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!


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