Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Raptors galore!

We’ve had another excellent week’s birding.  Again we’ve been to the Castro Verde area and across the border to Doñana as well as to most of the best sites in the Algarve.

It’s been a great time for raptors and we have seen an amazing 20 species in the space of five days.  These were Eagles (6), Falcons (5), Harriers (3), Kites (2), Vultures (2), Sparrowhawk and Common Buzzard.

Bonelli's Eagle

The standout species among those were a Steppe Eagle and a Pallid Harrier but Eleonora’s Falcon and Merlin are also species that we don’t see very often.  Somehow we managed to miss seeing any Ospreys!

The Steppe Eagle is presumably the same bird that was first reported in the Baixo Alentejo at the end of August and has been seen several times since then.  We found it near Entradas in the company of two immature Spanish Imperial Eagles on the ground at a carcass.  It isn’t a species that one would expect to see in Portugal and already doubts have been expressed about its origin.

Steppe Eagle with two Spanish Imperial Eagles

The Pallid Harrier on the other hand is a bird that no longer comes as a surprise here.  The first record for Portugal was as recently as 2011 but there have been records annually since then.  We had good views of one near Cabranosa which was our first here.

Passerine migration continues, of course.  Robins, Blackcaps and Meadow Pipits have become noticeably more numerous in the past week or so while Whinchats, Northern Wheatears, Pied Flycatchers and others are now fewer.  Not surprisingly, there have been quite a few Yellow-browed Warblers, a species that looks set to lose its status as a rarity here as it has in the UK.

Pied Flycatcher

In the Alentejo, we found four Mute Swans at Alvares where previously there had been only two.  We hear that since our last visit there these birds have been joined by two Black Swans!  One can only speculate as to the origin of these birds and hope that they soon move on!  It’s been good to see the increasing number of Green Sandpipers and Common Snipe at this site and at similar small reservoirs in the area.

Common Snipe

Lagoa dos Salgados continues to hold hundreds of birds with the water level a little lower now than it was a month ago.  A particular feature there recently has been the number of Glossy Ibises, which at times has reached 500 or more.  A couple of Marsh Harriers regularly cause panic amongst the many ducks, gulls and waders.  Bluethroats are now a frequent sight.  We saw both Black & Caspian Terns during our last visit.

Glossy Ibis

Quinta do Lago is also a site that seldom disappoints.  The Purple Swamp-hens and Little Bitterns there are always popular and the Black-headed Weavers frequently come as a surprise to first-time visitors.  The hide there provides an opportunity to sit and actually watch birds and also to show them to the non-birders who regularly look in.  Who knows when helping someone see a Kingfisher through our Swarovski 'scope will add another recruit to our hobby/obsession!

Little Bittern

Greylag Geese

After our previous disappointing trip to Doñana we waited before going again until there had been rain.  We were rewarded this time with good numbers of birds, particularly at Dehesa de Abajo.  We failed to locate the dozen or so Common Cranes that had been reported but we did see our first Greylag Geese of the season, which were also very recent arrivals.  The adult Spanish Imperial Eagle that we saw last time was again perched on a pylon in the same area.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Autumn update

Some heavy rain today has put a stop to birding activity and so gives us a chance to report on the past two weeks.  It has to be said that the rain is much needed and welcome unless, of course, you have just arrived here for a holiday!

We’ve had two further trips to Sagres where we have been lucky to see a good selection of raptors with a Lesser Spotted Eagle being the star bird.  This species was first reported in Portugal in 2009 and was also seen in 2011, 2012 and 2013.  All of these records have come in the autumn from the Sagres area so this year’s bird wasn’t a complete surprise.  It was seen over a period of several days.

During the time we have spent at Cabranosa, the popular viewpoint, we have seen around a dozen other raptor species and quite a number of Black Storks - counting birds here isn’t an exact science as they circle around the area, going out of sight and then re-appearing.

Black Stork

There were also been plenty of passerine migrants in the Sagres area.  We saw Ortolan Buntings, Northern Wheatears, Pied & Spotted Flycatchers, Yellow Wagtails, Common Redstarts and a decent selection of common warbler species.  We also found a few Choughs.

Northern Wheatear

Red-billed Chough

An afternoon boat trip on 2nd October produced good numbers of seabirds.  We estimated 300 Cory’s and 50 Great Shearwaters but no more than a handful of Balearics and just three Sooty Shearwaters.  A couple of Great Skuas came close to the boat and about 10 European Storm-petrels were counted.  There was just one brief sighting of a Wilson’s Storm-petrel.  Gannets were surprisingly few.

Cory's Shearwater

Great Shearwater

European Storm-petrel

We’ve also been in the Castro Verde area a couple of times.  On both occasions we saw four eagle species (Spanish Imperial, Golden, Bonelli’s & Short-toed) while other raptors have included Griffon & Black Vultures, Black-winged Kite, Red Kite and Hen Harrier.  The biggest surprise was to see two Mute Swans on a small reservoir near Alvares, the first time we have seen this species in Portugal other than as ornamental birds on golf courses.  Where they have come from is anyone’s guess!

Mute Swans

In the Algarve we have made multiple visits to Lagoa dos Salgados where we watched 500 Glossy Ibis flying into roost one evening and where we helped a couple of people who were understandably struggling to identify a Fulvous Whistling Duck that couldn’t be found in their field guide - another bird of unknown origin!  The star bird here though was a White-winged Tern, seen in the company of a Black Tern for instant comparison.

We made two trips to see the team of ringers from the UK who were at the Parque Ambiental de Vilamoura for their ninth annual visit.  No major rarities were caught this time but it’s always instructive to see birds in the hand and we met up with old friends.  A full report on the week’s ringing should appear in due course on their website.  Ferruginous Ducks, Booted Eagles and a Black-crowned Night Heron were species seen there but not ringed!

 Cetti's Warbler

Ferruginous Duck

A Temminck’s Stint near Faro was probably the highlight amongst the many waders we have seen recently.  Although not a rarity in the strict sense, it’s a species that we have seen less often here than some that we do have to submit a description for!

Temminck's Stint

Needless to say, we have also been birding around Tavira and Santa Luzia, at Ludo and Quinta do Lago, at Olhão and at Castro Marim and, of course, we have been reading and reporting colour-rings.