Thursday, 18 March 2010

Uganda - Part 2

From Mweya Lodge in Queen Elizabeth National Park we travelled via Kasese to Kibale National Park for just a one-night stay at the excellent Kibale Safari Lodge. The journey took us through the town of Hima, dominated by its French-owned cement works, and several other small settlements along the main road before we turned off and headed across huge tea plantations. Was it my imagination that people looked much happier and healthier in the more rural areas than those we had seen in the towns? Once again, the roads were very slippery after the recent rains giving our driver, Fred, further opportunities to show his skills. Birding on the way was limited with just a Pallid Harrier and a Palm-nut Vulture of any note.

Our early start meant that by 10.30am we had arrived at our first stop, Bigodi, located just outside Kibale National Park. Bigodi is a community-based project that provides access to Magombe Swamp, an interesting area of papyrus and swamp forest. It gives local people jobs and revenue, at the same time protecting the area and its wildlife. Without doubt the star bird here was a very confiding Shining Blue Kingfisher but others seen included Black Cuckoo, Olive Thrush and Red-breasted Ant-Thrush. Kibale Forest is one of the best in East Africa for primates so Red Colobus and Grey-cheeked Mangabey were no surprise but L'Hoest’s Monkey is a species I’ve only in the past seen at Bwindi.

We spent much of the afternoon watching Chimpanzees in the forest. On this occasion it didn’t take too long to find them - they can be quite noisy creatures! We spotted two adult males that were harassing a youngster but it wasn’t long before they settled down with a group of eight other males and then just sat around peacefully grooming each other. The arrival of a female with a small baby caused some brief excitement amongst the group but peace quickly returned and the grooming continued. As a finale to the day we stopped for some birding along the road to the lodge, finding Cassin’s Grey Flycatchers at a regular spot and a Blue-throated Roller.


Much of the next day was spent travelling but there were stops for birding once we had gone through the bustling town of Fort Portal. Along the edge of the forest there was lots of activity and Yellowbill, Yellow-crested Woodpecker, Yellow-whiskered Greenbul, Fire-crested Alethe, Buff-throated and Black-capped Apalises were soon added to our growing list. We stopped for lunch in Hoima a town that seems likely to change before long following the discovery of oil in the area. Then we continued to our hotel in Masindi, again for just a one-night stay. After checking in, we quickly headed for a nearby wooded area where birds seen included Lesser Blue-eared Starling, White Helmet-shrike, Lizard Buzzard, White-winged Black Tit and Striped Kingfisher.

The following morning we left after an early breakfast for Budongo Forest, and the famous 'Royal Mile' which promises some of the best forest birding in Uganda. Shortly after meeting with our local guide, Vincent, we were seeing birds as more than a dozen Black-and-white-casqued Hornbills flew in attracted by swarms of flying ants that were emerging from the nearby fields. Very soon four White-thighed Hornbills also arrived. A wonderful morning’s birding followed as we saw many difficult to see species including four species of kingfisher - African Dwarf, African Pygmy, Blue-breasted and Chocolate-backed. Another star species today was African Crowned Eagle – a pair in display flight above us and later one perched close to the trail.
After lunch we re-traced our steps and tried for a second time to see Blue-shouldered Robin-Chat as not all group had seen one earlier. We finally left the forest at 1.30pm after stopping to watch two Chocolate-backed Kingfishers squabbling over a huge insect.

As we travelled north towards the River Nile the landscape was changing and becoming drier; on the escarpment, where we saw Foxy Cisticola and Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver, the vegetation was very poor and scrubby. When we eventually arrived at the river, Intermediate Egret, African Darter, African Fish-Eagle and Nile Crocodile were all noted as we waited for the ferry which would take us across to Paraa Lodge.

Next morning we met with Captain Nelson and headed off in his boat for ‘the delta’, the area where the Victoria Nile enters Lake Albert. This stretch of the Nile is one of the most reliable places to see a Shoebill and although we had seen one earlier at Mabamba I was determined that we should have a better look at one. The birding along the river was great with lots of egrets, herons, kingfishers and African Darters to see along with Hippos, Elephants and Crocodiles but we were on a mission and had a long way to go so stops were rare. Eventually our target was sighted - a lone Shoebill standing motionless not too far from the river. Captain Nelson manoeuvred his boat into the bank so that we could all get better looks and photographs of this most bizarre-looking bird. It moved little as we watched and was obviously not worried at all by our presence.


After a while we moved on leaving the Shoebill to its lungfish hunting but soon it was time to turn around and head back up river. When we did the Shoebill was nowhere to be seen as we passed the place where we had so recently seen it. We had been very lucky!! The return trip was a bit more relaxed and we were able to enjoy the birds and animals with great views of African Darter, Goliath Heron, Northern Carmine and Blue-breasted Bee-eaters, Elephants, Waterbuck, Hippos and some very big Nile Crocodiles.

After an excellent lunch we headed out into the park for a game drive with George, a local ranger, who had been in the park earlier in the day and had seen Lions. Once again the birding was excellent with huge flocks of hirundines wheeling around catching flying insects. Tawny Eagle, Abyssinian Ground-hornbills, Isabelline and Woodchat Shrikes, Grasshopper Buzzards in various plumages, Piapiacs and Red-billed Oxpeckers were all noted along with Elephants, Buffalo, Oribi, Giraffe and Patas Monkey. Then a big cat was spotted running alongside the bus and it ran across the track in front of us chasing a Kob. It was a Leopard and we watched as it disappeared into the long grass. A little further on a Lion was lying alongside the track. It had obviously recently fed as it took no notice of us and seemed hardly able to stay awake. The light was now fading and a few drops of rain began to fall but as we headed back towards the lodge another lion was spotted, this one more alert and on the lookout for its supper. As darkness fell Square-tailed Nightjar and Spotted Eagle Owl were heard.

Tawny Eagle


Our last day was to be mostly taken up by the long drive to Entebbe but before we left the Nile behind we had to visit Murchison Falls. We crossed the Nile on the 7.00am ferry and drove to the top of the falls where as well as enjoying the spectacle of cascading water we were able to see a couple of Rock Pratincoles, two Giant Kingfishers and a Wahlberg's Eagle. During a short walk along the road we also saw several Red-winged Grey Warblers and two African Cuckoo-Hawks.

Rock Pratincole

The rest of the journey was uneventful and we arrived at the Botanical Beach Hotel with plenty of time for a shower and a cool beer before Fred and Robert took us to the airport for our homeward flights.

So that was Uganda! It’s probably my favourite of all the tours I lead for Avian Adventures and I can see Peter and me disagreeing when it comes to deciding which of us goes there next time!

Grey Egrets in Tavira

Most birders visiting Tavira eventually come across one of the puzzling “Grey Egrets” that are more or less resident here and we are regularly asked about them.

Santa Luzia - 7th March 2010

In trip reports you can find them referred to variously as Western Reef Egrets Egretta gularis, as ‘grey morph Little Egrets’ Egretta garzetta or as gularis x garzetta hybrids and there have been questions about them on various internet forums.

Forte do Rato - 7th October 2008

It is almost 10 years now since the first of these birds was seen here and in fact photographs of one of them by Ray Tipper were published in both Birding World and Dutch Birding as long ago as 2001.

Santa Luzia - 22nd October 2008

Currently there seem to be at least two different birds in the area; one frequents the Santa Luzia saltpans and most days can be found there at low tide feeding in the same channel; the other is most often seen near Forte do Rato. There have been odd reports of similar birds elsewhere in Portugal but for some reason Tavira seems to be the favoured location.

Santa Luzia - 2nd January 2009

It does seem fairly clear that these birds are indeed gularis x garzetta hybrids. However, Western Europe is outside the normal range of Western Reef Egret, a species that mainly occurs in tropical West Africa, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf and east to India. So where have they come from?

Forte do Rato - 1st January 2010

It is reported that some Western Reef Egrets were released from captivity in Germany back in the early 1980s. They are said to have been birds imported from Pakistan and were of the eastern race, schistacea. So maybe that’s a clue.

Santa Luzia - 27th May 2008

On the other hand, in the late 1980s, Western Reef Egrets observed in the breeding season at L’Albufera de Valencia in eastern Spain were identified as being of the nominate race gularis. The first instance of breeding there by mixed pairs of this species and Little Egret was in 1988 and apparent hybrids (birds similar to those now in Tavira) have been seen there and elsewhere repeatedly since about 1993.

Clearly, some work on the DNA of these birds would be interesting.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Sunday surprise!

We spent almost four hours this afternoon walking round the saltpans at the edge of Tavira. It's a walk we've done many times before and we think we know pretty much which birds to expect...but life is full of surprises.

The first critter that caught our attention wasn't a bird at all but an insect - a carpenter bee Xylocopa violacea. What an impressive beast, both in size and in colour! It's about an inch long and as its scientific name suggests, it has a purplish blue sheen. Each flower that it went to was bent almost double by its weight.

Carpenter Bee

Next we found a Little Ringed Plover, presumably a newly arrived migrant. It's a species we see regularly enough, although not often on the saltpans. It proved to be one of 15 wader species that we saw and might easily have been overlooked amongst the hundreds of Ringed and Kentish Plovers.

Five species of gulls were seen and included just a handful of Audouin's and a single first-winter Slender-billed Gull; the only terns were a couple of Caspians, ducks were few but included four Pintails. We could find only a dozen or so Spoonbills.

Slender-billed Gull

Slender-billed Gull

It was all very pleasant but fairly predictable. And then we came upon a real surprise - two large black birds feeding out in the middle of one of the pans and looking totally out of place - Black Swans! Of course, they really were very much out of place. Native to Australia, but established now as breeding birds in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, these were the first we have seen in Portugal and we have not heard of previous records in the Algarve. Later, we sent an email to alert others to the presence of these 'rarities' but we doubt that there will be crowds arriving to see them. Where they have come from is anyone's guess. Like last autumn's Whooper Swan, they didn't appear to have any rings, so we may never know. It'll be interesting to see how long they stay.

Black Swans

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Lots of migrants arriving

A strange bright object appeared high in the sky above Castro Marim on Tuesday morning; some older residents of the town thought they remembered it as something they used to call “the sun”!

And the sunshine has continued and with it have come more and more migrant birds. At Cerro do Bufo, we saw Great Spotted Cuckoo, Yellow Wagtails, Pallid Swifts and the ‘full set’ of hirundines including Sand Martin; we heard a singing Sedge Warbler. Later, near the Visitor Centre, we found a Woodchat Shrike and watched a delightful little Spectacled Warbler; in the afternoon a Common Cuckoo was calling loudly at nearby Aldeia Nova.

Woodchat Shrike

Enjoying the sun - an Iberian Wall Lizard

Wednesday was another 'bustard day' in the Castro Verde area. For the record, we saw 50 Great Bustards and about 65 Little Bustards (not to mention several Short-toed Eagles and Griffon Vultures and a Spanish Imperial Eagle). There are plenty of Lesser Kestrels and Montagu's Harriers around now, Woodchat Shrikes have joined the resident Southern Grey Shrikes on roadside power lines and Great Spotted Cuckoos are easy enough to find; we've also seen Little Ringed Plover and a few Black-eared Wheatears have arrived.

Ribeira do Vascão - boundary between the Algarve and the Alentejo

Countless White Storks nest in the Castro Verde area

Yesterday morning, we went to Cape St Vincent where off shore the numerous passing Gannets were mostly adults heading north to their breeding sites. Near Forte do Beliche we came across three smart-looking Ring Ouzels , we watched a Montagu's Harrier in the Vale Santo and again saw a Woodchat Shrike. We also watched a Short-toed Eagle soaring and saw two more from the motorway as we headed back east.

Lighthouse at Cape St Vincent

Vale Santo

Rugged coastline at the south-western tip of mainland Europe

Yellow hoop-petticoat daffodil

On the way home we called at Lagoa dos Salgados where there is now plenty of water again. Our first Garganey of the year was one of six duck species seen and we had just a brief look at our first Alpine Swift. Most of the time we were there a pale phase Booted Eagle was soaring high above. A lingering Bluethroat seen from the boardwalk was a definite crowd-pleaser.

'Hide' at Lagoa dos Salgados - more of a viewing platform and another design not to be copied!

All in all, we've had a really good week and after months of dismal weather it's great to see the countryside lit up not just by the sun but by lots of birds that we haven't seen in a while and wonderful displays of flowers.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Quinta do Lago and Ludo

We were at Quinta do Lago and Ludo today. A morning that started grey and cloudy but without rain had changed by about 11.30am to grey, cloudy and more than a little wet! By mid-afternoon we were also wet and ready to come home.

We got off to an excellent start with a singing Savi’s Warbler - there may actually have been two of them - not a common bird at all in the Algarve and also the first of the year. The day’s bird list totalled 67 species and went on to include the usual Purple Swamp-hens and Little Bitterns that one expects at Quinta do Lago, plus the long-staying Squacco Heron which gave reasonable views. There was a single Audouin’s Gull among the many Lesser Black-backs and from the car in the pouring rain, we had rather poor views of two Wrynecks. Five Spoonbills feeding together included birds that had been colour-ringed in Spain, Germany and the Netherlands. Considering the conditions, it was a decent half-day’s birding.

There are two very well constructed hides at Quinta do Lago but not for the first time we were struck today by their poor design. Their most obvious fault is the lack of any seats at ground level - if you want to sit down, you have to climb the stairs to the upper floor. This is clearly a deliberate feature that enables wheelchair access but the fact is that wheelchairs are a rare sight here and it would in any case be very difficult to push one into the most recently constructed hide in which the floor consists of large stone chippings. On the other hand, we frequently find ourselves here with less-able birdwatchers who have struggled to walk from the car park (or even further), would very much like a sit down and rest before walking back but are unable to climb the stairs to the only available seats. Actually, to say ‘only available seats’ isn’t quite accurate as there are concrete benches outside the ‘new’ hide, a novel concept in itself, but they do not provide any sort of view for birdwatchers.

Many of the birds at Quinta do Lago are so habituated that you could argue that hides are scarcely necessary. However, they are handy for shelter on wet and windy days or as somewhere to escape from the sun in the summer. Unfortunately, the hide that overlooks the lake has huge open windows that provide very little shelter if the wind happens to be blowing that way. That lesson has perhaps been learned with the second hide but clearly not much thought has been given to the siting of it - it faces more or less south, straight into the light.

We hear that more bird watching hides are planned at various sites in the Algarve and we welcome that. However, poorly-designed and badly-sited hides can be very frustrating and are sometimes worse than no hides at all. It’s something we’ve come across in various other parts of the world (including the UK) where well-intentioned people have tried to provide facilities without consulting the birdwatchers for whom they are intended. There are already other examples in the Algarve of hides that could have been much better built, designed or situated. Let’s hope that any future ones will be.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Uganda - Part 1

We have been leading tours in Uganda for Avian Adventures for the last ten years. Sometimes we get to go there together but with small groups it only needs one of us and for the February tour it was June’s turn…

Once again Uganda didn’t disappoint! We had a marvellous tour finishing with totals of 436 bird species and, just as importantly, 33 mammals including wonderful experiences with Mountain Gorillas and Chimpanzees. We did have to work quite hard for some of our birds and that included the main attraction, the slightly bizarre but wonderful Shoebill. Thankfully, we eventually saw it really well (more on that later).

We flew to Uganda with KLM which enabled individuals to depart from regional airports in the UK and meet in Amsterdam for the onward flight to Entebbe. On arrival we were met at the airport by our driver Fred and local guide Robert, a team Peter and I have worked with regularly in the past, and taken to the Imperial Botanical Beach Hotel located at the edge of Lake Victoria. Apparently, US Presidents Clinton and Bush Jr have both stayed there in the past so we figure it’s OK for our first two nights of the tour.

The next morning, a gentle introduction to the country’s birds in the nearby Botanical Gardens and in the Entebbe Wildlife Education Centre produced many species that would become very familiar over the next two weeks. These included African Fish Eagle, Pied and Woodland Kingfishers, Broad-billed Roller and several species of waders and weavers. For the uninitiated, the variety of weaver species, in particular, presents something of a challenge at this stage in a tour! The water level in Lake Victoria was very high and everywhere was lush and green - not really what we have come to expect at this time of the year. There had obviously been a tremendous amount of rain and it was clear from the start that the unusual weather would be a significant factor on this tour.

African Openbill

Yellow-backed Weaver

Northern Brown-throated Weaver

Our second day was devoted to searching for Shoebill, ‘the must see bird’ of any Uganda trip. We set off for Mabamba at just after 6.00am as Fred was worried about the muddy state of the roads. And sure enough we were held up on the way by a truck which was stuck in a deep rut. Fred’s expert driving got us past the blockage only with some difficulty and we were delayed half an hour. Not a great start and when we reached our destination Haddington and his fellow boatmen were ready and waiting for us.

Soon we were heading off into the swamp where Long-toed Lapwing, Winding Cisticola, Malachite Kingfisher and Lesser Jacana were quickly on our list as we searched to no avail for a Shoebill. There are said to be just nine of these extraordinary birds at Mabamba and there is never any guarantee of finding them. Major problems are the impenetrable nature of the swamp and the height of the vegetation, which gives the birds plenty of places to hide away out of view. Add to those difficulties this time the fact that the unusually high water level had driven them much deeper than normal into the swamp and it started to look as though this trip might be our first not to see them. After four hours it was with great disappointment that we headed back to the shore.

Long-toed Lapwing

Our determined boatman

Lunch was a sombre affair but we hadn’t reckoned on Haddington’s determination to find our bird. Unbeknown to us he had returned to the swamp in a smaller more manoeuvrable boat and managed to locate a Shoebill. We didn’t need persuading to go out with him again and were soon heading into some really dense vegetation. Haddington and his helper pushed and pulled the boat to get us as close as they could to the bird and we were finally rewarded for their efforts with a distant view of a Shoebill. Within minutes the bird decided to fly but that gave us wonderful views as it headed off deeper into the swamp. Mission accomplished thanks to Haddington!!

Our journey south from Kampala across the Equator to Mbarara was frustratingly almost entirely on a road that is currently under construction. Long-crested Eagles and Grey-backed Fiscals were easily identified as we drove along but there was little opportunity to actually stop for birds. At the Equator, Violet-backed Starling, Sooty Chat, Grey Woodpecker, African Green Pigeon, Red-headed Lovebird and Brown Parrot were noted.

We sat under a tree by a freshwater lake to eat our picnic lunch. African Spoonbill, Sacred Ibis, Knob-billed, White-faced and Fulvous Whistling Ducks, Wahlberg’s Eagle and Black-chested Snake Eagle were just a few of the birds seen there. Then we took the wet and muddy road into Lake Mburo National Park - Greater Painted-snipe, Water Thick-knee and Wood Sandpipers were along the roadside! Now we started to see some mammals: Eland, Impala, Warthogs, Waterbuck, Zebras and Hippos. Lush vegetation and the high water level proved a challenge when we set off for a walk but we had great views of Rufous-bellied Heron, Pin-tailed Whydah, Little Bee-eater, African Black-headed Oriole and more.


Zebra and Impala

After a night in Mbarara we travelled on to Bwindi where one of the highlights of the tour is tracking Mountain Gorillas through the Impenetrable Forest. The journey there took us through Ruhiza which offers really first class forest birding. Year after year we arrive late at the camp in Bwindi because we have been so reluctant to leave Ruhiza. Today’s highlights included Mountain Buzzard, Auger Buzzard, Black and Cinnamon-chested Bee-eaters, Grey-throated Barbet, Grey Cuckoo-shrike, Snowy-headed Robin-chat, Mountain-masked and Chestnut-throated Apalises, Mountain Yellow Warbler, Regal Sunbird and Stripe-breasted Tit, all seen well.

Tracking Gorillas can sometimes be quite an arduous experience but our group enjoyed a reasonably easy time and spent a wonderful hour in the company of these fantastic animals. That allowed us the afternoon for flufftail hunting,. Flufftails are notoriously difficult to see but this is Robert’s home patch and I was confident he would find both Red-chested and White-spotted Flufftails for us. It was a most satisfying afternoon as we achieved both our targets without getting too muddy.

The birding in the forest here is second to none and we enjoyed a full day seeing such gems as Black-billed Turaco, Bar-tailed Trogan, White-headed Wood-hoopoe, African Broadbill, Hairy-breasted Barbet, Petit’s Cuckoo-shrike, White-tailed Crested Flycatcher and the list just kept getting longer. We even managed brief glimpses of a Gorilla family who were foraging not far from the track. A Golden Cat which shot across the trail in front of us perhaps in pursuit of one of the Duikers we had seen a little earlier proved a very rare sighting.

Once again the boys at Lake Kitandara Tented Camp looked after us wonderfully and we were sad to leave but Queen Elizabeth National Park beckoned. The drive there confirmed again that the rainfall this year was exceptional. Lush, tall grass was everywhere. Not only would spotting larks and pipits prove difficult but Buffalos might prove problematical too!

We arrived at Mweya Lodge in time for a quick lunch before heading to the jetty for the afternoon boat trip along the Kazinga Channel. This boat trip is one of the best in Uganda and for the next two hours we cruised along the shore spotting birds and mammals. Five Little Terns or Saunder’s Terns (the two species are impossible to tell apart outside the breeding season) were an unexpected find along the shore. I can’t see that either of them have been recorded before in Uganda. Other highlights were African Skimmers, Collared Pratincole, Black-tailed Godwit, Little Stint and Kittlitz’s Plover plus many herons, egrets, storks, terns, gulls, Elephants, Hippos, and Buffalos.


African Buffalos

African Elephant

An evening walk on the airfield had to be cut short as a large herd of Buffalos were grazing there. Numerous hirundines and swifts wheeled overhead and we did manage to see Senegal, Crowned and African Wattled Lapwings and Southern Red Bishop before deciding it would be best not to risk tangling with what are reputed to be Africa’s meanest critters!

The next two days were spent birding out in the National Park, mostly from our vehicle but sometimes walking where it was safe to do so. Along the Kasenyi track a perched Martial Eagle was spotted and Short-toed Eagle, Montagu’s Harrier, European Bee-Eater, Yellow-throated Longclaw and African Crake were all seen well. A rainy afternoon was spent exploring along the bumpy tracks in the Kikorongo Crater area where two more Martial Eagles, a superb male Pallid Harrier and a Black Coucal were seen.

Martial Eagle

Much of one day was spent visiting Maramagambo Forest. On the way there we stopped at Kyambura Gorge where we got our first distant view of Chimpanzees. Also on the journey we came across a tree full of vultures and were able to identify White-backed, Palm-nut, Rüppell’s Griffon, White-headed and Hooded Vultures all waiting for their share of a nearby carcass. We walked part of the track into the forest and saw Sulphur-breasted Bush-shrike, Red-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike, Buff-fronted Warblers, Tropical Boubou, at least five Cardinal Woodpeckers, Least Honeyguide, Yellow-fronted Canary and Fawn-breasted Waxbills. We also had great views of two White-headed Barbets in a fruiting fig tree.

Unfortunately, our visit to the forest had to be cut short when torrential rain set in and Fred again became concerned about the state of the road. With much sliding and wheel spinning we eventually made it back onto the tarmac and rounded off the day with marvellous views of Papyrus Gonolek and Carruther’s Cisticola near Katunguru bridge where huge flocks of hirundines were feeding over the water.

More about my Uganda tour will follow soon…

Friday, 5 March 2010

Another Alentejo Day!

For the second time this week we spent the day in the Castro Verde area. No two days up there are ever the same and today, in spite of some pretty unfriendly weather, we saw several species that we didn’t find on Tuesday and we also saw a lot more Great Bustards.

With 100% cloud cover, a strong wind blowing and occasional rain, it wasn’t a day when we would have expected to find many raptors flying. However, we finished up seeing four Short-toed Eagles, a Golden Eagle, a Spanish Imperial Eagle, a probable Booted Eagle, four Black-winged Kites, a Red Kite, three Montagu’s Harriers, six or more Lesser Kestrels, a couple of Common Kestrels and two Common Buzzards!

Some days we can struggle to find Great Bustards and Little Bustards. Today wasn’t one of those days! And we had reasonably close views of both although the largest group of Great Bustards (48 birds) was some distance away and we definitely needed a telescope to see them. In total we reckon we saw 108 Great Bustards and 14 Little Bustards.

The day’s bird list also included Stone-curlew, Green Sandpiper, Calandra Lark, Wood Lark and Thekla Lark, all of them species we not only like to see but particularly enjoy hearing.

All in all, quite a successful day but wouldn't some sunshine have been nice!

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Alentejo Day

We were in the Castro Verde area again today. The morning was reasonably warm with some sunshine but the afternoon brought more heavy rain and at about 3.00pm we started heading for home.

Grey skies over the Alentejo

Just like the Algarve, there is water lying everywhere but the countryside is amazingly green and there are carpets of flowers. Great Spotted Cuckoos and Quail are here, we lost count of the number of White Storks' nests and we saw our first Little Ringed Plover of the year. Great Bustards were displaying, the males almost seeming to turn themselves inside out. Most of the Red Kites seem to have left but Montagu’s Harriers and Lesser Kestrels have arrived.

Little Ringed Plover

The most noticeable change since our last visit was the complete absence of Golden Plover and Northern Lapwings. Where, less than two weeks ago, there had still been hundreds of both we didn’t seen a single one of either species. Not surprisingly, the Sociable Lapwing has also departed. We wonder whether it will make it back to Kazakhstan or wherever it was it came from.