It’s instructive, too, and seeing how difficult it can be to age and sex birds in the hand definitely makes us more cautious about making these calls in the field. Also, of course, we remember that these same ringers, when they were here last year, trapped a Common Yellowthroat and two Common Rosefinches, birds that otherwise would surely have gone undetected. What might they turn up this time?
It was good to have the identification of a Greenland Wheatear confirmed by reference to biometrics rather than just “that looks big and chunky”.
As always, it was interesting to see familiar birds such as Bluethroats and Kingfishers in the hand and a Little Bittern at close range emphasised the fact that this is a bird that is all legs, neck and beak with quite a small body.
This year’s ringing session was earlier than any of the previous ones and almost a whole month earlier than in 2010. This in itself probably reduced the chances of trapping any major rarity but at the same time it was thought that it might increase the diversity of species ringed. Whatever, having already seen in the past few days without the aid of a mist net migrants including Wryneck, Woodchat Shrike, Tawny Pipit, Northern Wheatear, European Reed Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Greater Short-toed Lark and Whinchat, we knew there would be plenty to see.
Whereas in October, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps have tended to be the most numerous species caught, this time there were relatively few of either of these. Instead, Red-rumped Swallow and European Reed Warbler seem to have topped the chart. No doubt, we will receive a full report with all the ringing totals in due course. Possibly one of the most surprising birds caught was a Spectacled Warbler found in what we would consider atypical grassland habitat.
An unusual bird that wasn’t trapped was a Great Egret, one of only a handful of this species that we have seen in the Algarve. It flew over our heads and dropped into the neighbouring water treatment works (in Portuguese, the ETAR). The ETAR is usually full of birds at this time, particularly gulls, and it would be great to have access to the site or even a hide from which we could more easily view them.
As we have said before, the Parque Ambiental is a great site for birds and also for dragonflies and butterflies. It is one of the best places in the Algarve to see Monarch butterflies and this time we were also lucky enough to see a Plain Tiger, the so-called African Monarch, something of a rarity.
The occurrence in the UK of remarkable numbers of Nearctic vagrants on the back of Hurricanes Irene and Katia has to some extent been mirrored here in Portugal. So far this month six species of American shorebirds have been reported in mainland Portugal. Next door, in Spain there have also been multiple occurrences of transatlantic shorebirds. Unfortunately, here in the Algarve, we’ve had none at all or at least none have so far been reported. Surely there must be a Buff-breasted Sandpiper or a Pectoral Sandpiper here somewhere! Or, more difficult to find, perhaps a Semipalmated Sandpiper is lurking in one of the local saltpans. We must keep looking!