Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Water Water Everywhere!

The monsoon season continues here in the Algarve - rain, rain and more rain, day after day. And it's still pretty windy, too! There's water lying everywhere, fields that just two weeks ago were bone dry are now under several inches of water. The depth of water in many of the local saltpans is now such that only flamingos and Spoonbills can feed in them - even the long-legged waders, Black-winged Stilts and Black-tailed Godwits have moved out into the fields. At high tide today flocks of waders, including Dunlin, Ringed Plovers, Turnstones and Little Stints could be found out in the stubble.

It's certainly not weather that anyone would want to be out birding in. However, we did find a brief window of opportunity today for a drive to some of our regular spots around Tavira and even to take a few photographs before the sky turned black again at about 3.00pm and another thunderstorm rolled in.

Today's photographs are all of common species and were taken in one place, a flooded field at the edge of town.

Common Redshank

Mediterranean Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-winged Stilt

Meadow Pipit

Mediterranean Gull

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Vilamoura & Quinta do Lago

Well that 10-day forecast certainly proved to be right! In fact, we've just experienced probably the worst prolonged spell of weather that we've known during our time here in Portugal. We've had a week of torrential rain, thunderstorms and quite severe gales. Just when people were starting to worry about low water levels in the reservoirs, we've probably had half the year's total rainfall dumped on us in a matter of a few days!

We have managed to get out birding once or twice but until today it's mostly been around Tavira. At last, today was promised to be a day without rain and we set off early to the Parque Ambiental de Vilamoura. As we have commented before, this wonderful wetland area with its extensive reedbeds is an important site for breeding, migrating and wintering birds and is surely deserving of some formal protection. Instead it is threatened by further development of the sort that has already claimed much of the surrounding area and made Vilamoura one of the most unattractive places in the Algarve.

Although the weather has been very wet it has remained quite warm and there is plenty of insect life about so it wasn't a complete surprise to see about two dozen hirundines feeding over one of the pools. Crag Martins we expect, but it was a surprise to see them out-numbered this morning by House Martins. With Barn Swallows also present, it was difficult to get an exact count of each species but House Martins probably made up half the total. As many as seven species of herons and egrets have been seen in the Parque Ambiental recently but today we managed to find only four of them. We did get good views of several Penduline Tits and also in the reeds were a few Yellow-backed (or Black-headed) Weavers.

We spent the afternoon at Quinta do Lago, another area that has been sacrificed to golfing tourism. Fortunately, what remains is still attractive to birds and the lake here is one of the most popular birding sites in the Algarve, known as 'the' place to see Purple Swamp-hen, Glossy Ibis and Little Bittern. Today we managed to see two out of the three.

Although we had no rain, we didn't see the sun either! So it wasn't really a great day for photography. Still we couldn't resist taking a few:


Purple Swamp-hen

Grey Plover

White Stork - nesting on camouflaged phone mast

Booted Eagle

Penduline Tit

Common Snipe

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Changing Weather!

It's been a week when we have had to adapt our birding activities to the ever-changing weather conditions. We've had 'sunny & warm', we've had 'cloudy & warm', for two days it was 'sunny & really cold' and then, yesterday, we had 'torrential rain with winds gusting to gale force'.

Twice we have taken advantage of the good weather to have nice long walks along Praia do Barril and Praia da Terra Estreita, wonderful beaches that form part of the Ilha de Tavira. The trail to the beach crosses saltmarsh and at low tide it's a good place to get close looks at waders, such as Whimbrel, that are obviously quite used to seeing people pass by. At this time of year, we're fairly sure to find a Bluethroat or two and on Sunday we also saw a ringtail Hen Harrier.


Out at sea there are usually plenty of Northern Gannets passing by. This week we've also seen several Razorbills, a Great Skua, a Caspian Tern and several Sandwich Terns as well as the usual gulls. On the beach there were just a few Sanderlings and a Kentish Plover, although we did also find a few dead birds - a Gannet, three Razorbills, several gulls, a Purple Swamp-hen and what we think was a Manx Shearwater (not much left of it!).

Praia da Terra Estreita


We spent both of the cold days just birding around Tavira, staying in the car most of the time (we must be getting soft!) and taking a few photographs. Mostly it was the usual subjects: Sardinian Warbler, Goldfinch, Stonechat, Little Egret, Zitting Cisticola, Bluethroat, etc. There must be 150 or more Audouin's Gulls here now and it's still fairly easy to go and find a Slender-billed Gull or two; Stone-curlews remain in their usual place and have now been joined by a few Golden Plovers. Of course, the saltpans are still full of birds - about 20 species of waders, Spoonbills, Flamingos and an assortment of ducks.



The highlight of our week was, of course, the day we spent in the Castro Verde/Mértola area. As well as the Sociable Lapwing that we found near Benviuda we saw an adult Spanish Imperial Eagle, about 70 Great Bustards, a dozen or so Black-bellied Sandgrouse, plenty of Common Cranes and most of the other expected species. It was good to see that quite a few White Storks have already returned to their enormous nests.

White Stork with Red Kite in attendance

Sociable Lapwing

Great Bustard

The 10-day forecast suggests that we might be in for quite a lot more rain. We do need it but unfortunately it might mean that we don't get out quite so much next week! We'll see...

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Sociable Lapwing

We've just returned from a great day's birding in the Baixo Alentejo where we toured some of our favourite locations between Castro Verde and Mértola. The weather was much better than the forecast with bright sunshine and warm temperatures.

Bird of the day was this Sociable Lapwing that we found close to the N123, the road that runs more or less due east from Castro Verde. It was associating with about half a dozen Northern Lapwings close to the junction that is signposted to the village of Benviuda to the south. We first saw it at about 10.30am and were able to relocate in the same area when we returned at 3.00pm.

Let's hope it stays around for others to see it - we think it may be only the tenth record for Portugal.

More about this week's birding and our Alentejo day will follow soon.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Another Week At The Office

We’ve had another week of really enjoyable birding, much of the time under a clear blue sky with temperatures again reaching 17°C or more most days.

Around Tavira we’ve been seeing pretty much the same birds as previously including 80 or more Audouin’s Gulls, a Slender-billed Gull and at least one Razorbill.

On Tuesday we had a good long walk on Barril beach, part of the 11-kilometre stretch of sand on the Ilha de Tavira that earlier this year was listed by Lonely Planet as one of the world’s top ten beaches. Walking for two hours on a glorious sunny morning we saw no more than half a dozen other people! We weren’t there for the birds but there was a constant movement of Gannets just off shore and over the adjacent salt marsh we watched 30 or more Stone-curlews take flight as a Hen Harrier passed by. On the beach itself were just a few Sanderlings, a small flock of Lesser Black-backs and a long-dead Dolphin.

Wednesday saw us return to Altura but there was no sign of either the Whooper Swan or the Yellow Wagtail seen a week previously. We did though see a Grey Wagtail and two Green Sandpipers (both of them in Peter’s top ten favourite species!). We also saw several Crimson Speckled moths, attractive day-flying insects that have somehow not registered with us before. There haven’t been many butterflies these last few days, just an occasional Clouded Yellow and Red Admiral.

Crimson Speckled

In woodland not far from Altura we spent a while trying to photograph Crested Tits and Short-toed Treecreepers but with very limited success. A bonus in this same area was to see two Purple Swamp-hens at the edge of a small man-made pond, not an easy bird to find in the Eastern Algarve. Nearby, we also came across two Moorish Geckos.

Crested Tit

Moorish Gecko

On Thursday, a fairly relaxed day spent mainly at Castro Marim produced a total of 86 bird species. There are several hundred Mediterranean Gulls there now, matched in number by the Lesser Black-backs. There were at least 16 Slender-billed Gulls but surprisingly we could find only a single Audouin’s. A Glossy Ibis was an unusual bird for us to see at this site; other highlights were about 50 Black-necked Grebes, probably four different Marsh Harriers, 20 or so Little Bustards, a Caspian Tern and four Lesser Short-toed Larks.

Mediterranean Gull

Yesterday we went to the Ludo Farm and Quinta do Lago area where we haven’t been for about a month. Our morning got off to a great start when, within about fifteen minutes of arriving, we had seen eight Booted Eagles, at least four Black-shouldered Kites, two Ospreys, a Marsh Harrier and a Common Buzzard! These were quickly followed by two of June’s favourites - a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Green Woodpecker!

We usually plan to spend about five hours on the walk to Lagoa but this time we somehow managed to add two hours to our normal schedule! The lake is one of the Algarve’s most popular birdwatching sites but many of the visitors there are simply out for a walk, have not much more than a casual interest in the birds and know the names of few of them. One of our pleasures is to let some of these ’non-believers’ use our Swarovski telescope to look at birds such as Little Bittern and Glossy Ibis and possibly convert one or two. On this occasion a group of women from New York City were particularly appreciative of our help and very impressed by Purple Swamp-hens. At the same time they gave us a lot of pleasure through their enthusiasm and excitement.

Since our last visit a lot of the vegetation around the lake has been cut back quite severely. In the short term the result isn’t visually attractive but it probably makes sense for this management work to be carried out at this time of the year. It has certainly made it quite a bit easier to see and photograph some of the birds (and has made for some really horrible backgrounds in many of the photos!). Chiffchaffs and Common Snipe were very confiding by the water’s edge, a Glossy Ibis came close and for once wasn’t half hidden by reeds but it was just our luck that an obliging Bluethroat should be the least colourful example of this species that we have seen in a long time!


Glossy Ibis

Common Snipe


Friday, 4 December 2009

Swallows and Yellow Wagtail in December!

It's been another week of birding mostly around Tavira but we did spend one morning at Castro Marim and also devoted a day to visiting several lesser-known (to us) coastal areas to the east of here.

At Castro Marim we finally caught up with the drake Blue-winged Teal - at least we assume that the bird we saw was the long-staying individual reported back in September and again by Luis Gordinho at the end of October. Where has it come from? As always with wildfowl, you never can be sure. Other than that we saw pretty much what we would have expected including 28 Slender-billed Gulls and a dozen Little Terns, the latter now probably settled there for the winter.

Which brings us to the Whooper Swan that turned up two weeks ago at Altura. When we last looked in there on Wednesday of this week it was still present and now definitely looking a bit more rested. As with the Blue-winged Teal the question of its origin remains and there will always be those who quickly dismiss such birds as escapes from captivity. Maybe they are right but the recent records of Whooper Swans in Spain are interesting and could influence the decision-makers.

During our trip along the coast, as well as Altura, we spent time at Fabrica, Aldeia Nova and Cacela Velha before finishing up back here in Tavira. We were surprised at the end of the day to find that without really trying we had recorded 79 species, a total boosted by several woodland birds including Crested Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper and Green Woodpecker. It was that rare December day when we saw three species of wagtail! Last year we were surprised to see two Yellow Wagtails on 23rd November; the new record is 2nd December - but we will, of course, be hoping to find the bird again to extend that!

Yellow Wagtail

Around Tavira we have continued to see the usual Bluethroats, Blue Rock Thrush, Spoonbills, Greater Flamingos, Stone-curlews and Audouin's Gulls that we tend to take for granted, plus 22 wader species, an Osprey, two Hen Harriers, Slender-billed Gulls, Crag Martins, up to three first-winter Razorbills and lots more. A lovebird yesterday was a surprise; it was just at the edge of town and appeared to be a Lilian's Lovebird; it brought to mind the similar birds seen earlier this year near Armação de Pêra by Diederik van der Molen. Let's hope we're not about to add another exotic species to the breeding birds of the Algarve!


Generally the weather hasn't been too bad at all although maybe a little more cloudy than we would have liked. Temperatures have been reaching 17°C and three Barn Swallows over the saltpans yesterday didn't look out of place.