Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Tavira Bee-eaters

We're lucky to have a colony of European Bee-eaters just a five minute drive away. They're busy excavating nest holes at the moment and we're looking forward to watching their progress over the coming weeks.

They really are such beautiful birds that it's hard to imagine that they are persecuted and treated as pests in so many places, including Portugal. Maybe we would take a different view if we kept bees!

Of course, they eat much more than just bees but their diet does consist mostly of flying insects of one sort or another. We did see one this week, however, that was feeding on the ground, apparently taking ants.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Tavira Owls

Little Owls are really quite common in these parts and most of the time very easy to find.

This particular bird is one we know very well. It’s a bird that we have seen regularly in the same tree for the past six months or more. It lives only a short distance from the Tavira Gran-Plaza and every day many people walk, ride and drive past within just a few metres without even seeing it, which is a shame. The owl is only occasionally disturbed by passers-by, sometimes jumping up a little higher in the tree or hiding behind the foliage. Mostly it just sits there!

When we first came to Tavira we thought Little Owls might be the only owl species in the area and it was a while before we even saw a Barn Owl. We have now seen (or in one case heard) six species of owls within less than a kilometre of the town centre. It just goes to show! What does seem very unlikely though is that there will ever be a seventh but who would bet against it?

Saturday, 9 April 2011


Yesterday we crossed the border into Andalucia and spent the day in the Doñana area. It was only our third visit there this year but our second this week! In January we managed to choose a foggy day, last Sunday it was cloudy and it rained; at last, yesterday was sunny and warm!

Squacco Heron

White Stork

We often wonder what the Algarve would have been like for birding 50 years ago, before the tourism industry took it over and destroyed so much of the habitat. To some extent that same question about Doñana is answered by Guy Mountfort’s book, Portrait of Wilderness, an account of three expeditions to the area in the 1950s which helped establish the Doñana National Park as one of western Europe's outstanding natural areas. Doñana is unrecognisable now as the wilderness that was explored by Mountfort and his colleagues. Since those days, the area has suffered, like the Algarve, from tourist development and human encroachment, wetlands have been drained, river water has been diverted to boost agricultural production and there is also pollution from surrounding agriculture. In 1998, the area was threatened by a huge spill of toxic sludge from a reservoir at the Aznalcollar mine into the Guadiamar River. Having identified such a wonderful area and recognised its importance for wildlife, how could it be possible to allow so many negative impacts to continue over the following 50 years?

Northern Wheatear

Black Kite

The good news is that, in spite of everything, Doñana is still a wonderful area for birds and other wildlife. There may be times when it is dry and maybe seems rather uninteresting but right now it is teeming with birds, many that are there to breed and many that are just passing through. We had a great day and the question now is how soon can we go again?

Corn Bunting

Greater Short-toed Lark

If you haven't read Guy Mountfort's book, you really should! Likewise, if you haven't been to Doñana...

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Alentejo day (again!)

Yesterday we were in the Castro Verde area again. It was sunny and warm and we had another very good day; in fact only a strong wind prevented it from being an excellent day!

More than 20 Eurasian Griffons were seen, as well as a Eurasian Black Vulture

By now it probably goes without saying that we saw lots of bustards, Black-bellied Sandgrouse and raptors! However, we did see also a few unusual or unexpected species.

For example, we hadn’t expected to see again the Wood Sandpiper that we found three weeks ago at Alvares. This bird is a migrant heading perhaps for Scandinavia and it has chosen to pause on its way north at a tiny pond that for the past six months, through the winter, has been home to a Green Sandpiper. What is it, we wonder, that makes this bit of water so attractive to Tringas? And when will it decide to continue its journey?

One of the many White Stork nests in the area

The Red-knobbed Coot near Viseus was certainly unusual, a rarity anywhere in Portugal, in fact. There have been reports of two birds there but we found the cristata apparently keeping company with a Eurasian Coot.

Also an unusual sight in our experience was a flock of at least 30 Whiskered Terns at a lake in the heart of bustard country.

And we were surprised to find two European Golden Plovers; we had thought that all the wintering birds in the area had left some while ago. One of the birds was looking exceptionally smart in full breeding plumage.

Quite apart from the birds, at this time of year it is worth a trip to the Alentejo just for the flowers. You don’t have to be a botanist to enjoy the wonderful carpets of white, yellow, blue and purple that cover the countryside!

Flowers everywhere!

Little Ringed Plover nesting habitat

Little Ringed Plover - several pairs were seen during the day