Monday, 22 October 2012

Recent highlights...

So what exactly constitutes a highlight?  Well, the Aquatic Warbler that was ringed at Vilamoura on 12th October was the first of that species in the Algarve since 2005, it was the first that either of us had seen in Portugal and it was the first that June had seen anywhere.  That was probably enough to make it the highlight of that day and possibly also the highlight of the month!

Aquatic Warbler

Very often at the end of a day’s birding one of us will ask the question: what was your bird of the day?  The answers are sometimes surprising but just as often there will be a standout candidate that we agree on.  Maybe it will be that we have witnessed some unusual behaviour.  Sometimes it will be a common bird that we have seen somewhere unexpected or out of season.  Occasionally it will be a single bird that has brightened an otherwise mundane day.  Frequently it will be a bird that has given particular pleasure to someone who has been with us, maybe a bird that we ourselves take for granted.

An example in the last few days would be the single female Great Bustard that we eventually found in the Castro Verde area at 5.30pm in the late afternoon after searching all day.  Great Bustards can be difficult to find at this time of the year and on a day when it seemed that every farmer in the Baixo Alentejo was out ploughing and there was disturbance everywhere, it seemed that our 100% record in finding this species was in serious danger.  The bird that saved our bacon was definitely a candidate for ‘bird of the day’.

If that Great Bustard was ‘bird of the day’, then ‘species of the day’ was definitely Spanish Imperial Eagle.  Never have we seen quite so many of them!  Although, to be fair, we don’t know how many different individuals we saw.  On at least five occasions during the day, we got out of the car and looked up to see two or sometimes even three of these magnificent birds.  We were often able to watch them for several minutes and on one occasion were close enough to hear the harsh, barking call of one.

Spanish Imperial Eagle

Recently we spent a day doing survey work for the Atlas of Wintering & Migratory Birds.  We always say that Atlas work gets us into areas where we probably wouldn’t otherwise go and that’s true.  Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily a good thing!  We were out all day, visited six widely separated tetrads and saw no more than about 35 species in total.  Eventually, we got to some water where we found as many as five Green Sandpipers.  After counting so many Corn Buntings and Azure-winged Magpies, Green Sandpipers were definitely that day’s highlight even if we do see them most days at this time of year.

Green Sandpiper

Purple Swamp-hens are common at several sites here and hard to miss at Quinta do Lago.  Finding them here in the Eastern Algarve is a different story!  We have about half a dozen sites east of Tavira where we have seen them but few are reliable and easily accessible.  So it’s been good these last couple of weeks to have one that has been easy to get to and co-operative.  When you rely on being able to show birds to people, these things are important!

Purple Swamp-hen

On several occasions, at the same site, we have also seen one or more Ferruginous Ducks, a species unusual enough in these parts to be a highlight some days, whereas it probably wouldn’t be if seen at one of the more regular sites such as the Parque Ambiental de Vilamoura.

Ferruginous Duck

Little Bittern is a species that we have seen in every month of the year at Quinta do Lago.  Sometimes they are hard to find, sometimes they are hard to miss but always they are popular.  This one posed for several minutes in front of the hide, illuminated by perfect late afternoon sunshine, and brought real pleasure to those few who were there to enjoy it.

Little Bittern

In the category of unusual behaviour, we recently watched a Black-winged Kite that was apparently ‘fly-catching’, making short flights from the top of a small dead tree presumably to take dragonflies or similar before returning each time to the same perch, much in the manner of a Spotted Flycatcher.  It continued like this for all of ten minutes.  We are seeing Black-winged Kites with increasing frequency but can’t recall seeing this feeding method before.

Currently we have a reasonably reliable Water Rail that we can sometimes to show to people and several Bluethroats are now established in winter territories around Tavira.  Any one of these birds that performs when required is potentially the day’s highlight!

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