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A Report from


Ian Kinley and Dave Thexton

27th April to 4th May 2000

A relatively late change of plan saw us revisiting an area where we had spent two weeks birding in July 1998. We stayed in a self-catering apartment at Vilamoura, which proved a suitable enough base. The weather was, to say the least, mixed, often cool, almost always windy and with lots of rain but we were able to bird all day (the high temperatures in July 1998 had made this impossible on our previous visit). Some of the tracks, especially round Castro Marim, proved tricky or occasionally impassable after heavy rain.

We found a number of differences between spring and mid-summer visits. The likes of Cattle Egret, Roller, Bee-eater and Azure-winged Magpie, though all seen easily enough, were less numerous and widespread in spring. Collared Pratincoles seemed to be just arriving, with none on the Alentejo, and there were no large flocks of Cattle Egrets at Ludo or Sao Laurenco. On the other hand, larks were much easier (we did very well for Calandra and Lesser Short-toed) and Serins were really common and obvious. On neither visit did we do particularly well for warblers, perhaps this time partly due to the weather and partly because we didn't visit some of the inland sites such as Foia, though we did manage to find Spectacleds (thanks to some local info).

We looked in vain for White-rumped Swifts at Mertola and Minos de San Domingues, though without detailed directions it was something of a needle in a haystack job; perhaps it was also too early, though our visit was in line with arrival dates in Spain (Steve Whitehouse pers comm)

Sites visited included

Alentejo (Castro Verde-Mertola area)

We specifically visited the following areas:-

Track running southwest from Entradas/Pocos road

East side of Castro Verde/Entradas road, from shepherd's lookout on hill, formerly marked by disused yellow van.

Track leading south from N123 Castro Verde/Mertola road opposite Sao Marcos de Ataboeira and marked by a Reserva Biologica sign featuring a Little Bustard. (This track is actually situated where the road signposted Santa Barbara de Padroes is incorrectly shown on the map on p27 of the Gosney guide.) On all our visits to the Alentejo, we have found this the most rewarding track - it produced Black-bellied sandgrouse in July '98.

Road leading south from N123 Castro Verde/Mertola, c4km west of Sao Marcos de Ataboeira, signposted Santa Barbara de Padroes. (This is site 6 on p28 of the Gosney guide but wrongly shown on the map as leading south directly opposite Sao Marcos de Ataboeira.)

N123 Castro Verde/Mertola (We found the section between Sao Marcos de Ataboeira and the rubbish tip the most productive.)

Mertola itself
Faro Airport Waterworks Pools
Alvor Estuary
Cape St. Vincent

Castro Marim
We drove along all the accessible tracks here without hindrance and without asking permission at the saltworks entrance (though beware of gates being locked behind you when work ceases for the day!) An excellent and underwatched area; despite it being a nature reserve, we never saw another birder here on any of our visits.

Central Valley

Ludo Farm Area
Seemingly dismissed by many birders since the collapse of the tower hide, we found it an excellent area and had no access problems.

Quinta do Lago
A new "No Entry" sign had appeared on the final approach to the hide at Sao Laurenco since our last visit. As locals seemed to be ignoring it, so did we and continued to drive right to the hide overlooking the Sao Laurenco pool. Early mornings and evenings were obviously best. We found everything, including gallinules, easily visible from the hide, with no need to walk around the pool or across the golf-course.

Vilamoura Golf Course
As in 1998, this proved an even better site for Purple Gallinules than Sao Laurenco. Birds come out onto the fairways to feed. We visited only in the evenings, when even a few passing golfers did not deter the birds for long, but presumably early mornings are just as good. Other observers have suggested parking and walking to the 6th tee. Security guards prevented us from doing this in 1998 (we didn't bother trying this time) but the area is easily viewable from a few hundred metres further along the road, without the need to leave the car unattended.

Directions to all the sites can be found in either the Gosney Guide to Southern Portugal, the Algarve Compilation supplied by Steve Whitehouse, or other trip reports on the birdtours website

We recorded a total of 147 species in a week, compared with 142 in a fortnight in 1998. A full list is given below, including details of the more interesting records.

Species List

Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus
Cory's Shearwater Calonectris diomedea - c12 at Cape St. Vincent on 1/5
Gannet Morus bassanus- c10 at Cape St. Vincent on 1/5
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis
Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus - up to 3 at Ludo, Vilamoura Golf Course and Sao Laurenco.
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis - Widespread in moderate numbers at sites such as Castro Marim and the Alentejo, with one flock of 50 at Vilamoura Golf Course. No large roosts at Ludo or Sao Laurenco
Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea - Up to 3 regularly seen at Vilamoura Golf Course. Nesting birds?
White Stork Ciconia ciconia - Widespread and common. Most of nests alongside Castro Verde/Mertola road occupied.
Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia - 3 at Ludo on 27/4; 100 at Castro Marim on 28/4; 150 at Castro Marim on 3/5; 60+ at Ludo on 4/5
Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber - 30 at Ludo on 27/4; c300 at Castro Marim on 28/4 & 3/5
Gadwall Anas streptera
Teal Anas crecca - 1 drake at Sao Laurenco
Mallard Anas platrynchos
Garganey Anas querquedula- 1 drake at Castro Marim on 3/5
Shoveler Anas clypeata- 1 drake at Sao Laurenco
Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina - c20 at Sao Laurenco
Pochard Aythya ferina
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula - 1 female at Sao Laurenco
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra - 45 in 2 flocks at Cape St. Vincent on 1/5
Black-shouldered Kite Elanus caeruleus - Pair close to road to Picarros (south off the N123 Ourique/Castro Verde) on 29/4 and 2/5
Black Kite Milvus migrans - Widespread in small numbers, especially on the Alentejo, and commonest near the rubbish tip .
Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus - 1 near rubbish tip alongside the N123 Castro Verde/Mertola on 2/5; 1 at Mertola on 2/5; 2 at Castro Marim on 3/5
Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus - 1 at Vilamoura Golf Course and 2 at Castro Marim
Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus - Common on the Alentejo. 2 at Castro Marim. All but 2 were males.
Buzzard Buteo buteo
Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus - 1 dark-phase from road between Mertola and Minos de San Dominguez and 1 light-phase at Mertola itself on 2/5
Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni - 3 from track opposite Sao Marco de Ataboeira off N123 Castro Verde/Mertola on 29/4; 3 alongside N123 Castro Verde/Mertola on 2/5. Excellent views of about half a dozen at Mertola on 2/5. The convent at Mertola has very limited opening hours for viewing the Lesser Kestrels but there are nestboxes under the nearby bridge and on other buildings and these can be easily watched at any time. We had to wait a while before any birds appeared so don't just assume there are no birds present.
Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
Peregrine Falco peregrinus - 1 at Cape St. Vincent on 1/5
Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa
Quail Coturnix coturnix - Common and very vocal, especially on the Alentejo.
Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Purple Gallinule Porphyrio porphyrio - 1 at Ludo on 27/4 and up to 8 at Sao Laurenco. Vilamoura Golf Course remains the best site and we had up to 23 there in the evenings
Coot Fulica atra
Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax - No flocks anywhere but small numbers seen plus loads calling all over the place on the Alentejo. Also 3 seen at Cape St. Vincent on 1/5 and 1 heard at Castro Marim on 3/5
Great Bustard Otis tarda - 13 from "Yellow Van Site" off N123 Ourique/Castro Verde on 29/4 (the van's no longer there). At least 70 from track opposite Sao Marco de Ataboeira (off N123 Castro Verde/Mertola) inc. one flock of 63 on 29/4. 31 (1+8+22) from N123 Castro Verde/Mertola road on 2/5
Oystercatcher Haemotopus ostralegus
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta
Stone Curlew Burhinus oedicnemus
Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola- 1 at Ludo on 27/4; 10 (inc. 2 pairs displaying in ploughed field) at Castro Marim on 3/5. Apparently just arriving with none seen on the Alentejo.
Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola
Knot Calidris canutus
Sanderling Calidris alba
Little Stint Calidris minuta - Numerous passage birds including 100 at Ludo on 27/4
Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea - Plenty on passage including c50 at Castro Marim on 28/4 and 3/5
Dunlin Calidris alpina
Ruff Philomachus pugnax
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus - Sightings included 60 at Ludo on 27/4
Curlew Numenius arquata
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus
Redshank Tringa totanus
Greenshank Tringa nebularia
Common Sandpiper Actis hypoleucos
Turnstone Arenaria interpres
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus
Slender-billed Gull Larus genei - 32 in one flock at Castro Marim on 28/4. These birds flew through calling and seemed to carry on going. We saw others on the salt pans later in the day, including pink-flushed adults, but couldn't say for sure that they weren't part of the original flock. At least 10 at Castro Marim on 3/5. A photo of a Slender-billed Gull in Birding World (Vol.13 No.3) was captioned as the 5th for Portugal. We saw at least 3 adults and a juv in July '98 and an absolute minimum of 32 birds this time. Our records, including photos, have been submitted to the Portuguese Rarities Committee. This is surely an overlooked species here and seems likely to nest.
Audouin's Gull Larus audouinii - 7 ads at Castro Marim on 28/4; 10 (9 ads + a 1st-summer) at Castro Marim on 3/5. Territorial and apparently nesting. As with Slender-billed, this is surely an overlooked species here: we've seen them on all of our 5 visits to Castro Marim.
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus
Yellow-legged Gull Larus argentatus michahellis
Caspian Tern Sterna caspia - 1 over estuary near Praia de Faro on 30/4; 2 on Alvor Estuary on 1/5
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis - 6 on estuary at the mouth of the Guadiana on 28/4; small nos at Cape St. Vincent on 1/5
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea - 1 on estuary at the mouth of the Guadiana on 28/4
Little Tern Sterna albifrons
Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica - 1 over fish farm near Castro Marim on 28/4
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybridus- 1 at Castro Marim on 3/5
Black Tern Chlidonias niger - at least 50 at Castro Marim on 3/5; 3 at Sao Laurenco on 4/5
Feral Pigeon Columbia livia
Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus 
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 
Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur 
Great Spotted Cuckoo Clamator glandarius - 1 at Castro Marim on 28/4; 1 at Ludo on 30/4; 2 (inc. prolonged views of a juv) from N123 Castro Verde/Mertola on 2/5
Cuckoo Cuculus canorus
Barn Owl Tyto alba - 1 at Vilamoura Golf Course on 1/5
Scops Owl Otus scops - The surprise sighting of the trip - 1 on wires beneath Stork's nest alongside N123 Castro Verde/Mertola in bright sunshine on 2/5
Little Owl Athene noctua
Red-necked Nightjar Caprimulgus ruficollis - 2 heard at Falesia on 30/4 (the only evening we tried)
Swift Apus apus
Pallid Swift Apus pallidus - Widespread. As on our previous trip, Castro Marim in early morning was particularly good, with several hundred flying low and giving excellent views.
Kingfisher Alcedo atthis
Bee-eater Merops apiaster - Widespread in moderate numbers. Perhaps still arriving as we had flocks passing overhead at several sites, most notably Cape St. Vincent on 1/5
Roller Coracias garrulus - 3 on wires near Entradas on 29/4; 2 on wires by Castro Verde/Mertola road on 2/5
Hoopoe Upupa epops  
Green Woodpecker Picus viridis 
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major 
Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla - Just a few seen well.
Lesser Short-toed Lark Calandrella rufescens - Particularly numerous at Castro Marim on east side beyond new Reserve Centre and carpark.
Calandra Lark Melanocorypha calandra - Very common on the Alentejo away from the main roads. We found the tracks off the N123 Castro Verde/Mertola road particularly good.
Crested Lark Galerida cristata
Thekla Lark Galerida theklae - Seen at Cape St. Vincent and Castro Marim
Woodlark Lullula arborea - Quite common on the Alentejo
Sand Martin Riparia riparia 
Crag Martin Hirundo rupestris - About 4 at Mertola on 2/5
Swallow Hirundo rustica 
Red-rumped Swallow Hirundo daurica - Widespread but in fairly small numbers compared to July
House Martin Delichon urbica 
Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris - 1 on the Alentejo on 29/4 and 1 at Cape St. Vincent on 1/5
Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava - All the birds we saw were of the race iberiae
Wren Troglodytes troglodytes  
Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros - Common at Cape St. Vincent
Stonechat Saxicola torquata
Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica - Just 3 seen on the Alentejo
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius - at least 6 seen very well at Cape St. Vincent on 1/5 and 1 at Mertola on 2/5
Blackbird Turdus merula
Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus  
Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti 
Fan-tailed Warbler Cisticola juncidis
Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus
Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus
Spectacled Warbler Sylvia conspicillata - A locally-based birder put us on to a site at Cape St. Vincent where we saw several instantly on 1/5. They were in an area of very low scrubby bushes in a triangle formed by the main road to the lighthouse, a wide track leading north (marked on previous maps of the area by other observers) and a narrower track also leading north and beginning by the restaurant. As Spectacled Warblers seem to have disappeared from previously-recommended sites on the Algarve (e.g. Castro Marim), this was a valuable piece of information.
Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala
Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla  
Iberian Chiffchaff Phylloscopus brehmii - 1 at Central Valley on 1/5 was our only record
Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus
Crested Tit Parus cristatus
Great Tit Parus major
Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla
Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus - 2 heard near rubbish tip alongside N123 Castro Verde/Mertola road on 2/5 and at least 4 (inc. superb views of male) at Mertola on 2/5
Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis
Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator
Jay Garrulus glandarius  
Magpie Pica pica
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyana - Widespread but none of the large flocks we'd seen in July
Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax - 2 at Cape St. Vincent on 1/5
Jackdaw Corvus monedula  
Carrion Crow Corvus corone
Raven Corvus corax 
Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor
House Sparrow Passer domesticus  
Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis - In addition to the well-known colonies in Storks' nests alongside the N123 between Castro Verde and Mertola, we also found a small colony by one of the roadside bridges and 3 near Rolao on 29/4
Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia - 4 on wires near "Yellow Van Site" on the Alentejo on 29/4
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs
Serin Serinus serinus - Very numerous, widespread and vocal compared to July
Greenfinch Carduelis chloris  
Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis 
Linnet Carduelis cannabina 
Corn Bunting Miliaria calandra 
Common Waxbill Estrilda astrild- Small numbers at Vilamoura Golf Course and Faro Airport Waterworks Pools

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