Saturday, 30 June 2012

Castro Marim

We’ve spent three mornings this week at and around the Reserva Natural do Sapal de Castro Marim e Vila Real de Santo António, which not surprisingly we tend to refer to simply as Castro Marim.  Not only is this one of the most productive birding sites in the Algarve but it also has the attraction for us that it is reasonably close to our base in Tavira and can be reached fairly quickly without incurring road tolls.

It’s getting to be quite warm here now with temperatures rising to 30ºC and higher by mid-morning, so early starts have become an essential part of our routine.  Breakfast has been accompanied by the ‘cut-ock, cut-ock’ song of Red-necked Nightjars and the calls of Little Owls, two birds that get the day list off to a good start before leaving home.

Castro Marim is primarily a wetland area and we have mentioned before that we recently counted almost 1,600 Greater Flamingos there.  We haven’t counted them this week but have no reason to think that there are any fewer than that number.  There is more to the reserve than just saltpans but they are a major attraction and already many Spoonbills and waders are returning, birds that have been north to breed or perhaps have suffered a failed breeding attempt.  Most numerous of these are Black-tailed Godwits but Dunlins, Grey Plovers and Ruddy Turnstones have also been seen and we were particularly pleased to see and hear the return of our favourite, Greenshanks and Green Sandpipers.

The local breeding waders, Kentish Plovers, Avocets, Black-winged Stilts and Stone-curlews all have young, some of them now well-grown.  A month or so ago, we saw a pair of Little Ringed Plovers with young on the reserve and it seems likely that Common Redshank have also nested in the area.

Gulls seen this week have been just the usual Yellow-legged, Slender-billed and Audouin’s.  Little Terns are numerous but it seems that they may not have had much breeding success.  Up to three non-breeding Caspian Terns have remained in the area and a flock of 18 Black Terns passed through on Tuesday.  Sightings of Collared Pratincoles have been popular and several pairs are assumed to be breeding.

We read somewhere in one of the guide books to the Algarve that there are few raptors here other than those seen at Sagres during the autumn period and that seeing anything other than a Common Buzzard or a Common Kestrel could be considered a bonus.  Well, we must have been very lucky this week with seven species seen just at Castro Marim!  A Black-winged Kite near Tavira made eight species.

We are still finding one or two Glossy Ibises in unexpected places and Castro Marim is no exception.  Several Purple Herons are being seen around the reserve which may also be birds displaced from Doñana.

Other highlights of the week at Castro Marim have been a pair of Purple Swamp-hens, singing Golden Orioles, a pair of Spectacled Warblers feeding young, Bee-eaters going backwards and forwards in and out of nest holes, several pairs of White Storks with young, Woodchat Shrikes, Southern Grey Shrikes, Little Bustards and what appeared to be a family party of four Common Ravens.

It is disappointing that ICNB have found it necessary to stop access to the Cerro do Bufo sector of the reserve and we miss doing the circular walk there that was part of our weekly routine.  Still, we have adapted to the change and we hope that visiting birders will also respect the restrictions – there are plenty of birds to be seen without the need to trespass!  

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