We spent almost four hours this afternoon walking round the saltpans at the edge of Tavira. It's a walk we've done many times before and we think we know pretty much which birds to expect...but life is full of surprises.
The first critter that caught our attention wasn't a bird at all but an insect - a carpenter bee Xylocopa violacea. What an impressive beast, both in size and in colour! It's about an inch long and as its scientific name suggests, it has a purplish blue sheen. Each flower that it went to was bent almost double by its weight.
Next we found a Little Ringed Plover, presumably a newly arrived migrant. It's a species we see regularly enough, although not often on the saltpans. It proved to be one of 15 wader species that we saw and might easily have been overlooked amongst the hundreds of Ringed and Kentish Plovers.
Five species of gulls were seen and included just a handful of Audouin's and a single first-winter Slender-billed Gull; the only terns were a couple of Caspians, ducks were few but included four Pintails. We could find only a dozen or so Spoonbills.
It was all very pleasant but fairly predictable. And then we came upon a real surprise - two large black birds feeding out in the middle of one of the pans and looking totally out of place - Black Swans! Of course, they really were very much out of place. Native to Australia, but established now as breeding birds in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, these were the first we have seen in Portugal and we have not heard of previous records in the Algarve. Later, we sent an email to alert others to the presence of these 'rarities' but we doubt that there will be crowds arriving to see them. Where they have come from is anyone's guess. Like last autumn's Whooper Swan, they didn't appear to have any rings, so we may never know. It'll be interesting to see how long they stay.