Once again we spent New Year’s Day trying to find as many bird species as possible – a ‘Big Day’. It’s just a bit of fun and the only competition involved is with ourselves – our record to beat was 106, set in 2009 and a total that we managed to equal last year.
In past years we have spent the morning in the Ludo/Quinta do Lago area, the afternoon at Castro Marim and then used up the remaining hour or so of daylight around Tavira. Unfortunately, as there is no longer any access to the best (Cerro do Bufo) section of the Castro Marim reserve, yesterday this plan had to be revised. We decided, based on our visit there last Monday, to go instead to the Parque Ambiental de Vilamoura but this proved to be something of a tactical mistake.
We set off from Tavira at about 7.00am, not easy after a late night watching the New Year’s Eve firework display! The weather forecast referred to just a 20% chance of rain all day, which often means no rain at all, so there would be no excuses on that score.
At Ludo, we started the day with the expected Booted Eagles and Black-winged Kites but it was a sign of things to come that there was no Osprey or Hen Harrier to be seen, birds that we have found there on a number of recent visits. However, after continuing to Quinta do Lago, we saw most of the other expected species and when after about five hours we left the area, our running total was 84. We would have liked it to be at least 90!
Glossy Ibis at Quinta do Lago - No: 78 for the day
Opting to visit Vilamoura meant that we were driving further than we really wanted to, using up valuable birding time, but we were seduced by the prospect of Southern Grey Shrike, Penduline Tit, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, House Martin and Black-necked Grebe, species that we had seen there only a few days ago most of which we were unlikely to see elsewhere. We also had this fantasy about finding a Jack Snipe there! In the event, Vilamoura let us down badly. We saw none of those anticipated species. In fact we left there having added only five species to the total and four of those we could probably have found around Tavira. The exception was Black-headed Weaver which we had somehow contrived to miss at Quinta do Lago. In the context of the day it was a long drive for effectively that one species.
We now had very little time left to cover our home area around Tavira and virtually no chance of getting anywhere near a record total. Even then, in an area we know so well, some birds that we were confident of seeing let us down. The flock of Knots that on any other day would have been feeding at Quatro Águas were nowhere to be seen! We simply didn’t have time to go and look for the local Blue Rock Thrush.
At about 5.00pm we were feeling a bit dejected and ready to pack up and return home. In the fading light we had found Stone-curlews and Golden Plovers but were more than a little disappointed that they were only numbers 94 and 95 on our list, way short of our target.
At this point, the last bird of the day put in a very welcome appearance and what a change there was in our mood. It was a Short-eared Owl! We may have been 10 species short but this bird was completely unexpected and it saved our day. There seem to have been more reports than usual of Short-eared Owls this winter but this was our first and we’ll be hoping it stays around so that we can see it again.
So, a total of only 96 species. Next year there will definitely have to be a re-think about the day's schedule and, of course, we will hope for more co-operation from the birds!