Pomarine Skuas, Northern Gannets, Peregrine Falcon, Hobby, Short-toed Eagle, Black Kite, Sparrowhawk, Common Kestrel, Thekla and Crested Larks and we're happy to call it excellent.

We were, of course, at Cape St Vincent.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Another Sagres pelagic trip

Pelagic trips from Sagres with Mar Ilimitado have become a feature of autumn here in the Algarve and are something to which we look forward. Yesterday's three hours or so aboard Ricardo Silva's boat, Kogia, were particularly enjoyable as the sea was flat calm and the sky almost cloudless, a marked contrast to some pelagic trips we've been on!

Ricardo specialises in dolphin-watching trips so it was no surprise that Common Dolphins were the first species that we came upon. This one was photographed while it was completely submerged, just alongside the boat.

We hoped to find a fishing boat that was already attracting seabirds, perhaps including storm-petrels and shearwaters but the only boat we saw had only Northern Gannets and gulls in attendance.

Northern Gannet

Yellow-legged Gull

Later we did see a couple of Sooty Shearwaters, a few Balearic Shearwaters and 50 or more Cory's Shearwaters but for a while we had to be content to watch Gannets and it was a chance to put the new Canon 50D through its paces.

Several European Storm-petrels and a Wilson's Storm-petrel were seen but none came very close and they presented a much more difficult subject. Great Skuas were impossibly distant to photograph.

European Storm-petrel

All of the day's gulls were Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed except for this lone Mediterranean Gull.

For us this was a new view of the lighthouse at Cape St Vincent, the south-westerly tip of mainland Europe.

We probably didn't go more than about 10 miles from land all morning but the only time we found shearwaters in any numbers they were quite close to the shore. These two were amongst a raft of 50 or so Cory's Shearwaters that included one bird identified as being of the slightly smaller Mediterranean race known as Scopoli's Shearwater.

When we were about one kilometre of the tip of the peninsula and intent on looking for shearwaters, it was a surprise to see flying overhead five Booted Eagles and a Honey-buzzard. Going in a south-westerly direction, these birds presumably thought they were heading for Africa. Let's hope it wasn't too long before they realised their mistake!

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Ringing at Vilamoura

We spent yesterday morning at Vilamoura with a team of ringers from the UK headed by our friend and fellow Avian Adventures tour leader, Colin McShane.

Colin checking one of the mist-nets

We always find these ringing sessions entertaining and educational and it's particularly interesting to have good, close-up views of species that are often difficult to see well in the field such as Grasshopper Warbler.

Grasshopper Warbler

For the ringers it's a great opportunity to get experience of species that they don't often get chance to handle back at home. And it's a further illustration of the importance of the Vilamoura area as a wintering and re-fuelling site for migrant birds.

As well as those species photographed, birds mist-netted while we were there included: Kingfisher, Stonechat, Whinchat, Subalpine Warbler, Cetti's Warbler, Blackcap, Zitting Cisticola, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Common Waxbill and Yellow-backed Weaver.



Melodious Warbler


Spanish Sparrow

Great Reed Warbler