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.
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.
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