Thursday, 27 November 2008

A Rocha

When Dave and Sue Smallshire were here recently they gave us two publications that Dave acquired on his last visit to Portugal 17 years ago. They were the A Rocha Observatory Report for the year 1990 and An Atlas of the Wintering Birds in the Western Algarve, published in 1987, also by A Rocha. Both of these have made really interesting reading and it is clear that the status of several species, not surprisingly, has changed significantly over the last 20 years or so.

Anyway, reading these reports prompted us to head west this morning to visit Cruzinha, the base from which A Rocha has been researching and monitoring the wildlife, particularly birds, of Quinta da Rocha and the Ria da Alvor for more than 20 years. Situated midway between Lagos and Portimã o, the Ria de Alvor is one of the most significant coastal wetlands in southern Portugal. It was designated as a RAMSAR site in May 1996 and it is also one of the Natura 2000 network of sites. However, if you thought that these titles implied a degree of protection for the area you would be wrong - this is Portugal! Right from the start A Rocha has been faced with the threat of building development and that threat continues, as does the fight to safeguard the future of an area the importance of which for wildlife has been amply demonstrated. Unfortunately, in these parts the interests of wildlife are considered much less important than those of developers even when internationally recognised and designated sites are involved.

Bird ringing by A Rocha began in 1985 and since then more than 60,000 birds have been ringed. Every Thursday visitors are welcomed to the observatory to watch the ringing activity or indeed, if qualified and licenced to do so, actually help. Marcial Felgueiras had already completed the first net round when we arrived and we watched for an hour or more as the birds were ringed, weighed and measured. The catch comprised mainly of Robins, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs but there was one surprise, a Goldcrest, only the eighth of this species caught here. Slightly concerning was the generally poor condition and low weights of the Chiffchaffs, perhaps an indication that they were recent arrivals. The Blackcaps, on the other hand, seemed to be well fed.


Later we had a walk around the nearby marsh where we found the expected wader species, plus about 20 Greater Flamingos, a couple of Spoonbills, a Bluethroat and numerous Meadow Pipits and Spanish Sparrows. One of the Spoonbills was colour-ringed (lots of them are) and we have reported the details.

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