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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk
Portugal April 28th – May 2nd 2012,
This was my third trip to the Western Algarve and part of Baixo Alentejo, and I was accompanied by two friends on their first serious birding foray to Southern Europe. We flew out of Leeds Bradford into Faro, hired a car and stayed in and around Monte Gordo. Accommodation was staggeringly low-priced (I paid €80 for four nights) and readily available.
The weather was, by Portuguese standards, terrible. Temperatures never got above 19C, and there were frequent rain showers and one or two longer periods of rain. This had an effect on the birds, and there was much less song than I had heard on my previous spring trip. I think the weather accounted for the apparent absence of certain birds, in particular warblers and most strikingly Common Cuckoo.
Saturday April 28th
Quite a choppy landing at Faro airport, where, surprisingly, the first bird wasn't White Stork but Yellow-Legged Gull. We picked up a hire car and trundled off to find Ludo Farm, a place I had never visited. We managed to find the back entrance on the Quinta do Lago road, parked the car and started birding. Most obvious were wading birds, from a summer plumage Little-Stint to Greater Flamingo, via Kentish Plover, and the first of what turned out to be good numbers of Whimbrel. The weather was cool and decidedly damp, so very little was singing, apart from the ubiquitous Cisticolas of course, and a hardy Serin, which obligingly sat on the track for a little while at close range. It was a good start to the trip and being only ten minutes drive from the airport it's hard not to recommend a quick detour here.
Off to Monte Gordo on the Motorway, picking up our first sighting of Azure Winged Magpie on the way, they frequent the stone pines just by the Motorway link-road into town. I dropped my stuff off in Hortas, then we drove into Monte Gordo to find food and my friends' accommodation. As we were walking into town a male Montagu's Harrier braved the looming storm and the gathering dusk to fly along the front of the beach-side hotels, nicely finishing off a brief and very packed introduction to Portugal.
Sunday April 29th
Up fairly early, and while waiting for my friends to come and pick me up I found a Spotless Starling nest site in the roof of a house across the road. We took a short drive to a pull-in by the Castro Marim road just out of Villa Real de Santo Antonio which is a good vantage point over the southern part of the Sapal do Castro Marim IBA. The weather was overcast and cool, this kept the hirundines and swifts well down, and at scope range we picked up three or four Pratincoles hawking with them. I saw the only Great-Spotted Cuckoo of the trip, a stark contrast to previous years when they have been a noisy and obvious part of the scene here. We drove on to the main reserve just beyond Castro Marim (what is that enormous permanently closed visitor centre for I wonder?), stopping for Red-Rumped Swallow, Hoopoes and yet more of the wonderful Azure Winged Magpies.
The reserve turned up trumps as usual. Species of note included Lesser Short-Toed Lark, Caspian Tern, Slender-Billed Gull, Stone Curlew and a Greenland race Northern Wheatear. A small but noisy party of Bee-Eaters entertained us briefly, their calls audible even with the constant yammer of Black-Winged Stilt. These were the first Bee-Eaters of the trip, and even in the cool conditions they turned up practically everywhere over the next four days. Perhaps the most surprising bird of the day was a pair of Ravens, common enough in the uplands inland, but I hadn't seen them here before. This area, for its size, is one of the best birding sites I've ever been to.
We drove slowly back to Monte Gordo, with a short detour up one of the side tracks nearer town to see what we could see (more Woodchat Shrikes and Flamingoes as it happens), and went for a short walk in the dune reserve between Monte Gordo and Villa Real. This area is protected as it has Chameleons, but I haven't seen one (but then you wouldn't, would you?). We were mainly birding however, and were treated to magnificent views of Turtle Dove, along with Short-Toed Treecreeper and the Iberian race of Green Woodpecker. Warblers were notable once again by their absence, though we heard a distant Iberian Chiff-Chaff, and the resident Sardinian warblers didn't seem to have had their enthusiasm dampened by the rain.
Monday April 30th
Into the car after an early breakfast at the café next to my accommodation, and off on the Motorway to Baixo Alentejo. First port of call was the wonderful Reserve Ambiental do Vale Goncalinho, which is signposted off the road to Beja out of Castro Verde by the roundabout with the Hexagonal Atom sculptures. We arrived, stopped the car and jumped out, because there were three Rollers noisily displaying over the car park. Last year they used a nest-box on the visitor centre wall, and they were obviously thinking of using it again. These spectacular birds were a constant raucous sight throughout our visit to this place. There was a bit of sunshine, and when the sun was out Calandra, and Thekla Larks entertained us with their songs. Little Bustards were flying busily about, and it is truly astonishing how they vanish in even short vegetation the second they hit the ground. The Lesser-Kestrel tower was very well tenanted; one of the nest-boxes held Little Owl, which has proved a real bogey-bird in the past for one of our party, and I think she was even more quietly chuffed by this than by the Lesser-Kestrels.
Stand-out sightings from our walk here must be the first Short-Toed Eagle and Black-Shouldered Kites of the trip, two Black-Bellied Sandgrouse flying over and a short ballet performance given by two adult and one first-year Spanish Imperial Eagles.
From Castro Marim we took the little road to Monte de Guerreiro via Viseus. Just short of Viseus we saw a couple birding and got out to talk to them. While we were talking a Short-Toed eagle flew over, followed shortly by a juvenile Spanish Imperial Eagle. We also saw our first Alpine swifts of the holiday.
At Monte de Guerreiro we followed the track north out of the village up to the back of the Bustard reserve, but there were was nothing doing. We were told by two northern European birders, as they got into their car and drove off, that the bustards had been there the day before, ha! On the way back down the track the two Europeans had stopped their car and were photographing something, which turned out to be 29 Great Bustards, one of which obligingly gave us (and his small harem) the full bubble-bath. In almost forty years of birding on several continents this may be the single most magical thing I have ever seen, especially when the whole flock briefly took flight.
Picking up Spanish Sparrow, Griffon Vulture and Booted Eagle on the Mertola road, we detoured north to head for Pulo do Lobo. We didn't see Black Stork or Bonelli's Eagle, but it was worth the trip for a single Black Vulture, Blue Rock-Thrush, Rock Bunting and Grey Wagtail. This was where the temperature peaked, at 19 degrees according to the car thermometer.
A long day, but what a day.
Tuesday May 1st
Take note; this is a public holiday in Portugal, and a lot of stuff is shut, including my breakfast cafe.
We drove off west again, but this time heading for a couple of spots I've visited before to the west of Faro.
The first stop was Falesia lagoon, near Vilamoura. Viewing is fairly restricted, and it's not a place for a long visit, but we had a very productive half-hour. Warblers were again notable by their relative absence, just a few Reed and Cetti's Warblers, nothing compared to the racket I experienced here at the same time of year in 2010. However, there were compensations. First off was a Purple Swamp Hen flying across the lagoon, well, first off in bird terms, my friend picked it up because it crossed her scope-field as she was checking out an Otter! There was a large group of Coots at our end of the lagoon, which I dutifully checked, and of course one of them was a Red-Knobbed. These are now starting to show up on the Algarve, and I was aware that one had been seen at Ludo Farm a couple of weeks earlier, but it seems it really is worth checking every Coot.
From Falesia it's a short drive to Parque Ambiental do Vilamoura, and we walked the whole reserve, though we were informed that it's possible to just drive in at the end with the hides. Western Orphean Warblers were singing (at last!), as were Nightingales in some numbers. The park turned up it's usual specialities, including Masked Weaver, two Black-Shouldered Kites in the air together, Swamp Hen, and one unusual, unexpected bird. We were looking at a Swamp Hen when a female Ferruginous Duck slipped past it and into the reeds. As we were walking out of the park two Glossy Ibis flew over, looking very glossy indeed in the sunshine, especially nice as it had rained heavily for half-an hour just before.
On the way back east we pulled off the road down to Ludo farm, and managed to find the right entrance this time! It being a public holiday the place was quite busy, but nonetheless we had an interesting half-hour. Stand-out bird was a male Red-Crested Pochard trying to be inconspicuous in a roadside ditch, quite an issue when you've got a blazing gold streak on the front of your head.
Wednesday May 2nd
What with me discovering that I'd lost my wallet, a relatively early flight and wretched overcast weather we really didn't have time or spirit to do much other than drive down to the end of the road at the mouth of the Guadiana. That was worthwhile though, as there were three Audouin's Gulls in with the Yellow-Leggeds on a sand bar in the middle of the channel.
So that was that, another entirely memorable trip to a magical little corner of Europe. This time between us we managed 127 species (list below), but we missed birds I've seen in the area previously; for example we didn't have Moustached or Spectacled Warbler, Blue Tit(!), Robin, Common Cuckoo, Little Bittern, Squacco Heron, Great-White Egret and others. I think given better weather we could have managed close on 150. Not to worry though.
Shelduck: Suitable habitat on the coast
Mallard: In suitable habitat throughout
Gadwall: Castro Marim & Parque Ambiental de Vilamoura
Common Pochard: Vilamoura
Red-Crested Pochard: Ludo Farm
Ferruginous Duck: Vilamoura
Red-Legged Partridge: Throughout in suitable habitat
Quail: In cereal crops, especially Alentejo
Little Grebe: Fresh water throughout
Great-Crested Grebe: Falesia Marsh
Cattle Egret: Find some cows....
Little Egret: Throughout in wet areas
Purple Heron: Vilamoura and Falesia
Grey Heron: Coast and Pulo do Lobo
White Stork: Widely and commonly occurring
Glossy Ibis: Vilamoura
Spoonbill Rio: Formosa and Castro Marim
Greater Flamingo: Rio Formosa and Castro Marim
Griffon Vulture: Alentejo, can turn up anywhere in this area
Black Vulture: Pulo do Lobo
Spanish Imperial Eagle: Reserve Ambiental do Vale Goncalinho & near Viseus
Short-Toed Eagle: Alentejo & Pulo do Lobo
Booted Eagle: Alentejo
Black Kite: Outside Castro Verde
Marsh Harrier: Castro Marim, Falesia
Montagu's Harrier: Castro Marim and Alentejo; common in Alentejo
Common Buzzard: Alentejo, common
Black-Winged Kite: Reserve Ambiental do Vale Goncalinho & Vilamoura
Common Kestrel: Common throughout
Lesser Kestrel: Reserve Ambiental do Vale Goncalinho & Alentejo
Moorhen: Falesia & Vilamoura
Coot: Common in suitable habitat
Red-Knobbed Coot: One with Common Coots, Falesia
Purple Swamphen: Falesia and Vilamoura
Great Bustard 29(!): near Monte do Guerreiro
Little Bustard: Vale Goncalinho (numerous) and Alentejo
Oystercatcher: Any suitable coastal locality
Avocet: Castro Marim
Black-Winged Stilt: Esp. Castro Marim but any suitable coastal location
Stone Curlew: Castro Marim
Collared Pratincole: Small number hawking with Hirundines, Castro Marim
Ringed Plover: Castro Marim
Kentish Plove: r Any suitable habitat on coast
Grey Plover: Rio Formosa & Castro Marim (most in full breeding plumage)
Knot Mouth: of the Guadiana
Sanderling: Monte Gordo & Guadiana
Turnstone: Rio Formosa
Little Stint: Rio Formosa
Common Sandpiper: Ludo Farm
Redshank: Castro Marim and Ludo Farm
Greenshank: Castro Marim
Bar-Tailed Godwit: Rio Formosa
Curlew: Rio Formosa
Whimbrel: Rio Formosa & Castro Marim; quite large numbers
Black-Headed Gull: Common along coast
Slender-Billed Gull: Castro Marim, 1 first-year
Yellow-Legged Gull: Common at coast
Audouin's Gull: Mouth of Guadiana
Lesser Black-Backed Gull: Castro Marim & Guadiana
Little Tern: Common along coast
Sandwich Tern: Mouth of Guadiana
Caspian Tern: Two at Castro Marim
Black-Bellied Sandgrouse: Vale Goncalinho
Feral Pigeon: Throughout
Woodpigeon: Monte Gordo
Stock Dove: Pulo do Lobo
Collared Dove: Common around habitation
Turtle Dove: Monte Gordo, Pulo do Lobo
Great-Spotted Cuckoo: Castro Marim
Little Owl: Vale Goncalinho
Common Swift: Abundant throughout
Pallid Swift: Castro Marim, Hortas and Monte Gordo
Alpine Swift: Near Viseus & Ludo Farm
Roller: Vale Goncalinho, where very easy to see
Green Woodpecker: sharpei race Monte Gordo
Crested Lark: Throughout in suitable habitat
Thekla Lark: Alentejo
Lesser Short-Toed Lark: Castro Marim
Calandra Lark: Alentejo
Crag Martin: Pulo do Lobo
Swallow: Abundant throughout
Red-Rumped Swallow: Small numbers in a few places, esp. Castro Marim
House Martin: Abundant
White Wagtail: Pulo do Lobo
Yellow Wagtail: Rio Formosa (flavissima) and Castro Marim (iberiae)
Grey Wagtail: Pulo do Lobo
Nightingale: Pulo do Lobo and Vilamoura
Wheatear: Castro Marim (leucorhoa)
Stonechat: Suitable habitat throughout
Black Redstart: Monte Gordo
Blackbird: Common and widespread
Blue Rock-Thrush: Pulo do Lobo
Blackcap Common: and widespread
Western Orphean Warbler: Vilamoura
Sardinian Warbler: Common and widespread
Dartford Warbler: Ludo Farm
Zitting Cisticola: Ubiquitous
Cetti's Warbler: Falesia, Vilamoura, Ludo Farm
Reed Warbler: Falesia, Ludo Farm
Great Reed Warbler: Vilamoura
Iberian Chiff-Chaff: Monte Gordo
Wren: Pulo do Lobo
Great Tit: Monte Gordo, Vilamoura
Crested Tit: Monte Gordo
Long-Tailed Tit: Monte Gordo
Short-Toed Treecreeper: Monte Gordo
Southern Grey Shrike: Castro Marim & Alentejo
Woodchat Shrike: Throughout
Azure-Winged Magpie: Small parties can be encountered almost anywhere
Magpie: Widely distributed, not uncommon
Jay: Pulo do Lobo, Vilamoura
Carrion Crow: Vale de Goncalinho
Raven: Castro Marim & Alentejo
Spotless Starling: Common around habitation
Golden Oriole: One seen from car, Alentejo
House Sparrow: Common and widespread
Spanish Sparrow: In base of White Stork nests, Alentejo
Chaffinch: Castro Marim, Monte Gordo
Linnet: Common throughout
Goldfinch: Very common throughout
Serin: Widespread and quite common
Corn Bunting: Very common
Rock Bunting: Pulo do Lobo
Iberian Hare: It seems taxonomists have been splitting Hares recently
Freshwater Turtle: There's two species, don't know which we saw, but we saw lots
Butterflies and insects were suppressed by the poor weather.