Sunday, 27 October 2013

That was the week...

We’ve just spent a week with two friends from the UK who are keen and widely travelled birders but making their visit to Portugal.  It was a shame that their arrival coincided with a spell of unsettled weather, including a couple of days of rain, but we did our best to show them why it was that we decided to make our base here in lovely Tavira.

Sunday, 20th
Just a half day around the Tavira and Santa Luzia saltpans where the usual selection of waders included one or two Ruff but the highlight for us was seeing Common Redshank H19 for the first time this autumn.  We have written before here about this Dutch-ringed bird, which was back in its usual spot where it has been seen regularly through the last three winters.
There are lots of Audouin’s Gulls here still and we couldn’t resist jotting down a few ring numbers.

Monday, 21st
A full day in the Castro Verde area saw the best of the week’s weather - warm and sunny with just a gentle breeze.  With persistence and a little luck we were able to find most of the target species, including both Great Bustard and Little Bustard, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Griffon Vulture, Black Vulture, Stone-curlew and Calandra Lark.  A Hen Harrier was our first of the season, Red Kite numbers had increased from a week ago but the day’s only Black-winged Kite disappointed by quickly disappearing from view.

Tuesday, 22nd
A dark and dismal morning with persistent rain found us at Castro Marim birding just from the car.  We saw barely 30 species in the hour or so before we saw sense and headed back home!

Wednesday, 23rd
Most of the day was spent around Ludo and Quinta do Lago where early morning raptors included four Booted Eagles, an Osprey, a Marsh Harrier and a Black-winged Kite.  We saw what were probably three different Little Bitterns and as well as the usual Purple Swamp-hens it’s nice that a Water Rail has recently taken to appearing from time to time in front of the hide.  Several Red-crested Pochards, Glossy Ibises and Black-headed Weaver completed the area’s ‘must see’ species.  Two Cetti’s Warblers put on a memorable and uncharacteristic show for us, displaying and chasing about in open view, lots of White Storks were back on their nests, the wooded areas provided Crested Tits, Iberian Green Woodpecker and Great Spotted Woodpecker but for some reason not Short-toed Treecreeper.  Two Common Scoters off Praia de Faro at lunchtime were a bonus.
We rounded off the day back in Tavira where three Bluethroats in view simultaneously could hardly have been bettered.

Thursday, 24th
When the forecast shows wet and windy weather approaching from the west, it’s best to head east!  We went to Doñana for the day and although we didn’t see much sun we did stay dry.
At La Dehesa de Abajo there were fewer birds than we saw on our last visit there two weeks ago mainly because Glossy Ibises and White Storks were mostly absent.  There were still 1,000 or so Greater Flamingos and probably twice that number of Northern Shovelers.  Among the hundreds of Black-winged Stilts, one with a colour-ring obligingly walked past the hide two or three times.  Two Black Terns, two Pallid Swifts and several Red-knobbed Coots were also notable and there were large numbers of hirundines feeding over the water.  After all that we enjoyed an excellent lunch in the visitor centre.
In the afternoon, we headed off to explore other parts of Doñana where the numbers of Marsh Harriers, Great Egrets, Grey Herons and Common Kestrels were particularly impressive.  We saw Griffon Vultures and Calandra Larks, on several occasions we had good views of Black-winged Kites but the highlight was probably seeing four Black Storks at close range, birds that we don‘t often see on the ground in the Algarve.

Friday, 25th
Heavy overnight rain continued into the morning and we decided not to venture out birding until after lunch.  The afternoon was no better; we managed half an hour or so around Tavira, birding from the car but it was no fun and we did the only sensible thing, we packed up and went home.

Saturday, 26th
During a week’s birdwatching tour in the Algarve it would be unprofessional not to go to Sagres, particularly at this time of the year when there is a chance to see some raptors and other migrants.  The weather had improved and we enjoyed a mostly sunny day with very little wind.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t a great birding day - the birds just didn‘t turn up! 
We saw a few Cory’s Shearwaters, a tired-looking Garden Warbler and a Pied Flycatcher, Shags, Rock Doves and Crag Martins and a flock of what must have been 100 or more Red-billed Choughs but the only raptors were a Booted Eagle and a Common Buzzard.

On the way back to Tavira, we called in at Lagoa dos Salgados but it wasn’t a pretty sight.  Work is currently being carried out by Águas do Algarve, which it is said should provide enhanced nesting and feeding areas for birds, enable the water levels to be controlled and generally increase the lagoon's appeal to migrating birds to stop over, rest and feed.  If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is!  We should remember that the head of  Águas do Algarve is that same person who was previously mayor of Silves council and was instrumental in granting permission to Finalgarve for the tourist development adjacent to the lagoon that has been the subject of an online petition and a complaint to the European Environment Commissioner.

So, that was the week - some very good days, one that was not so good and two that were washed out by the weather.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

La Dehesa de Abajo

We’ve been across the border to Spain a couple of times recently, to the Marismas del Odiel, to Doñana and in particular to La Dehesa de Abajo.

Usually our trips to Doñana are one-day affairs involving early starts from Tavira and returning late.  Our most recent trip was like that.  However, a few weeks back we had a leisurely journey, stopping off on the way for some birding at the Marismas del Odiel and then staying overnight in Aznalcázar at the very nice Hacienda Olontigi.

Our main reason for the overnight stay was to give ourselves several chances to photograph Iberian lynx.  We went with three friends from Tavira and in Aznalcázar we met up with Beltran Ceballos Vazquez and Sergio Asian González, both of whom are involved in the lynx re-introduction project and whom we know from previous trips to Andalucía.  This trip was the result of a conversation that we had with the two of them at the Birdfair at Rutland Water in August.

Sadly things didn’t work out quite as we and they had hoped.  Partly this was the result of the weather - there was persistent rain that really didn’t encourage us or any lynx to be out and about; also there was some bad luck in that we visited several potential sites and were simply at the right place at the wrong time.  While we were at Site A, what looked from the photos captured by a camera trap to be three different lynxes were at Site B!

In spite of some miserable weather and missing out on our main target, we had an enjoyable couple of days.  The birding at La Dehesa de Abajo was very good - thousands of roosting White Storks were quite a sight and there was a good selection of waders and ducks.  We also took the ferry across the Rio Guadalquivir at Coria del Rio and spent an afternoon in the Paraje Natural del Brazo del Este where Glossy Ibises were particularly numerous.  There were no rarities, just plenty of birds, amongst them Black Stork, Osprey, Great Egret, lots of Marsh Harriers and various common passerine migrants.

La Dehesa de Abajo

Last week, we didn’t take much persuading to go back to La Dehesa de Abajo just on a day trip.  On this occasion the weather was superb but we were there for the birds and there was no chance to look for any lynx.  If anything there were even more birds than earlier - just by counting five species (White Stork, Greater Flamingo, Glossy Ibis, Northern Shoveler and Black-tailed Godwit) we estimated more than 12,000 birds.  The departure from the lagoon of several thousand White Storks was followed by the arrival of wave after wave of Glossy Ibises, a spectacle that on its own made the journey worthwhile.  We also saw there a Red-knobbed Coot, a late Bee-eater and lots of waders that included several hundred Avocets; not too far away, we watched a Spanish Imperial Eagle.

Red-knobbed Coot - from a hide that faces into the light

It’s great to see the visitor centre at La Dehesa de Abajo open and being able to buy some lunch there made a change from the sandwiches that we’ve been having day after day.  The new regime has plans for more hides to be provided at some stage and it would be nice if there could also be some modifications to the two existing ones which like most hides in this part of the world are poorly designed and badly sited.

We will be planning an early return to La Dehesa de Abajo and to other parts of Doñana.  It won’t be long before Common Cranes arrive!  And, of course, there’s also the lynx to be photographed.

Algarve Update

With scarcely a day off from birding in one form or another and lots of long days out to the Alentejo, to Sagres and to Doñana, regular updates to our blog have been impossible these last few weeks.

September and October are two of the best months for birding here.  It’s migration time of course and that means birds arriving, birds leaving and birds just passing through - raptors, passerines, waders, seabirds, everything.  We've been busy!

Among all these birds can usually be found a few rarities but we have to be careful when we refer to rarities.  In the last month or so there have been records here of American Golden Plover, Lesser Flamingo, Lesser Redpoll, Rüppell’s Griffon, White-winged Tern, Herring Gull, Brent Goose, Roseate Tern, Glaucous Gull, Chimney Swift, Long-tailed Skua, Yelkouan Shearwater and Long-legged Buzzard, all of which are subject to scrutiny by the Portuguese Rarities Committee but this list no doubt includes a few that you may not think of as rare if you live in the UK, for instance.  It will be interesting to see how many of them are eventually accepted. 

Other scarce (but not officially rare) species of local interest have included Western Olivaceous Warbler, Great Egret, Grey Phalarope and Ferruginous Duck, plus Eleanora’s Falcon, Spanish Imperial Eagle and several other raptors. 

Grey Phalarope

Here in Tavira, we did hear a couple of reports of a Western Reef Egret but they almost certainly referred to the presumed hybrid garzetta x gularis egret that has been mainly around the Forte do Rato area for several weeks.

Hybrid garzetta x gularis egret

In recent autumns at least some of the rarity records in the Algarve have resulted from ringing activity but as far as we are aware that hasn’t happened this year.  The group from the UK led by Colin McShane who in previous years have ringed Common Yellowthroat, Aquatic Warbler and Common Rosefinch among others, unfortunately chose to spend a week at Vilamoura that included the only few days in the last several months that proved to be unsuitable for ringing.  This was their seventh visit here and the total number of birds ringed, while they endured wind and rain, was their lowest so far.

The 4th Sagres Birdwatching Festival during the first weekend of October seems to have been a success both for the number of people attending and for the number and variety of birds that were recorded.  Some days at Sagres / Cape St Vincent birding can be hard work so it was good that those who travelled there just for the festival had plenty to keep them entertained.

This autumn we have managed only one ‘pelagic’ trip and really it wasn’t one of the best.  We went about 5 miles out from Fuseta but saw only Cory’s and Sooty Shearwaters, a Black Tern and Northern Gannets.  Probably we should have gone a week or two earlier but that wasn’t possible.

 Northern Gannet

Black Tern

Much of our birding has been in the Eastern Algarve, at Castro Marim and in the Ria Formosa.  The numbers of birds have been impressive - e.g. 1,700 Greater Flamingos, 1,350 Audouin’s Gulls and 900 Avocets at Castro Marim - and species such as Bluethroat, Glossy Ibis, Purple Swamp-hen, Little Bittern, Slender-billed Gull, Caspian Tern and Black-necked Grebe have been popular with visiting birders and mostly easy to see.

 Black-necked Grebe

 Glossy Ibis

 Caspian Terns

Little Bittern

As usual, we've been reading and reporting colour-rings.  Three Lesser Black-backed Gulls from the Netherlands and two from Belgium were all seen at Olhão.  We are still awaiting replies concerning a Black-winged Stilt, a Spoonbill and several Greater Flamingos and Audouin's Gulls.

In other news, television personality Bill Oddie has been birding in the Algarve and has expressed support for the campaign to ‘Save Salgados’.  You can read about that here and, if you haven’t signed the petition, it’s still available here.