It's been a busy few weeks for me while Pete has been away leading an Avian Adventures tour in Costa Rica. I've visited most of our favourite sites - Tavira saltpans, Castro Marim, Ludo and Quinta do Lago and the Baixo Alentejo - most of them more than once! The weather is taking longer to settle this year and some of my birding has been in pretty wet conditions. Migration has really picked up though with Northern and Black-eared Wheatears, Woodchat Shrikes, Great Spotted and Common Cuckoos and European Bee-eaters all here in reasonable numbers now.
I saw my first of the season Collared Pratincoles at Castro Marim on the 22nd March but the Black-tailed Godwits, which a couple of weeks ago were looking very smart in their brick-red plumage, seem now to have headed north to their breeding grounds. I'm sure the Dunlins that are now showing smart black bellies will follow very soon.
On the 29th whilst visiting Cerro do Bufo I watched a pair of Great Spotted Cuckoos in their courtship routine. I first saw the male, sitting on a fence post with a huge caterpillar in its beak. The bird then flew to another post and called whilst still holding its prey. This brought the female in and the male quickly mounted her, at the same time presenting her with the caterpillar. Mating is invariably preceded by courtship feeding but the whole episode was over in a matter of a few seconds.
Male Great Bustards in the Alentejo are in fine plumage and their leks have been fascinating to watch as they throw back their heads, fluff up their feathers and throw their wings forward - almost turning themselves inside out!!
Along the Mértola to Castro Verde road, White Storks are nesting in good numbers, although some of them have had to build new nests. Last year some of them returned to find that their nests had ‘disappeared’ - some of the power poles that support the nests had been replaced as part of the road improvement scheme. Platforms have been provided to help the re-building project and all seems to be going well – let’s hope they have a successful year.
At Quinta do Lago the Purple Swamp-hens, Great Crested Grebes and Red-crested Pochards don't seem to mind that the reeds were very severely cut back earlier in the year - they seem to have other things on their mind!
A Slender-billed Gull that was hanging out on saltpans near the Hotel Vila Galé here in town seems now to have moved on. Not very far from there I have twice recently seen Black-crowned Night-Herons which was something of a surprise. On the first occasion, there were two birds and on the second there appeared to be two adults and a sub-adult bird. We saw a couple of Night-Herons locally before Christmas but these latest birds are presumably migrants.