Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Red-knobbed Coot x Eurasian Coot

Twice during visits to the Marismas del Odiel in May this year, June and Ray Tipper saw a Red-knobbed Coot that appeared to be paired with a Eurasian Coot. In fact, on 28th May the birds were seen copulating.

Hybridisation between the two species has been recorded in the past but as far as we have been able to find out, doesn't seem to be common.

We returned to the site today to check on progress and found the birds still together but we could see no sign of either a nest or young. No doubt we will be having another look at them in a week or so.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Castro Verde and more

We spent much of today in the Castro Verde area. Not surprisingly, the forecast was for it to be hot, around 35 degrees, and not surprisingly that's exactly what it was - it was baking hot! But we started early and had an enjoyable and reasonably successful day. We had no particular plan or target species but simply wanted to try and take a few photographs. With very little effort we saw most of the 'usual suspects', including Rollers, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, both Bustards, Collared Pratincoles, Black-eared Wheatear, Great Spotted Cuckoo and a good selection of raptors. We eventually succumbed to the heat and headed back south soon after lunch.

Here are a few of today's more co-operative birds:

On the way home we diverted to a site where White-rumped Swifts were found breeding last year and we were pleased to find that they had returned. This species is now known to be breeding at several sites in the Alentejo and the Algarve and is almost certainly overlooked.

While Peter was away in Tanzania, June managed to see four species of owls in the Algarve in the space of just a few hours. Today it was just Little Owls - lots of them, but they're hard to resist when they pose like this one!

We regularly make our last stop at Altura where the 'tank', a wastewater pond that doesn't look particularly promising, has turned up several interesting species for us in the last few years. These have included Red-knobbed Coot, Ferruginous Duck, Whooper Swan and Ring-necked Duck. Today we spotted a Little Bittern lurking in the reeds, not an unusual species in the Algarve but the furthest east we have seen one.

Sunday, 27 June 2010


Spend some time in the Arrivals hall at the airport here in Faro and you will quickly realise the importance of golf to the Algarve tourist industry. It's hard to sneak into the country with a bag of golf clubs without the main purpose of your visit being recognised!

However, it is not so easy to see how many arriving visitors have a pair of binoculars or a telescope in their carry-on bags. We might think that our optical equipment weighs heavy but compared to those golfers we travel light! Anyway, the result is that the number of birdwatchers visiting the Algarve and the value of birding tourism here has largely gone unrecognised.

Recently, however, there have been signs that the Algarve Tourist Board has at last begun to realise the potential of this area as a destination for birders, something that we, of course, have been aware of for quite a few years! We understand that there will even be a Turismo do Algarve presence at this year's Birdfair at Rutland Water (on the SPEA stand in Marquee 1), recognition of that event's importance in promoting birding tourism all over the world.

We would like to think that this new awareness of birdwatching and its potential benefit to the local economy might eventually lead to better protection of wildlife habitats here. Could it be that one day the importance to birds of sites such as Lagoa dos Salgados and Vilamoura might lead to harmful development proposals actually being refused? Faced with deciding between another new golf course, another hotel or a wildlife reserve, could it be that the authorities might choose to keep that lagoon or that reedbed? We’re thinking long-term here, of course, but if wildlife areas can be seen to bring economic benefits, who knows? This is, after all, what ecotourism is about.

Yesterday we were at a birdwatching fair here in Portugal, a rare event indeed! If it bore any resemblance to the Birdfair it was perhaps to the original Rutland Water event more than 20 years ago. In other words it was on a pretty small scale. It was called Observanatura, a name that was presumably chosen to imply an interest in a broader spectrum of wildlife than just birds but the publicity material described it as a 'birdwatching fair' and that's what it was. It was held at the Herdade da Mourisca, an ICNB reserve area on the Sado estuary, near Setúbal, a three-hour drive from our home in Tavira. We were there with our Portuguese partner-company, Another Level. Representatives of most of the country’s birding tour operators were there and for us it was a nice social occasion, an opportunity to renew acquaintances with some of the small Portuguese birding community.

June at our Stand at Observanatura

The differences between Observanatura and the Rutland Water event were highlighted in Saturday morning’s opening talk by another friend, Tim Appleton, self-described ‘grandfather of all birdwatching fairs’. Tim’s talk was entitled Birdfair – its value to the Birding Industry and International Conservation. The figures that he quoted relating to exhibitor and visitor numbers at Birdfair, the amounts of money spent there and the considerable sums raised for conservation must have been quite mind-boggling for the Portuguese! However, you have to start somewhere and Observanatura is a welcome development, an event we hope to see repeated. If and when it is, we hope the organisers will take heed of Tim’s advice and choose a venue that is more accessible and nearer to a centre of population. If it has to be an ICNB ‘reserve’ then we can think of nowhere better than Quinta do Marim in the Ria Formosa, where visitor numbers would surely be higher than they were yesterday.

Tim Appleton, 'the grandfather of all birdwatching fairs'.

We will, of course, be on the Avian Adventures stand at Rutland Water on Friday 20th - Sunday 22nd August. We hope the weather there is as good as it was yesterday at scorching hot Herdade da Mourisca.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Montana & Wyoming - Part 3

After leaving Yellowstone, the last three days of our tour were spent in and around Grand Teton National Park. The name refers to Grand Teton, the tallest mountain in the Teton Range, rising to 13,770 feet (4,197 m). It says something for the Tetons that although in the last few days we had crossed the spectacular Beartooth Pass and visited the magnificent Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River we were still impressed by the scenery here.

Everyone else takes this photo, so wouldn't I?

The Snake River

Jackson Hole Airport - only two US National Parks have airports.

One of two juvenile Great Horned Owls from a nest in the Gros Ventre Campground.

Dusky Grouse - typically very confiding and not too difficult to find.

American Robin - very common everywhere we went.

Ospreys - another species seen daily throughout the tour.

Northern Flicker - sometimes referred to as Red-shafted Flicker or Common Flicker, both with good reason.

Trumpeter Swan - now successfully re-introduced into areas where the species had been hunted to near-extinction.

Grey Jay - a cheeky picnic table bird.

Violet-green Swallow - a cavity-nesting species associated with coniferous forests at higher elevations.

Red-naped Sapsucker - found nesting along the Moose-Wilson Road.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Montana & Wyoming - Part 2

Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872 and is said to have been the world's first national park. Situated primarily in the US state of Wyoming, it also extends into Montana and Idaho. It covers an area of almost 9,000 square kilometres, not quite twice the size of the Algarve (5,412 sq km), but more than big enough to try and cover in just a week!

Although we were mainly concerned to see the wildlife, especially the birds, first time visitors were equally interested in the park's many geothermal features - geysers, fumaroles, mud pots and hot springs. Most people will have at least heard of the 'Old Faithful' geyser but roughly half of all the world's 1,000 or so geysers are in Yellowstone so there was much else for us to see. Also, the scenery is really spectacular with lakes, rivers, mountains and canyons as well as huge areas of forest, so endless opportunities for photography.

During our 12-night tour we managed to see 28 species of mammals and most of those were in Yellowstone. On several occasions we saw Grizzly Bears, including on one occasion a mother with four cubs. We also saw several Black Bears and Coyotes, lots of Bison and Elk, Mountain Goats, Bighorn Sheep,and many smaller 'critters', mainly chipmunks and ground squirrels.

Birds included the easily seen wetland species such as American White Pelican, Sandhill Cranes and lots of ducks; raptors such as Red-tailed Hawk, Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle; stunning Mountain Bluebirds and several woodpeckers. The 'star of the show' was probably a female Great Grey Owl on a nest that contained at least two chicks.

The view across Lake Yellowstone

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River

What are all these people waiting for?

'Old Faithful' - so-called because its irruptions, although not the tallest or largest amongst Yellowstone's geysers, are the most regular and predictable - always draws a crowd.

Norris Geyser Basin


Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel

Barrow's Goldeneye - the most numerous of the ducks that we saw, 250 in one flock.

A wily Coyote

Black Bear

Bison - once numbered more than 20 million in North America but now only about 30,000 remain in conservation herds; about 4,000 are in Yellowstone.

Mountain Bluebird - seen almost everday on our tour.

Uinta Ground Squirrel

Yellow-pine Chipmunk

Great Grey Owl

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Montana & Wyoming - Part 1

The June 2010 Avian Adventures tour to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks followed a rather different itinerary from previous visits. In the past we have flown to Denver and included Rocky Mountain National Park or started in Salt Lake City and visited various sites in Utah. This time instead we flew to Billings, Montana and spent a couple of days birding in that area before heading down through Yellowstone and finishing up in Jackson Hole. With overnight stays in Cooke City and West Yellowstone as well as Billings, this tour, billed as "Wild West Birding in Grand Teton & Yellowstone", should really include Montana in its title.

Local birder, Phil McBride, was our guide as we explored the farmland and grassy prairies out to the west of Billings and visited several sites mostly along the Yellowstone River which flows through the southeast part of the town. Phil’s knowledge of the area was invaluable.

Western Meadowlarks, Horned Larks, Western Kingbirds and Vesper Sparrows were numerous along the roadside fences as we made our way out towards the small town of Rapelje. Other grassland species seen included Upland Sandpipers, Lark Buntings and Chestnut-collared Longspurs. Ferruginous Hawks were the most frequently found raptors and, in common with at least three Bald Eagles, they seemed to be exploiting the ‘convenience food’ offered by countless Black-tailed Prairie Dogs. Several Burrowing Owls were ‘tenants’ in one of the Prairie Dog towns. A small pond provided a selection of common duck species plus about twenty Wilson’s Phalaropes and a handful of American Avocets.

Horned Lark

Western Meadowlark

Juvenile Burrowing Owl

Western Kingbird

Upland Sandpiper

Rapelje with a population of just over 100 people is best known for an annual mountain bike race that is held there but the town’s Stockman Café also seems to be the only place for miles around where you can get lunch, which we did.

Other sites visited included Itch-Kep-Pe Park in Columbus, Two Moon Park in Billings, Pictograph Cave State Park and one that the locals apparently refer to just as 56th Street Pond. Some of the highlights among the many birds seen were American Redstarts, Yellow-breasted Chats, Cedar Waxwings, Lazuli Buntings, Western Wood-Pewees and the first of many Sandhill Cranes of the tour.

Pictograph Cave State Park

Cedar Waxwing

Yellow-breasted Chat

Western Wood-Pewee

Throughout our time in the Billings area it was hard not to be aware of the scenic, snow-covered Beartooth Mountains to the southwest. When we left Billings, heading for Cooke City, we went via Red Lodge and then took the famous Beartooth Highway that crosses these mountains, a road that has been described as the most beautiful drive in the Lower 48 States. It is 64 miles from Red Lodge to Cooke City and at roughly the halfway point the Beartooth Pass reaches its highest point at 10,974 feet. Birds at this altitude are few but American Pipits are reasonably common and Black Rosy-Finches are regular.

Beartooth Highway

American Pipit

Beartooth Mountains

From Cooke City, our base for the next three nights, it is just four miles to the Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone National Park…