Saturday, 27 February 2010

Sardinian Flamingo

A recent rather grey morning was enlivened by the group of about a dozen, mostly juvenile, Greater Flamingos that I came across here in Tavira. For once they were close to the roadside and I was able to stop and take a few photographs. Three of the birds were colour-ringed and I have now received confirmation that one of them was ringed in Sardinia. Details of the other two are still awaited but the ring numbers/colours indicate that both are Spanish-ringed birds, one from the Marismas del Odiel and the other from Fuente de Piedra.

The Sardinian bird was one of 501 Flamingo chicks ringed on 1st August 2009 at Saline di Macchiareddu, near Cagliari, a site where an estimated 6,000 young were hatched last year.

It is well-known that Greater Flamingos do not necessarily return to breed in the colony where they were reared. Birds ringed in the Camargue (France), in Fuente de Piedra (Spain) and in Sardinia (Italy) have all been found breeding in other colonies around the Mediterranean and similarly birds ringed in Iran have been recovered throughout the Mediterranean, East Africa, and Asia.

A small group of birds like these in Tavira containing individuals from at least three different breeding colonies suggests that rather than staying together in family groups in the winter like, for instance, Common Cranes, Greater Flamingos quickly make new friends. So maybe that’s why some of them don’t return to their colony of hatching.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Lagoa dos Salgados

My week-long tour of the Algarve’s best bird watching sites took me on Monday to Lagoa dos Salgados (sometimes referred to as Pêra Marsh), undoubtedly one of the most popular sites with birders visiting here from the UK. The long-running, nightmare story of Salgados is well-known and has received coverage in various UK publications but if you’re not familiar with it and have half an hour or more to spare, take a look here. Try not to get too angry!

One of the ongoing problems at Salgados is that the lagoon is regularly, but for no obvious sensible reason, emptied of water. On Monday I found that it had again been recently drained. There were remaining areas of standing water sufficient to hold a few ducks (Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler, Pintail and Teal) and even an odd Little Grebe but mostly the bed of the lagoon was bare, wet mud - after something like 50 days of rain, nowhere here is dry! Waders included about 100 Black-winged Stilts, almost that number of Black-tailed Godwits and lesser numbers of Ringed, Kentish, Grey and Golden Plovers, Dunlin and Sanderling. Also on the mud were countless White Wagtails, 50 or so Black-headed Gulls, just a handful of Mediterranean Gulls and about 40 Sandwich Terns. Many of the gulls are now sporting almost complete breeding plumage. Two of the Black-tailed Godwits, on the other hand, were sporting colour-rings indicating it seems that one of them was ringed in Iceland and the other in Scotland - further details are awaited.

For some time now a feature at Salgados have been a group of Northern Bald Ibises that are thought to have absconded from the re-introduction project at La Janda, across the border in Spain. Originally six of these birds arrived but at least one is known to have died. On Monday I saw only two. They are regularly seen on the neighbouring golf course and wherever they appear they are very approachable and easy to photograph.

Northern Bald Ibis

Northern Bald Ibises were once widespread across the Middle East, northern Africa and southern Europe but disappeared from Europe over 300 years ago, and are now considered critically endangered. There are believed to be about 500 wild birds remaining in southern Morocco, and fewer than 10 in Syria, where the species was rediscovered in 2002. To combat these ebbing numbers, reintroduction programmes have been instituted internationally, with a semi-wild breeding colony in Turkey, as well as sites in Austria, Spain and northern Morocco. A pair bred in the wild in Spain in 2008 and 2009. Maybe the Salgados birds will eventually tire of watching golf and go and find a cliff ledge nesting site somewhere in the western Algarve.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Recent Highlights

The lack of any news posted here during the last week or so is not because no birds have been seen - quite the opposite in fact!

Although the weather continues to be pretty unfriendly (an understatement), I've been out most days and enjoyed some really good birding at Castro Marim, Ludo/Quinta do Lago, Tavira/Santa Luzia, Vilamoura, Cape St Vincent/Sagres, Castro Verde area and elsewhere. Never a dull moment!

Unfortunately, there have been few opportunities for photography and on several days I have actually left the camera at home.

Recent highlights have been returning migrants (Wood Sandpiper, Red-rumped Swallows, Pallid Swifts, Great Spotted Cuckoo), the re-appearance of the Whooper Swan (first seen in November at Altura, now at Cacela Velha), the continuing Squacco Heron at Vilamoura, the long-staying Sociable Lapwing (still exactly where we found it two months ago at Benviuda) and 11 of those 'rare' Slender-billed Gulls at Santa Luzia.

Add to those the expected Great Bustards, Little Bustards, Common Cranes, Red-billed Choughs, Booted Eagles, Black-winged Kite, Audouin's Gulls, Caspian Terns, Bluethroats and 22 waders species and you will see that I've not been short of birds, just short of time!


June's return to Portugal is now less than a week away and eagerly awaited but there are plenty of domestic chores and responsibilities to be attended to before that!

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Last Week

A week of very mixed weather - some days warm and spring-like, others almost monsoon-like! Clive Viney's description, “gloriously unpredictable”, seems just about right!

Last Saturday I had a full day out, birding most of the daylight hours, visiting Ludo/Quinta do Lago and Castro Marim as well as several sites around Tavira. Although a long list wasn’t the object of the exercise, over 90 species were noted, including some, like Water Rail, that were only heard. Highlights at Ludo were six Booted Eagles, an Osprey, two Black-winged Kites and three Siskins, a species that we don’t see much in the Eastern Algarve. At Castro Marim, it was nice to see ten Ruff.

On Monday I went to Olhão and Fuseta and on Thursday to Castro Marim again, but otherwise activity has centred on Tavira where there are plenty of birds, particularly waders, to look at and photograph.

Common Greenshank

Grey Plover

Ringed Plover

Kentish Plover

Common Redshank

Eurasian Curlew

Sardinian Warbler

The number of gulls here has fallen significantly now. There are still lots of Lesser Black-backs and Black-headeds but nowhere near as many as there were a month ago. Most of the Meds seem to have gone, I’ve seen no more than ten Audouin’s all week and the single Slender-billed near Forte do Rato was the first I’d seen in a while. Amongst the Lesser Black-backs at Fuseta was another one that had been colour-ringed at Gloucester in the UK.

Lesser Black-backed Gull - with crab for lunch

Audouin's Gull

An Osprey was seen again at Santa Luzia saltpans; it was on the same post where we saw it three weeks ago. I wonder where else it gets to. A Black-winged Kite was at the edge of Tavira, not far in fact from the Gran-Plaza shopping centre (of which the least said the better). Barn Swallows and House Martins are quite numerous now, as of course are Crag Martins but Red-rumped Swallows don‘t seem to be back yet.

June is now about half way through her tour in Uganda. There has been little news other than confirmation that the 'must-see' species, Shoebill, has indeed been seen! That’s always a relief!

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Barn Swallow

As everyone knows, one swallow doesn’t make a summer. However, there are hundreds here now and we’re still less than half way through February.

There is a wealth of ringing-recovery data to demonstrate that Barn Swallows from Northern Europe migrate to winter quarters in South Africa. Coincidentally, the first such recovery in South Africa was of a bird that had been ringed in our home county, Staffordshire - that was in 1912!

Mount Moreland reedbed near Durban, holds a roost of more than three million Swallows, a spectacular sight that I was lucky enough to witness some years ago when leading a tour for Avian Adventures. You may recall that this reedbed was threatened by an airport development associated with the forthcoming FIFA World Cup.

We have seen Barn Swallows here in the Algarve in every month of the year so clearly not all the population makes that long journey south. The photograph was taken this morning at Castro Marim. I wonder how far south this bird has been, whether it has returned to the Algarve to breed or whether it is just on its way north.

We know people in the UK who are still resistant to the ‘new’ name Barn Swallow, preferring instead to refer just to the Swallow and as a result failing to differentiate it from 50 or more other swallow species. In fact Barn Swallow isn’t a new name at all. It seems likely to have been a direct translation of the Swedish Ladusvala and is referred to by the Rev. Gilbert White in his Natural History of Selbourne, published as long ago as 1789. It does seem to be a wholly appropriate name and there really doesn't seem to be any reason to object to it.

Sunday, 7 February 2010


In the UK and elsewhere in Northern Europe one of the first signs of the approach of spring is the return in early March of Chiffchaffs to the woodlands in which they will breed. Here in the Algarve, Chiffchaffs are one of the most numerous species during the winter months, occupying any habitat where they can find insect food, particularly the low, scrub vegetation that surrounds so many of the saltpans in the Ria Formosa and elsewhere. Yesterday was a beautiful sunny and warm day here and at Ludo quite a number of birds were encouraged to sing, including several Chiffchaffs. If I had closed my eyes I could have imagined being in the Reservoir Plantation at Belvide or perhaps Brocton Coppice! As the days get longer and the temperature rises, these birds are starting to think about migration or, more likely, about raising a family.


It’s interesting that the English name for this bird is derived from its song, as is the German name, Zilpzalp, and the Dutch name, Tjiftjaf, but the Portuguese call it Felosinha-comum which seems to translate as ‘common small warbler’. Obviously the locals here haven’t been listening!

I remember, more than 30 years ago, finding a Hoopoe in Trench Wood in Worcestershire. What a thrill that was! Now, when we are in Portugal, we see them most days but they are birds that you could never get tired of. On Friday at Pedras d'el Rei I sat in the car for half an hour or more watching one feeding on an area of short mown grass. It wandered around with no apparent plan, just looking for food - insects and insect larvae. When it was occasionally disturbed by passers-by there was no panic, it just headed off briefly in a different direction hardly distracted from its quest for a juicy meal. Like the Chiffchaff, it's a species with an onomatopoeic name. Birds of the Western Palearctic describes them as ‘largely silent outside the breeding season’ but that isn’t true here and they can be heard at almost any time of the year. The Portuguese name is Poupa - the song really is that difficult to miss!


Thursday, 4 February 2010

Back in Tavira

After a short visit to the UK at least one of us is now back in Portugal! But before anyone starts to feel sorry for June, left behind in the cold, she will only be there for a couple of days before she flies out to Uganda for a two-week tour for Avian Adventures. Make up your own mind which of us has got the better deal!

The weather this morning on arrival here in the Algarve was wet and windy. There was a short interlude after lunch when the sun appeared but before long it had deteriorated again - wetter and windier!

After shopping for essential supplies there was time for a quick tour round Tavira's birding hotspots to see whether anything had changed while we've been away. There wasn't much light for photography, but when has that stopped us!

Regular readers may recognise the perch that this Common Magpie is using. We have photographed Bluethroat, Southern Grey Shrike and Whimbrel on the same branch and have seen several other species using it. Common Magpie isn't such a common bird along the coast; in fact we've never seen one west of Faro and rarely get an opportunity to photograph one.

Common Magpie

Barn Swallow and Black-tailed Godwit were two species more numerous today than they were a couple of weeks ago. There must have been almost 100 Barn Swallows feeding over the saltpans and maybe 1,000 Black-tailed Godwits spread out across the Tavira and Santa Luzia area. A few of the godwits are now showing signs of summer plumage.

Black-tailed Godwit

The usual "Grey Egrets" were seen but only one of them was within camera range. A nearby Little Egret was also hard to resist.

Western Reef x Little Egret hybrid

Little Egret

Greater Flamingos, Spoonbills, Audouin's Gulls and Stone-curlews were also in exactly the same places as always and it does just seem possible that all these birds might not have noticed that we've been missing!