Monday, 20 December 2010

Another Rare Bird Alert!

The warm and sunny weather continued until Thursday but since then we have had some heavy rain and it has been mostly cloudy.

We had a couple of days covering the usual sites around Tavira and Santa Luzia where a big female Peregrine Falcon was the only unusual bird seen. We used what turned out to be the last of the sunshine to photograph a Bar-tailed Godwit and some Lesser Black-backed Gulls. It’s very easy here to photograph Black-tailed Godwits but Barwits, being mainly coastal, are almost always viewed against the light and are a different proposition. The same is true of Oystercatcher, Curlew and Knot. They do come on to the saltpans at high tide but only rarely do they roost where we can get near enough for a photograph with the sun on them. This one was unusually obliging, feeding only a short distance from the road.

Bar-tailed Godwit

Lesser Black-backed Gull

On Sunday, in spite of the dismal weather and the fact that it was a hunting day, we took a trip to the Castro Verde area. Hunting is allowed here on Thursdays, Sundays and Public Holidays but we do wonder sometimes whether the locals have calendars! Anyway, the amount of shooting that we saw and heard on this occasion wasn’t enough to spoil our day, although it may have been sufficient to explain why we didn’t manage to find a single Little Bustard. Who could blame them for keeping their heads down? Happily, we did see plenty of Great Bustards and Black-bellied Sandgrouse and a good selection of raptors that included an immature Spanish Imperial Eagle and, more surprisingly, a Merlin. Lapwings and Golden Plovers were in their hundreds.

As we were driving back late in the afternoon we received a phone call from Thijs Valkenburg to tell us that he had just found a Long-billed Dowitcher on the saltpans at Olhão. There have been only a handful of records of this North American wader in Portugal and had we been at home we might have dropped everything and gone to look for it. As it was, we had no chance to get there in daylight.

So this morning at 10.30am we were at Olhão watching the Dowitcher. Even then it still didn’t seem like daylight but at least we got there before the rain started again. It almost goes without saying that we were on our own. There has been some discussion here recently about how we might improve the flow of news about rare and scarce birds and we support that. However, the fact is that there are still very few birders here and the record for the most people we have seen at a twitch in Portugal remains the 16 who came to Martinhal for the White-rumped Sandpiper in November last year. It seems likely to be a while before we are offered a Portuguese pager!

Long-billed Dowitcher

Long-billed Dowitcher

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