This is not the sort of birding that we usually do; mostly we prefer a more relaxed approach, but once in a while we like to demonstrate just how good birding in the Algarve can be in ‘winter’. It’s not about getting the year list off to a good start, either - we don’t keep a year list - it’s just a bit of fun!
The weather can make a huge difference to the outcome of days like this and we could hardly have wished for better. Admittedly it was cold when we left home at 6.45am and there was frost on the ground when we arrived at Ludo but we didn’t see a cloud all day and later the temperature reached a toasty 17ºC.
Our plan had been to follow more or less the same route that had brought reasonable success in 2010 but then came a remarkable report of five species of hirundines being seen at Parque Ambiental de Vilamoura on New Year’s Eve. Hirundines are pretty scarce here currently. In fact we have seen only Crag Martins in recent weeks. Surely we couldn’t resist the possibility of five species that would be a substantial boost to our total.
And so it was that after spending most of the morning at Ludo, Quinta do Lago and Praia de Faro, instead of heading back east, we decided to go further west to Vilamoura. This ruled out any chance that we might have time to go to Castro Marim, which is actually one of our favourite sites; there were a couple of species at least that we might have found there that we were now unlikely to see. Still, we reckoned, Vilamoura and the hirundines were a better bet.
As it turned out, we did see species at Vilamoura that we probably wouldn’t have seen elsewhere, notably Penduline Tit and Ferruginous Duck, but we didn’t see any hirundines whatsoever! With the benefit of hindsight, the time spent driving there and the time that it took to walk to the further of the two hides might perhaps have been better spent elsewhere. Maybe we might have found some of those species that we think of as being common but which simply don’t put in an appearance on days like this when you particularly want them. We’re talking here about the likes of Linnet, Teal, Golden Plover, Iberian Grey Shrike and Stone-curlew all of which we have seen in recent days but failed to find yesterday.
After leaving Vilamoura we visited several of our favourite sites close to Olhão and then finished the day around Santa Luzia and Tavira where we knew we could easily and quickly find Audouin’s Gull, Slender-billed Gull, Bluethroat, Black-necked Grebe, Greenshank and Red-legged Partridge but wrongly thought we would find Stone-curlew.
We finished the day having seen 105 species, just one short of our record. We might have stayed out longer and looked for a Barn Owl or even an Eagle Owl but we reckoned that if we could be out all day and not see a Linnet, the chances of seeing another owl were probably slim! And, anyway, we weren’t in a competition, we were just out enjoying ourselves.
The highlight of our day was finding a flock of 10 Brent Geese in the Ria Formosa. This species is a rarity here and it was the first time we had seen them in the Algarve.
It would be nice to think that one year we might improve on our record from 2010. There are probably about 30 more species here in the Eastern Algarve that we might have seen, some of which would have been easy given another couple of hours. The main limiting factor on New Year’s Day is the extent of territory that can reasonably be covered in the relatively short hours of available daylight. The key, therefore, is in the planning and perhaps also in not allowing yourself to be diverted from the plan in the hope of seeing hirundines at Vilamoura!
Over the past few years we’ve been lucky enough to spend New Year’s Day birding in Costa Rica, Cuba, South Africa, Texas, Arizona, Florida and California but on a beautiful day like yesterday the Algarve stands comparison with any of these.