Friday, 22 January 2010


We're always on the lookout for colour rings when we're out and about. Greater Flamingos, Spoonbills, Black-tailed Godwits and various gulls are the species on which we most often find them.

Several of the Audouin's Gulls that we've seen this winter around Tavira have been ringed. Mostly they're birds that were ringed at the nesting colony in the Ebro Delta in Catalonia. One that we reported in November was ringed there as a nestling in June, 2000 and in a previous winter had been seen at nearby Santa Luzia. Another, however, was from Isla Moltona at the southern end of Mallorca.

Audouin's Gulls

This Lesser Black-backed Gull is one we spotted earlier this month at Olhão 'docapesca'. It's obviously a bird in its first winter and we are told that it was ringed in June 2009 at Gloucester in the UK. We're also told that it's a female.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Tavira & Santa Luzia

We spent a couple of hours or more yesterday around the Tavira area, birding just from the car. It was mostly cloudy but at least dry and not a bad day.

An Osprey at Santa Luzia saltpans was perched exactly where we saw one on several occasions last winter, making us think that this is almost certainly the same bird returned. Also notable were a Black-necked Grebe (not common around Tavira), a flock of 48 Sandwich Terns, three Caspian Terns, a singing (as opposed to skulking) Bluethroat, a flock of 350+ Black-tailed Godwits and a hybrid “Grey Egret”. Only a handful of Audouin's Gulls remain and it's more than a week now since we last saw a Slender-billed Gull in Tavira.

It was remarkable that without getting out of the car we recorded 21 wader species - and we missed Common Sandpiper, Snipe and Northern Lapwing!

Not much light for photography but this Grey Wagtail, even in such unattractive surroundings, was hard to resist.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Grey Morning at Castro Marim

We spent this morning at Castro Marim. It is an indication of how awful the weather has been recently that this was our first visit there since New Year's Day. After all the rain, it was no surprise that the tracks and pathways were VERY muddy - fortunately, we had our wellies with us!

The morning started dull and cloudy and stayed that way until lunchtime - the sun made its first appearance just as we got back to the car after a four-hour walk! So our timing wasn't the best but at least it stayed dry and the temperature was quite pleasant. In fact the whole morning was very pleasant and it's remarkable that we could spend four hours on a Sunday morning at one of the Algarve's best birdwatching sites and not see another person. Literally, we saw nobody at all. Apart from hundreds of birds, we saw only two stray dogs and two Hares. Imagine having Titchwell RSPB Reserve to yourself on a Sunday morning!

Admittedly, this wasn't the best visit to Castro Marim that we've ever had. The morning's species list barely reached 70 and there were several notable absentees. When before have we been there and not seen a tern of any sort? What has happened to the Stone-curlews? It seems clear that quite a number of birds have moved on during the last couple of weeks, some of them presumably not liking the storms and resulting high water levels in most of the saltpans.

There are still a few hundred Greater Flamingos, plenty of gulls (six species including Audouin's and Slender-billed), plenty of longer-legged waders (mainly Black-winged Stilts, Black-tailed Godwits and Avocets) and we counted about 90 Black-necked Grebes and 60 Common Shelduck. A flock of about 25 Little Bustards in flight was one of the morning's highlights - we see them here regularly enough but they're not common elsewhere in the Algarve.

Not a good morning for photography but you have to try don't you?

Pied Avocets

Black-necked Grebes

Greater Flamingos

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

A Day of Sunshine

We had more heavy rain at the weekend, there was even a hail storm on Sunday and, only 150km away to the east, Seville experienced its first snow in 50 years. Today it is not only pouring with rain but the wind is gale force. Amazingly, amidst all this, yesterday was dry, bright and sunny and the temperature reached 18°C - this is climate change on a daily basis!

One of the inevitable side-effects of all this rain is that paths and trails everywhere are horribly muddy and so Praia do Barril was the obvious choice for us to have a walk in the sunshine. Along the pathway that leads from Pedras d'el Rei to the beach we saw the usual common wader species, including Greenshank, Redshank, Grey Plover and Whimbrel. Birds here are quite confiding and it's difficult to resist a few photographs. Even the Bluethroats seem more inclined to sit up and pose here than they do elsewhere.



There were few birds on the beach itself, just the odd Kentish Plover, plus a few Sanderlings and gulls. A monkfish, washed up on the sand, provided food for one Yellow-legged Gull and when it had finished feeding it washed its bill in the surf. When the gull had left, a Sanderling moved in and also fed on the monkfish.

Kentish Plover

Yellow-legged Gull

Yellow-legged Gull

Sanderling with monkfish

Sandwich Tern

Off-shore there were the usual Gannets, a few Razorbills and several Sandwich Terns but elsewhere along the coast there have been sightings of Leach's Storm-petrels and further north a Madeiran Storm-petrel was blown inland. It's so rough here at the moment that we half expect one to fly past the window any minute!

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Just Being Sociable

We were fortunate in 2009 to travel to The Gambia, Tanzania, Colombia, the Caribbean, Arizona, Texas and California, all of them visits for the sole purpose of watching birds. And, of course, we spent many weeks in Portugal with occasional cross-border excursions into Spain. Heaven knows how many species we saw during the year but it was quite a lot!

Although the year list includes many highlights, one bird that gave us particular pleasure was the Sociable Lapwing that we found in the Alentejo just before Christmas. So much so that, three weeks on, we thought it would be nice if we could go and find it again, spend some more time watching it and take a few more photographs.

Sociable Lapwing is a species that is listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered because its population has undergone a very rapid reduction. It breeds in northern and central Kazakhstan and south-central Russia, normally migrating to spend the winter in Israel, Syria, Eritrea, Sudan and north-west India, occasionally in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Oman. No wonder then that the bird we found near Benviuda is only the ninth that has been recorded in Portugal - quite simply it is a long way from where it should be.

From its plumage it is a bird in its first winter and therefore with no previous experience of migration. The explanation for it appearing in the Alentejo seems to be that instead of migrating with other Sociable Lapwings it has joined up with flocks of Northern Lapwings and travelled west with them. Many of the thousands of Northern Lapwings currently wintering in the Alentejo, and the many Golden Plovers that are with them, have probably moved further this winter than they usually do because of the extreme weather that has been affecting much of Europe. These are some of our favourite birds and seeing them in such large numbers meant that a trip to the Alentejo was always going to be worthwhile whether or not we re-located the Sociable Lapwing.

In the event, we had another great day. We saw Great Bustards, Little Bustards, Common Cranes, two Spanish Imperial Eagles and much more...and we found the Sociable Lapwing in almost exactly the same spot that we first saw it. How long will it stay, we wonder? Long enough for us to pay it another social call during the next few weeks, we hope!

Monday, 4 January 2010

We did need some rain, but...

Still the rain continues - for the third week! It was a miracle that Friday remained almost completely dry for our ‘Big Day’ but since then, over the weekend and again today, we have had further storms and more torrential downpours. This is not how the weather is supposed to be on the Algarve coast! At least it's not cold.

This morning we took the Cachopo road out of town and took a few photographs along the Rio Séqua which has well and truly burst its banks. Several other Tavira residents and a television news reporter were out doing the same. Flocks of Mediterranean, Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls have taken to the flood but apart from a few White Storks and Mallards there were few other birds to be seen.

We also took pictures in the town centre of the Rio Gilão. This is actually the same river; it changes its name from Séqua to Gilão as it enters the town and passes under the so-called Roman bridge - yes, there is a story to explain this but for another time maybe! We were there at low tide when on a normal day Redshanks, Turnstones and the like feed along the river but not today! Fortunately, there doesn’t seem to have been significant flooding or, as far as we know, any serious damage to property in the town centre itself but it must have been a close thing at this evening’s high tide. Making a strange sight at the mouth of the river (and elsewhere) are numerous oranges that have been swept along on the flood and deposited along the shoreline.

While we were out we took the opportunity for quick visits to Quatro Aguas, Forte do Rato and the nearby saltpans, recording about 50 species in the process, half of them gulls (6 species), waders (17) and terns (2). The same hybrid egret that we saw on Friday was in its usual feeding area.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Big Day

How many species did you see on 1st January? Like lots of birders all over the world, we were out yesterday engaged in what Americans call a 'Big Day', an attempt to find as many species as possible in a day to get the New Year off to a good start. Last year we found 106 species on the first day - could we do better in 2010?

It was no surprise to start the year off with several Little Owls calling. We can look out of the window here most days and see a Little Owl and probably have three pairs within earshot. Like us, they were up early although at 6.30am it was still dark and we couldn't actually see them. No matter, as we include in our total birds that are only heard, Little Owl was first on the list.

We decided to follow a similar route to last year and so we spent most of the morning in the Ludo Farm/Quinta do Lago area. The diversity of habitats here means that a good range of species can be guaranteed and last year we came away having seen 86 by mid-day. This time we got off to an excellent start with Booted Eagle, Osprey, Black-shouldered Kite, Firecrest, Green Woodpecker, Crested Tit and Short-toed Treecreeper among the first birds seen. Cetti's Warblers were singing and a Great Spotted Woodpecker drummed briefly as we headed past the saltpans towards Lago do São Lourenço. The walk to the lake and back took about four hours and produced most of the expected waders and wildfowl. There were few surprises although Barn Swallows and House Martins were not birds that we had counted on seeing. Disappointing was the absence of Glossy Ibis and Little Bittern, two that we were hoping for. There was no sign either of a Yellow-backed Weaver or Red-crested Pochard. By the time we got back to the car our total had reached 81, slightly fewer than we had hoped.

Black-shouldered Kite on a regular perch

Next we headed back to Tavira where Blue Rock Thrush was our main target but where we also made sure of Stone-curlew and picked up several common species including Kestrel. We also had our biggest surprise of the day - an unseasonal Short-toed Eagle.

Short-toed Eagle

Great Flamingos - seen at Ludo, Tavira and Castro Marim

Then we were off to Castro Marim where Greylag Geese, Black-necked Grebes, Slender-billed Gulls, a Bluethroat, a Marsh Harrier and a Caspian Tern were thankfully all more or less where we expected them to be. We were also pleased to see a flock of about 300 Golden Plovers and then three Spotted Redshanks brought the day's total of wader species to 23 and the over all total to 104.

Caspian Tern

Slender-billed Gull

By now it was late afternoon. There were several species that we knew we could still find if sufficient daylight remained but with so little time available we decided that a return to Tavira for Audouin's Gull, Common Waxbill and Oystercatcher was our best bet. Unfortunately, when we got there, only two of these three targets obliged, Oystercatchers having disappeared to their high tide roost. As darkness fell, we waited along the river for a Night Heron to appear so that we might beat last year's total but it wasn't to be.

So, at the end of the Big Day our total of species recorded was the same as last year at 106...except that we're going to count an extra 1/2 for the 'grey egret' seen in Tavira so that we can claim to be just slightly better birders than we were in 2009!

'Grey Egret' - presumed Western Reef x Little Egret