Thursday, 2 August 2012

Good timing...or bad?

The Algarve can be pretty warm at this time of the year which is one of the reasons why in August we can expect an influx of tourists and why Tavira becomes rather more crowded than we like it to be.  Fortunately, the Birdfair at Rutland Water gives us an excuse to get away for a while and already we are in the UK.

We congratulated ourselves on the timing of our departure – we left on what was the hottest day of the year so far and a sign of things to come.  Of course, we knew that the weather in the UK might not be to our liking either but in fairness it hasn’t so far been too bad, although only a poor imitation of summer! 

The day after we left Tavira serious fires broke out in the hills to the north of the town and around São Bras de Alportel.  For three days almost 1,000 local firefighters battled hard to get the situation under control but were hampered by the hot and breezy weather conditions.  As many as 165 vehicles were reported to have been involved and a specialist aircraft from Spain was brought in to help in the struggle by dumping large volumes of water from the air.  In the end something like 5,000 hectares have been burned including large areas of cork oak trees.  The effect on the local economy and environment will no doubt be severe and likely to be long term.

Although the fires were far enough away from Tavira not to affect us directly, again we thought that we had done well to time our departure so as to miss them.

Subsequently, we have had to reconsider!  Firstly came news of a Broad-billed Sandpiper at Castro Marim, only the third ever record for Portugal and the second in the Algarve.  We spend countless hours at Castro Marim and have seen lots of good birds there over the years but still it was a bit frustrating to miss this one.  It’s a species that we have long predicted would turn up there and one we have often talked about seeing in the Algarve.

At least we have both seen this species in the past, most recently at Drayton Bassett Pits in Staffordshire in June 2004. 

 Broad-billed Sandpiper - Drayton Bassett Pits, Staffs - June 2004

We were just getting over the Broad-billed Sandpiper when there was more news from Castro Marim.  In what was presumably a classic instance of the ‘Roadside Rest Effect’, a Marsh Sandpiper was found there by Pedro Ramalho.  Of course, we have seen lots of Marsh Sandpipers and in fact we found one ourselves at Castro Marim in September 2009 but we do love those Tringas and were sorry to not to see this one.   

 Marsh Sandpiper - Uganda, February 2007

Incidentally, the expression ‘Roadside Rest Effect’, refers to the situation in which the discovery of one rarity leads to more rarities being found in the same location, usually because of the arrival of more birders and it originates in Arizona where the Patagonia Roadside Rest has been the scene of several twitches that have resulted in the finding of additional rarities.

So, we escaped the heat and missed the fires but we also missed out on a couple of rare waders.  Maybe our timing wasn’t that good after all!

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