We were delighted to get a phone call on Friday from our friends at Marilimitado at Sagres. Unfortunately, the boat trip with them that we had been booked on earlier in the month had to be cancelled but now another one had been arranged.
And so, yesterday we set off early to drive almost the length of the Algarve coast – possibly the last time we will be able to do so without paying tolls on the A22 motorway – arriving at the harbour in Sagres at about 8.15am.
While Ricardo was getting the boat ready and fetching a barrel of ‘chum’, a noisy Blue Rock Thrush kept us entertained.
The boat is the ‘Kogia’, the same one we have been on in previous years. Sitting astride the seats and holding the bar in front is rather like being a pillion passenger on a motorbike. Thankfully, the seats are extremely well padded.
It was quite windy and the sea didn’t look particularly inviting but in no time at all conditions improved and it seemed that the sea was calmer the further out we went.
Before we found any seabirds of note a Hammerhead Shark was seen briefly and soon we came across several Common Dolphins, which are always fun to see swimming alongside the boat. However, better was to come in the shape of a huge Leatherback Turtle, the first time that Ricardo had seen a live specimen of this species in these waters and a creature we have seen before only in South Africa. Again it was only a brief sighting and there are no photographs but it was exciting to see!
The plan was to head south looking for a trawler or two and hope that fishing activity would be attracting some birds. We found a boat about 12 miles out and with it were about 100 gulls, mostly Yellow-legged. By this time we had seen a couple of Balearic Shearwaters and lots of Northern Gannets. When Ricardo began dispensing the ‘chum’ more Gannets appeared and several Great Shearwaters came really close but surprisingly, we saw only one Cory’s Shearwater.
Before very long several Great Skuas spotted the opportunity for a cheap meal and began harassing the gulls that were the main beneficiaries of our generosity. And then several European Storm Petrels came darting about looking like House Martins or perhaps White-rumped Swifts and about as easy to photograph as those two species!
And that was it, really. As pelagic trips go it wasn’t one of the best we have done but it’s getting late in the season and we didn’t really expect lots of birds. Ricardo had warned us that he hadn’t seen Wilson’s Storm Petrels for a while and also that Cory’s Shearwaters were few. Maybe it was surprising that there weren’t a few more Balearics and maybe some Sootys.
After the boat trip we drove to the nearby raptor watch point at Cabranosa but didn’t stay there very long – just long enough to see a Peregrine Falcon, a Common Buzzard and a Common Kestrel and to find out that it was generally a pretty slow day as far as migrant raptors were concerned. However, we also learned that last week’s Rose-coloured Starling had been seen again at Vale Santo, so that’s where we headed next. This time we did at least find a small starling flock but unfortunately there was no sign of the rarity among its Spotless and European cousins. Consolation came in the form of three Black Storks and an Egyptian Vulture that passed almost overhead.