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A Report from birdtours.co.uk

Algarve, Portugal, May 31st† - June 14th 2001,

Mick Bell

Introduction

My annual holiday is usually planned to accommodate the needs of the kids and my wife, as well as being able to take advantage of the birdwatching in any particular area. Previous holidays taken with this premise in mind have included trips to Lesvos, Crete, Cyprus and Florida.

Portugal was chosen this year, as it was a country we had not previously visited and it had a number of potential Western Palearctic ticks for me.

My time birding is generally taken early morning at sites nearby, often returning to join the family for breakfast. Trips to birding sites farther a field required early starts and a half-day self-indulgence or were combined with family trips visiting other places.

Flights/Resort/Accommodation

We booked our holiday with Aspro Travel (an Airtours company) through Going Places, and flew from Manchester to Faro, which took 21/2 hours.

Transfer to our apartment in Albufeira took approx. 1 hour but this was due to the number of drop-offs at a number of resorts prior to our own.

Albufeira was chosen as the resort as this is central on the Algarve and according to previous reports the best site to access most of the birding areas (especially the Alentejo region to the north).

We stayed at the Silchoro apartments, which were ideal for a family holiday, with plenty of facilities and entertainment for the kids, although they were more than just a walk from the beach.

Transport

Car hire in the Algarve is pretty cheap, as I had found out when I looked at car hire tariffs on the Internet prior to our departure. I did, however, decide to leave it till we arrived in Albufeira where I hired a nearly new VW Polo through Avis (recommended by our Aspro representative) for 11 days at an excellent price of £145.

The standard of driving in Portugal is no different to other places on the continent I have driven in - at the best it is erratic, so you should always be on your guard for the 'crazy' manoeuvres which you encounter daily!

Throughout the holiday I had problems with poor road signing which lead to a certain amount of frustration when time was wasted retracing steps.

Food

All culinary tastes are catered for on the Algarve including English, Chinese, Indian, Italian, Swiss, Belgian and of course traditional Portuguese. We found excellent value eating-places in walking distance from our apartments. The cost of eating out varied from place to place but our bill was usually £20-25 for 2 adults and 2 children including drinks.

Weather

During our 2-week holiday, apart from 1 day, we had mostly cloudless skies, and temperatures were generally in the 80's. Dawn broke at 6am with the sun setting around 9pm

Reference Information

My main site information was found in:

'A Birdwatching Guide to the Algarve' by Kevin & Christine Carlson (Arlequin Publications)
'Finding Birds in Southern Portugal' by Dave Gosney
'Algarve compilation'. FBRIS/Steve Whitehouse
I also found an excellent Southern Portugal trip report from September 1999 by Gruff Dodd at www.birdtours.co.uk
Other articles of interest were from Birdwatching - October 1991 and Birdwatch August 1998 & November 2000.
The excellent Collins Bird Guide by Mullarney, Svensson, Zetterstrom and Grant contained all the information/pictures that I needed.
I bought the 'Algarve Holiday Map' (Geocentre ISBN 3-575-26435-X) in the UK, which was adequate but lacked the detail of our own OS Landranger maps.

Sites Visited

Quinta do Lago - I visited this site on 4 occasions as apart from it being only 30 mins from our apartment, I found it very reliable for Purple Gallinule and Azure-winged Magpie.

Dunas Douradas - I found 3 Waxbills at this site but very little else that wasn't at Quinta do Lago.

Castro Marim Saltpans - The track to the West of the N122 road around the topside of the salt pans (see Gosney page 31) was very rutted but just about navigable in our hire car. This area was particular good for Spoonbill, Greater Flamingo and Collard Pratincole. The track to the East of the N122 was an easier track to drive and this area was especially good for larks (Short-toed, Lesser ST, Crested and Thekla), Little Egret and Spoonbill.

Monchique Hills (Foia) - The summit at Foia is a recognised site for Rock Bunting. I had good views of a bird perched on one of the many aerials found at the summit, exactly as described in Gruff Dodd's report. I also had Alpine Swift here and a Short-toed Eagle on leaving the summit.

Odelouca valley - I found a quiet spot on the river/stream and had some of the areas more typical woodland birds e.g. Melodious Warbler, Short-toed Treecreeper, Nuthatch, Long-tailed Tit, Golden Oriole.

Alentejo region - What a fantastic area this is! The Castro Verde - Mertola - Almodovar triangle contains arguably some of the best grassland steppe in Portugal providing habitat for some cracking birds including Great and Little Bustards. Using the N264 dual carriageway from Albufeira I could easily reach Ourique in under an hour. The N123 Ourique to Castro Verde Road has often been quoted as good for Black-shouldered Kite but I found most of this area disappointing due to major road widening construction works for most of its length (I couldn't even find the track that runs south of the road opposite the turn-off to Aldeia dos Grandacos, as suggested by Gosney)

Systematic List

Little Grebe

Turnstone

Stonechat

Little Bittern

Whimbrel

Black-eared Wheatear

Cattle Egret

Mediterranean Gull

Blackbird

Little Egret

Black-headed Gull

Song Thrush

Grey Heron

Gull-billed Tern

Mistle Thrush

White Stork

Common Tern

Fan-tailed Warbler

Spoonbill

Little Tern

Cetti's Warbler

Greater Flamingo

Wood Pigeon

Great Reed Warbler

Wigeon

Rock Dove

Olivaceous Warbler

Mallard

Collared Dove

Melodius Warbler

Pochard

Turtle Dove

Blackcap

Red-crested Pochard

Little Owl

Sardinian Warbler

Black-shouldered Kite

Alpine Swift

Great Tit

Black Kite

Swift

Long-tailed Tit

Montagu's Harrier

Kingfisher

Nuthatch

Hen† Harrier

Bee-eater

Short-toed Treecreeper

Marsh Harrier

Roller

Southern Grey Shrike

Buzzard

Hoopoe

Woodchat Shrike

Short-toed Eagle

Green Woodpecker

Spotless Starling

Kestrel

Woodlark

Golden Oriole

Lesser Kestrel

Crested Lark

Azure-winged Magpie

Red-legged Partridge

Thekla Lark

Jackdaw

Quail

Short-toed Lark

Raven

Great Bustard

Lesser Short-toed Lark

House Sparrow

Moorhen

Crag Martin

Spanish Sparrow

Coot

Red-rumped Swallow

Common Waxbill

Purple Gallinule

Swallow

Chaffinch

Stone Curlew

House Martin

Serin

Black-winged Stilt

Pied Wagtail

Greenfinch

Avocet

Grey Wagtail

Goldfinch

Collard Pratincole

Yellow Wagtail (Iberian race)

Linnet

Little Ringed Plover

Wren

Corn Bunting

Kentish Plover

Nightingale

Rock Bunting

 

Other Comments

Little Bittern -† these were very confiding at Quinta do Lago with 3-4 being seen on most occasions.

White Stork - †a conservative estimate of† c200 birds seen in the Alentejo region alone where many nests were present especially on the Mertola - Castro Verde road

Spoonbill - † seen on the salt pans either side of the N122 Road in the Castro Marim area (see Gosney p31/32)

G.Flamingo -† large colony present on the salt pans to the west of the N122 Castro Marim road

R.C.Pochard -† c20 birds present at Quinta do Lago including young.

B.S Kite - † 2 birds (? a pair) seen on second visit to the Alentejo region. I explored the area SW / W of Ourique by taking the IP1 turning before reaching Ourique (see FIBRS report p24). I got lost in the area but had brilliant views of two birds in the area around Picarras.

Monty'sHarrier - c20 birds and seen in any suitable habitat in the Alentejo region

S.T. Eagle - † 2 birds seen in the Alentejo region and one near Foia summit in the Monchique Hills

Great Bustard - 10/11 birds seen in total including 2 young. Best area was the track running south from the track south of Sao Marcos de Ataboeira (on the N123 east of Castro Verde) Look out for the 'reserve' sign of a Little Bustard at the start of the track. I flushed 5/6 birds (2 males) from this track and had views of 2 females near a small reservoir to east of the track. I also saw a female with 2 young from the N123 east of Sao Marcos de Ataboeira.

Turtle Dove -† never seen so many! Especially numerous in the vicinity of Quinta do Lago

Little Owl - † 7 counted in one day in the Alentejo region

Hoopoe - † 12 birds counted feeding on a small football pitch seen en route from the airport. Many birds seen in and around Albufeira.

Crested & Thekla Larks -† both these difficult to identify species were seen 'side by side' in the Alentejo region.

S.T & Lesser S.T. Larks- both Castro Marim and Alentejo areas were excellent for these two species.

B.E. Wheatear - c6 birds found in Alentejo region, particularly down tracks away from 'main' roads.

G.R.Warbler - 1 heard calling on each visit to Quinta do Lago in extensive reed bed.

S.G Shrike - singles seen at Quinta do Lago and Castro Marim but many birds seen in the Alentejo region.

W'chat Shrike - common throughout the Algarve and especially so in the Alentejo region.

Spotless Starling - although reported from areas in the Algarve, I only encountered small flocks (c20 birds) in the Alentejo region) I did not find these birds to be easily approached!

Golden Oriole - cracking views of a male perched on fence post at the side of the N123 approx. 5km east of Sao Marcos in the Alentejo.

A.W.Magpie - this superbly coloured bird was found in any suitable area !

Conclusion

Highlights of the fortnight were the Black-shouldered Kites and Great Bustards but the Azure-winged Magpies and Purple Gallinules came a close second.

I didn't see any Sandgrouse but my only real disappointment was missing Little Bustard despite extensive searching in the Alentejo region. Previous reports have suggested that the grass maybe too high at this time of year and this could well have been the case.

I didn't try for Red-necked Nightjar (maybe next time) and other birds which eluded me (or were found in areas I didn't visit) included Purple Heron (surprisingly), Rufous Bushchat, both Sandgrouse, Black Redstart, Chough, Blue Rock Thrush, Caspian Tern, Slender-billed and Audouin Gulls and Eagles (apart from Short-toed)

However, I found Albufeira an ideal base for birding the Algarve and particularly for reaching the 'must see' Alentejo region. I had 9 Western Palearctic ticks in the fortnight including 'specialities' of the region like Azure-winged Magpie, Purple Gallinule, Great Bustard, Black-shouldered Kite and Waxbill. Would I go there again? You Bet!

By Mick Bell, Sheffield

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