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A Report from birdtours.co.uk

Southern Portugal, June 1-9th 2001,

Ben Miller

INTRODUCTION AND STRATEGY

I took a weeks 'non-birding' holiday with my girlfriend, based in Tavira. Before going I'd negotiated two morning's birding so, in light of the limited time, decided to concentrate on birds I needed for my Western Paleartic list. These neatly fitted into three categories:

Birds available in the Alentejo. These were Great & Little Bustards, Black-shouldered Kite and Azure-winged Magpie

Birds available at Quinta do Lago. These were Common Waxbill, Purple Gallinule and Azure-winged Magpie again.

Birds not available on this trip. These were Rock Sparrow and Scops Owl for which I could find no site gen, and Red-necked Nightjar for which the sites were just too far away to enable any nocturnal birding on this 'non-birding' trip.

This report is reflects the birds seen following the strategy of one mornings birding in the Alentejo and one at Quinta do Lago, plus non-birding excursions. It is, therefore, not a comprehensive report of what may be available in a weeks intensive birding (although being a tourist centre, I would assume the Algarve receives many birders in the same situation as myself).

GEN

I downloaded the southern Portugal trip reports from www.birdtours.co.uk/tripreports/Portugal The reports by Gruff Dodd (1999) and especially David and Nancy Massie (2001) were of most use.

I took both 'A Birdwatching Guide to the Algarve' (Kevin & Christine Carlson, 1995, Arelquin Publications) and 'Finding Birds in Southern Portugal' (Dave Gosney with William Oliver, 1996, Gostours Guides). The two can be bought from www.birdguides.com at a reduced combination price of 11.95 (saving 2 pounds).

Gosney (1996) is very useful, the maps in particular are excellent and make it well worth purchasing. Carlson (1995) is starting to show its age; I found the maps and systematic list to be out of date or not clear, and at times the directions are poor. Some sites no longer exist; I was unable to find the pools at Dunas Douradas. Note Carlson does not cover the Alentejo in any detail.

The Maps in Goseny (1996) cover the birding sites in sufficient detail, but I also took the Bartholomew Algarve Holiday Map for general navigation. This covers main routes fine but not all minor roads or hamlets. Note that there are currently many sections of roadworks in the Algarve

The only field guide needed is the Collins Bird Guide (Svensson et al, 1999).

LOGISTICS

Current tourist exchange tourist rate is 309 PTE to the pound. We found Portugal a very cheap country to visit.

We flew with Go from Stanstead to Faro. Flights were booked at www.Go-Fly.com, for 195 pounds.

We stayed in a villa at Qunita do Perogil, just outside Tavira. There was no birding reason for staying in Tavira.

Car hire is essential in the Algarve. We had a Toyota Yaris from Holiday Autos for 8 days for 105 (reduced Go rate). Optional insurance excess wavier is recommended. Note that the Portuguese standard of driving is very poor, with blind overtaking and sitting on your rear bumper the norm. The Algarve coast road (N125) has the reputation of being the most dangerous road in Europe, but the IP1 Motorway is usually empty and easy to drive. I'd recommend taking it whenever possible.

SITE NOTES

The following indicates what I saw at each site. Please use these notes in conjunction with the information sources listed above, especially Massie (2001) and Gosney (1996).

ALENTEJOS, visited Monday 4th June 2001

An excellent, bird-filled area and one I'd highly recommend all birders in southern Portugal to visit. The area is (just) manageable in a morning. I left Tavira at 04:30, and arrive beyond Ourique just after 06:00, when it was light enough to bird. I took the IP1 Motorway west until it ends, then traveled north on the IP1 (non-motorway) to Ourique. This is a much better road than trying to drive North on the N2 from Faro, direct with frequent dual-carriageway sections.

The N123 from Ourique to Castro Verde is given in both Massie (2001) and Gosney (1996) as a site for Black-shouldered Kite. Road works continue at the Ourique end of the road, and birding opportunities will be less over time when this whole section is motorway. I drove the road 4 times without success in finding the Kite, although I did find Great Bustard (one in field north of road just before the railway bridge over), Spotless Starling (best area for these), many Montagu's Harriers and Black Kites, Dartford Warbler (heard only) and White Storks. An Azure-winged Magpie flew over the road just out of Ourique.

I drove the track south of the N123 recommended in Gosney (1996) for Black-shouldered Kite, again with no luck. This passes through excellent habitat and I saw Black-eared Wheatear, Roller (fly over), distant Booted Eagle, Tawny Pipit, Little Owl and Woodlark (heard only). With the road-building work, I'm not sure how much longer this will remain accessible.

I drove the IP2 north to Entradas again failing to see Black-shouldered Kite. However I saw another Great Bustard in a field east of the road just out of Castro Verde plus my only Red-legged Partridge and a fly-over Lesser Kestrel.

I headed east from Castro Verde to the ridge-top 'look-out' described in Massie (2001), south of Rolao. Along the N123 east of Castro Verde Azure-winged Magpie, Southern Grey Shrike and Bee-eater were all common. On the road into Rolao from the north I had Red-rumped Swallow.

The track is easy to find following the descriptions in Massie (2001). Just after turning onto the track I found another Great Bustard on a hillside to the left and whilst watching this bird a male Little Bustard flew in. The Little Bustard eventually showed very well on the hillside. Another Great Bustard flew over. Continuing along the track before the farm I found 2 Quail and a Stone-curlew. After turning away from the farm I found 10 Collared Pratincoles and many Larks including excellent views of Calandra. Keep heading right until your reach the 'look-out' point, from which I had excellent views of a group of 4 Great Bustards.

QUINTA DO LARGO, visited Wednesday 6th June 2001

Another excellent site, try to arrive early before there is too much disturbance (and it gets too hot). Follow directions in Gosney (1996) and Massie (2001). Be careful to make the correct left hand turn to get to the hide, when the path forks. Look out for the no-entrance road sign. Azure-winged Magpies are very common in this area, the best views I had were along the nature trail beyond the hide. Spanish Yellow Wagtails were common on the greens of the golf course early morning, giving good views

The trail before the hide provided Kentish Plover and Turnstone on the Ria Formosa and on the golf course, Sardinian Warblers, and Purple Heron over. The hide provided excellent views of Purple Gallinule (2 ads and 2 immatures) feeding on the golf course (arrive early!!), 2 pairs of Little Bittern, 3 Red-crested Pochard (plus 5 young chicks with the female bird), Great Reed Warbler, Black-winged Stilt, many Little Terns etc.

Walking beyond the hide I eventually scored a group of 8 Common Waxbill, plus 3 fly-over Greater Flamingos, excellent Azure-winged Magpies, Cetti's Warbler, Woodchat Shrike and two Short-toed Treecreeper.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Thanks to Mike Taylor for gen, and Mike Chalmers for gen and accommodation!

Unfortunately, as is so often the case, a request to UKBN for gen brought hardly any response. This seems the standard state of affairs these days; if anyone could point me in the direction of a discussion list where people are happier to share their sightings, I'd be grateful.

FURTHER INFORMATION

For any further info please contact the author at bamiller@talk21.com

SYSTEMATIC LIST

The following abbreviations are used in the list:

QDL Qunita do Largo
QDP Qunita do Perogil
NBT Non-birding Trip

Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
A family of 6 birds on a small pool north of the road out of Rolao towards the 'look-out' site.
5 from the hide at QDL

Northern Gannet Sula bassana
3 seen flying east off Pedra del Rey

Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Commonly seen throughout.

Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Group of 6 on Castro Marim saltpans, from Castro Marim castle on an NBT

Purple Heron Ardea purpurea
One over the car park upon arrival at QDL

Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
Occasionally seen throughout, often over roads on NBT
10 seen during morning in Alentejo
3 flew over hide at QDL

Black-crowned Night-heron Nycticorax nycticorax
1 over QDP, 1/6.

Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus
2 pairs seen well from hide at QDL

White Stork Ciconia ciconia
The defining bird of the trip. Seen commonly throughout, breeding on roadside poles and on old buildings in town centres

Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber
3 flying over saltpans at QDL, seen beyond hide.
Group of 7 on Castro Marim saltpans, seen very distantly from Castro Marim castle on an NBT

Gadwall Anas strepera
3 from hide at QDL

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Common at QDL

Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina
2 drakes and a duck from the hide at QDL. 5 young chicks with the duck

Black Kite Milvus migrans
Common in the Alentejo, especially between Ourique and Castro Verde

Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus
One seen from QDP

Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus
Very common in the Alentejo, especially between Ourique and Castro Verde

Common Buzzard Buteo buteo
Only one seen in the Alentejo

Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus
One pale-phase seen distantly from track south of the N123 between Ourique and Castro Verde. A second distant raptor was probably a dark-phase of this specie.

Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni
A female bird seen in Alentejo, just west of Entradas.

Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
Commonest raptor, but still seen only infrequently in the Algarve. Common in the Alentejo.

Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa
One seen in a roadside field west of the IP2 between Castro Verde and Entradas

Quail Coturnix coturnix
Heard frequently in the Alentejo. A pair seen from the track towards the 'look-out' point, just before the track forks to the farm entrance

Purple Gallinule Porphyrio porphyrio
Four (2 adults and 2 immatures) seen from hide at QDL

Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Seen only from hide at QDL

Coot Fulica atra
Seen from hide at QDL and on NPTs

Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax
Only one seen, a male seen very well just after turning onto the track towards the look-out point

Great Bustard Otis tarda
8 seen during morning in the Alentejo

Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
2 seen on a small pool, north of the road out of Rolao towards the look out site.
5 counted from hide at QDL
5 on Castro Marim saltpans, from Castro Marim castle on an NBT

Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta
2 seen flying and calling over Ria Formosa marshes at QDL, beyond the hide

Stone-curlew Burhinus oedicnemus
One seen from the track towards the 'look-out' point, just before the track forks to the farm entrance

Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola
10 seen very well on track towards 'look-out' point, going through the ploughed fields after the farm fork.
2 seen from airport window whiles taxiing out of Faro airport!

Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus
Seen at QDL, where common on the Ria Formosa and feeding on the golf coruse
Also seen on an NBT at Cacela Velha beach

Turnstone Arenaria interpres
2 seen on Ria Formosa before hide at QDL

Sanderling Calidris alba
Party of 10 seen on an NBT at Cacela Velha beach

Western Yellow-legged Gull Larus (cachinnans) michahellis
Common gull along the Algarve coast. Mostly singles, but count of 100+ flying east along Ria Formosa at QDL

Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus
Winter visitor to the Algarve coast. Unseasonal single (same bird?) seen on three separate evenings from QDL.

Common Tern Sterna hirundo
4 seen flying west from Pedras del Rey beach during an NBT

Little Tern Sterna albifrons
Common along coast, seen frequently on NBTs. Very common from hide at QDL, feeding like marsh terns.

Feral Pigeon Columba livia 'feral'
Common

Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur
5 seen at QDL, mostly along road on way to car park

Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto
Seen occasionally throughout

Great Spotted Cuckoo Clamator glandarius
One seen crossing N123 between Ourique and Castro Verde

Little Owl Athene noctua
One seen from track heading south N123 between Ourique and Castro Verde
One seen from N270 just outside Tavira
One seen from N2 south of Sao Bras

Common Swift Apus apus
Common and seen throughout

Pallid Swift Apus pallidus
Probably commonest Swift in the Algarve, seen very well from QDP and around Tavira.

Bee-eater Merops apiaster
Common on roadside lines in Alentejo
Seen at QDL hawking over Ria Formosa and golf course pool
Seen occasionally on NBTs. Know the call, see the bird

Roller Coracias garrulus
One flew over track heading south from the N123 between Ourique and Castro Verde

Hoopoe Upupa epops
Common site throughout. Excellent views of birds feeding on the golf course at QDL

Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major
One in pines along nature trail at QDL

Calandra Lark Melanocorypha calandra
Common in suitable steppe in Alentejo. Best views from track towards 'look-out' point.

Greater Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla
3 from track towards 'look-out' point, going through the ploughed fields after the farm fork.

Crested Lark Galerida cristata
Common throughout

Thekla Lark Galerida theklae
Only one positively identified, on track between car park and hide fork at QDL. Others probably seen, but I didn't spend too much time looking; having seen plenty before I concentrated on searching for much more interesting bustards etc.

Woodlark Lullula arborea
2 heard in the Alentejo, both between Ourique and Castro Verde

Skylark Alauda arvensis
1 heard on track towards 'look-out' point in the Alentejo

Swallow Hirundo rustica
Common

Red-rumped Swallow Hirundo daurica
3 seen on road towards Rolao from N123
A local species in the Algarve, but up to 4 seen very well from QDL. If needed, these can be seen very well by turning off the N125 coast road signed Tavira just before (or after) it crosses the River Sequa on a very large bridge. The roads descend to river level. At the T-junction turn up-river (away from the town) then stop to view area.

House Martin Delichon urbica
Common throughout

Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris
2 seen in Alentejo. One from track heading south N123 between Ourique and Castro Verde, the other near where Quail were seen (from the track towards the 'look-out' point).

Spanish Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava iberiae
Commonly seen feeding on the golf course greens at QDL. Very good views of 5+ birds
One seen on an NBT to Cacela Velha beach

Stonechat Saxicola torquata
Only recorded in the Alentejo, where 5 recorded

Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica
One female seen from track heading south from N123 between Ourique and Castro Verde

Blackbird Turdus merula
Seen quite frequently, especially at QDP

Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti
One heard from nature trail at QDL, beyond hide

Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis
Common, heard frequently throughout. Seen or heard at all sites

Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus
2 heard singing in reeds from hide at QDL. Not really searched for

Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala
Common in suitable habitat, e.g. QDL and QDP. All Sylvia warb's I got identifiable views of were of this species

Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata
1 heard signing where the railway bridge crosses the N123 between Ourique and Castro Verde

Great Tit Parus major
Party of 3 seen in bushes just beyond the hide at QDL

Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla
2 singles seen in bushes beyond the hide at QDL. Responded very well to pishing

Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis meridionalis
Common on roadside wires in the Alentejo, especially along the N123 east of Castro Verde

Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator
Quite common in Alentejo, although fewer than Southern Grey
1 seen beyond hide at QDL
Seen occasionally on NBTs

Jay Garrulus glandarius
1 seen in orchard just outside Cacela Velha

Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyana
4 seen in trees and on road-side lines along N123 in Alentejo
Common at QDL, best views in trees along nature trail beyond hide
1 seen flying over N2 south of Sao Bras

Jackdaw Corvus monedula
2 in Alentejo

Raven Corvus corax
Total of 5 seen in morning in the Alentejo

Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor
Quite common in the Alentejo, the only site where seen. Best numbers were on road-side wires along N123 just west of Castro Verde

House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Common. Spanish Sparrows, which breed in Storks nest along the N123, where not seriously searched for and hence not seen

Common Waxbill Estrilda astrild
A target bird, southern Portugal is the only part of the Western Paleartic where this introduced specie has a foothold. A flock of 8 eventually found beyond the hide at QDL. Listen out for distinctive call and watch for obviously different flight

Serin Serinus serinus
Common at QDL
Commonly seen on NBTs, especially at QDP

Greenfinch Carduelis chloris
Common

Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
Very common

A large whale species was also seen passing close off Pedra del Rey beach, much to the interest of all on the beach!

 

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