The influx of Brent Geese at the start of the month was unusual and caused a bit of a stir but the bird of the winter so far has surely been the Red-breasted Flycatcher, which was first reported on 12th December and still remains at the edge of the golf course at Quinta do Lago. All previous records of this species in Portugal (fewer than 20) have been in October or November and none of those was reported to have stayed for more than a few days so this one is exceptional. Living alongside Chiffchaffs and often feeding on the ground, it is obviously finding enough to eat but would probably have been better off heading to India or Pakistan for the winter with the rest of the Red-breasted Flycatcher population.
Other rarities have included a Ring-billed Gull at Lagoa dos Salgados, a Caspian Gull at Quarteira, an American Wigeon between Olhão and Faro and a Red-knobbed Coot at Foz de Almargem. The last two of these are presumed to be the same birds that spent much of last winter at the same sites.
In the ‘interesting and good to see category’ but not rare are several species that are easy to find but localised or here in just small numbers. These include Penduline Tits, Alpine Accentors, Slender-billed Gulls, Ferruginous Ducks and Black-necked Grebes.
Recently we’ve spent quite a lot of time counting birds. As usual, we helped out the ICNF with the monthly waterbird count at the Castro Marim Reserve where Greater Flamingos were the most numerous species - there were 1,069 of them! Next came Black-tailed Godwits (824), Dunlin (795), Avocets (448) and Black-headed Gulls (273). We get two hours either side of high tide to do this count and we usually need most of that time.
Walking the beach for Project Arenaria
When we went a few days later to survey a stretch of beach just east of Monte Gordo as part of Project Arenaria it was a different story entirely. This was a low tide count and although we had a long and pleasant walk we saw very few birds. Based on our experience in previous years we had expected to find a lot of loafing Yellow-legged & Lesser Black-backed Gulls but there were none at all and we found just a handful of Sanderlings and Oystercatchers and a single Kentish Plover. As part of this survey we are also required to count the number of people on the beach and the number of dogs not on a leash. The people didn’t quite outnumber the birds but it was a close thing! Project Arenaria is a survey of the non-estuarine coast.
Last week we were back to high tide counts. These were at Santa Luzia, Livramento and Fuseta as part of a survey of the entire Ria Formosa organised by the ICNF. Both Santa Luzia and Fuseta had more than 2,000 birds. At Fuseta more than half of the birds counted were gulls of five different species; at Santa Luzia there were 15 wader species that made up more than 80% of the total.
Last Saturday we devoted the best part of a day to a count of wintering Ospreys that involved more than 130 observers throughout the country. Surprisingly, at the end of the day, even allowing for some double counting it was estimated that between 71 and 81 birds had been seen with a minimum of ten of those being in the Algarve. Although we didn’t see one on the count day in the area that we were allocated, they have definitely become a familiar sight here and we saw one in Tavira yesterday that may well have been missed on Saturday. No doubt we’ll be seeing more soon as birds start to return from West Africa on their way to Northern Europe.