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A Report from

Portugal 7th - 21st June 2001,

Mike Taylor

This is a brief report of the birding I did while on a family holiday to the Algarve. We stayed in a villa at Sesmarias, near Carvoeiro.

I did two early morning trips, one to the Castro Verde area to look for Bustards, and the other to Pera Marsh. I made an evening trip to the Odelouca Valley for Red-necked Nightjar. All other birding was incidental to our main holiday.

At the time of our visit, dawn was around 6.00 a.m. and dusk around 9.30 p.m. For early morning birding it was essential to be out in the field soon after dawn. In the Castro Verde area I birded until 10.30 a.m. At Pera Marsh I gave up around 9.30 a.m. as it was getting too hot and there were fewer birds around. Generally, there were a lot more birds around than seems to be the case in September, the time when I usually visit the Mediterranean. Even the Sardinian Warblers in the villa garden were easy to see - in September they skulk so much you usually just get brief flight views as they flit between bushes.

I saw most of my target species: other good species seen by other observers include Rock Sparrow (in the Alentejo), Common Waxbill (e.g. at the Alvor Estuary and Quinto de Lago, neither of which I visited), Lesser Short-toed Lark (Alentejo) and Rufous Bush Chat.

My reference sources were as follows:

1.      Trip reports on, especially by those David & Nancy Massie (March 2001) and Gruff Dodd (September 1999).

2.      "A Birdwatching Guide to the Algarve" by Kevin & Christine Carlson - gives a good background to the general bird life of particular areas, covers more sites than Gosney, but the maps are not as detailed.

3.      "Finding Birds in Southern Portugal" by Dave Gosney with William Oliver - very useful with precise maps, but only highlights specific species rather than describing the general bird life of a particular area. Does not cover as many sites as Carlson (e.g. does not cover Monchique, Pera Marsh or the Odelouca Valley).

7th June - Faro Airport

Species: White Stork, Yellow-legged Gull, Little Egret, Fan-tailed Warbler (H).

7th June - Sesmarias area

Species: Collared Dove, Yellow-legged Gull, Blackbird, Sardinian Warbler, Swallow, House Sparrow, Little Owl (H).

8th June - Praia de Caneiros

This is a lovely sandy beach backed by tall cliffs. An offshore stack held a colony of Little Egrets and Cattle Egrets, plus Pallid Swifts, Rock Doves and Spotless Starlings. There was a kestrel nest on the cliff behind the beach, but during several visits I only managed to see a female plus immatures. I could not prove conclusively whether they were Common Kestrel or Lesser Kestrel, though the general shape, including a wedge-shaped tail, suggested Lesser Kestrel. Against bright sunlight it is difficult to determine whether a fairly pale underwing is just due to the bright light, but the bird I studied closely had a pale underwing and under-tail, with almost no barring on the under-tail except for the black sub-terminal band. I studied the swifts in some detail and most (if not all) were Pallid Swift, identified by their upperwing pattern, with the secondaries paler than the rest of the wing. Some had very prominent white throats, a feature apparently shared by Common Swift - not that I have ever noticed this! We made several visits to this beach. Another nice beach was Benagil - this had nesting Alpine Swifts as well.

Species: Yellow-legged Gull, House Martin, Kestrel sp., Common Swift, Pallid Swift, Rock Dove, Spotless Starling, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, House Sparrow, Alpine Swift (nearby).

9th June - Lagos & Portimao

Two old industrial chimneys had White Storks nesting on the top. Another nest was seen on the top of one of the pillars on the new suspension bridge on the main N125 near Portimao. A number of Grey Herons were feeding on the estuary with White Storks and Little Egrets every time we drove past.

Species: White Stork, Grey Heron, Little Egret.

9th June - Sesmarias

A watch over the scrubby field/orchard opposite the villa one evening produced a pair of Hoopoe, a Woodchat Shrike and a Turtle Dove. In the sky over the villa every evening there were Bee-eaters, Alpine Swifts, Common/Pallid Swifts and Swallows and the occasional Cattle Egret flying over, and Sardinian Warblers were hopping around in the shrubs in the garden. A Black Kite was seen from the car nearby.

Species: Hoopoe, Turtle Dove, Woodchat Shrike, Cattle Egret, Kestrel, Sardinian Warbler, Alpine Swift, Swallow, Swift sp., Bee-eater, Black Kite (nearby).

11th June - ZooMarine Park, Guia

The first Red-rumped Swallow of the trip was seen here. On our various car journeys around the area we often saw Hoopoe, Bee-eaters and Woodchat Shrike.

Species: Red-rumped Swallow.

12th June - Caldas de Monchique

A very pleasant little village on the way up to Foia. We walked a little way from the main square up a path that took us through woodland up a stream past old water tanks (Roman?).

Species: Swift, Serin, Grey Wagtail, Blackcap (H), Chiffchaff (H), Blue Tit (H)

12th June - Foia

At the summit of the mountain there are spectacular views, plus some good birds, such as Rock Bunting (singing male), Corn Bunting, Woodlark, plus raptors such as Short-toed Eagle and Peregrine. It is a rather grotty tourist trap however.

Species: Short-toed Eagle, Peregrine, House Martin, Swallow, Woodlark, Linnet, Whitethroat, Stonechat (pr), Rock Bunting, Corn Bunting.

13th June - Alentejo

I set off at 4.45 am and headed north up the IC1 to Ourique, arriving around dawn at 6 am. I then followed the Massies' excellent directions, taking the road to Castro Verde. In the area near the turning to Ourique I saw at least three Black-winged Kites, but I did not stop - firstly, it was difficult because of the miles of road-works, and secondly because I thought I would see plenty more - but I didn't! Along the road from Ourique to Castro Verde there were many stork's nests, with Spanish Sparrows nesting in the same structure.

I then took the road from Castro Verde towards Mertola, stopping in various places, such as the river bridges and the eucalyptus trees along the road - for Azure-winged Magpie. I then turned south along the road signposted to St Barbara de Padroes. I took this road south through Rolao, stopping to look now and again - plenty of Southern Grey Shrikes and some Stone Curlew, plus Quail calling. Little Owls were often to be seen perched on rocky outcrops in the middle of the fields. On reflection I should have scanned the fields much harder, for Great Bustards. I then turned left at the crossroads towards Guerrerio, and then along the track described in the Massies' report.

As I started along the track several Little Bustards flew out of the long grass. They are quite difficult to pin down on the ground as they seem to hide in the long grass. Near the farm there were Spanish Sparrows where the track crosses the stream, and as I followed the track up the hill I was surprised to find Collared Pratincoles standing in the middle of the track. There were at least 30 pairs in this area. I had difficulty working out which of the tracks was the correct one according to the report, but I was soon seeing many Calandra Larks, plus various other unidentified larks. I spent a while scanning from two different points, and saw two very distant Little Bustards, plus a very distant flying flock which initially looked like ducks but were probably Little Bustards as well. I also saw two large birds flying in the distance which I am pretty sure were Great Bustards, showing a lot of white in the wing, but they eventually landed out of sight in a valley. I spent a long time scanning carefully but saw little other than Montagu's Harriers everywhere.

As I retraced my route along the track back to the road I got much better views of a female Little Bustard on the ground. Since I was running out of time I started to panic that I wasn't going to find Great Bustard. Rather than driving off to another possible site I decided to drive around in the immediate area and scan every field.  I saw a Roller drop down into a field and then fly off, and a bit further on I spotted a couple of Black-eared Wheatears on a fence.

I decided to retrace my steps back towards Rolao, stopping to scan every field. There seemed to be more Bee-eaters around than earlier on, perhaps there were fewer insects around earlier. Back at the field where I had seen Stone Curlew earlier on, I saw a "lump" in the field that looked to have the colours of a Great Bustard - I was getting desperate, so I put the 'scope on to it. Of course it was just a lump, but in the same field of view I saw a head appearing over the brow of a small hill - it was a Great Bustard! I scanned the field again and saw a second bird. They proceeded to walk slowly across the field, giving excellent views. A Bee-eater was feeding above them - it seemed as if it was feeding on insects disturbed by the Bustards.

On the return journey I kept an eye open for more Black-winged Kites, but saw none. A Red Kite flew over the road just after Ourique. I left the area around 10.30 am after an excellent morning's birding in this superb area.

Species: Black-winged Kite, Black Kite, Red Kite, Montagu's Harrier, Kestrel, White Stork, Cattle Egret, Stone Curlew, Red-legged Partridge, Quail (H), Great Bustard (2), Little Bustard (7), Moorhen, Collared Pratincole (50+), Red-rumped Swallow, Swallow, Little Owl, Southern Grey Shrike, Woodchat Shrike, Hoopoe, Bee-eater, Roller, Azure-winged Magpie, Crested Lark, Calandra Lark, Stonechat, Black-eared Wheatear, Spanish Sparrow, Spotless Starling, Corn Bunting.

15th June - Odelouca Valley

This is a very pleasant valley reached from the N124 road between Silves and Porto de Lagos. Going west from Odelouca village you cross a bridge and there is a bar on the right hand side. Immediately before the bar is a dirt road heading northwards. These dirt roads are the equivalent of our country lanes. We found a spot where we could sit by the river and while my son was busy throwing rocks into the river I did some birding. There were Little Ringed Plovers in their true habitat (rather than our man-made gravel pits), and a few Azure-Winged Magpies.

Species: Little Ringed Plover, Azure-Winged Magpie, Bee-eater, Cattle Egret, Blackcap (H), Grey Wagtail, Serin.

16th June - Ponte de Piedade

This is a spectacular area of cliffs near Lagos. There was a mixed Egret colony on the offshore rocks, and several Jackdaws flying around. I had not seen any elsewhere so far.

Species: Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Jackdaw.

17th June - Odelouca Valley

Having read Gruff Dodd's report again, I realised that the Odelouca Valley was a recommended site for Red-necked Nightjar (per Mark Bolton from the A Cruzinha observatory at the Alvor Estuary). I reached the valley at 9.10pm as it was starting to get dark. I had driven about a mile up the road when a Red-necked Nightjar flew over the road. I stopped the car and got out, and was treated to some very good views of the bird. However that was the only one I saw, and I could not hear any calling, so I must have been pretty lucky!

Species: Red-necked Nightjar, Little Owl.

20th June - Pera Marsh

This site is reached from the road going east of Pera village, as per the directions in the Carlsson book or the Massies' report. This is a marsh area just inland from the sand dunes behind Praia Grande. The eastern end of the marsh borders on to a golf course. The dunes themselves provided a good opportunity for studying the larks - I managed to clinch views of Thekla Lark (identified by its convex lower mandible,and grey axillaries, compared to the concave lower mandible and rufous axillaries of Crested Lark), and had excellent close views of Short-toed Lark, enabling me to see their very short primary projection. Another "lark" proved to be a Tawny Pipit. There were several Purple Gallinules in the marsh, and at least one on the golf course in the distance. Black-winged Stilts were everywhere, and very vocal, and a scan of the marsh revealed several Purple Herons with their snake-like necks. Fan-tailed Warblers (Zitting Cisticolas) were extremely common, "zitting" continuously. A male Little Bittern was seen in flight - at first site it looked more like a Moorhen! At the far end of the track is a patch of open water backing on to the sandy beach. Here there were 4 Kentish Plovers, plus fishing Little Terns.

Species: Little Grebe, White Stork, Purple Heron, Grey Heron, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Spoonbill (3), Little Bittern (1m), Mallard, Kestrel, Moorhen, Coot, Purple Gallinule (2-3 ad + juv), Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Kentish Plover (3 ad + 1 juv), Little Tern (2), Little Owl, Swift, House Martin, Swallow, Hoopoe, Bee-eater, Thekla Lark, Crested Lark, Short-toed Lark, Tawny Pipit, Yellow Wagtail, Southern Grey Shrike, Woodchat Shrike, Great Reed Warbler (H), Fan-tailed Warbler, Goldfinch.

Systematic List
1.      Little Grebe
Common at Pera Marsh, 20th June.

2.      Little Bittern
1 male at Pera Marsh, 20th June.

3.      Cattle Egret
Common, seen in fields with cattle, nesting colonies on offshore stacks at Praia de Caneiros and Ponte de Piedade.

4.      Little Egret
Common, especially at Pera Marsh and on Portimao estuary; nesting colonies on offshore stacks at Praia de Caneiros and Ponte de Piedade.

5.      Grey Heron
A few seen from Portimao estuary bridge on N125; several at Pera Marsh, 20th June.

6.      Purple Heron
Several at Pera Marsh, 20th June.

7.      White Stork
1 Faro Airport, 7th June; Several around Portimao and Lagos, nesting on tall chimneys and on the new suspension bridge near Portimao; common in Alentejo area on 13th June, including many nests between Ourique and Castro Verde; several at Pera Marsh, 20th June.

8.      Spoonbill
3 at Pera Marsh, 20th June.

9.      Mallard
Common at Pera Marsh, 20th June.

10.  Black-winged Kite
3 near Ourique, Alentejo, 13th June.

11.  Black Kite
1 near Sesmarias, 9th June; several in Alentejo, 13th June.

12.  Red Kite
1 near Ourique, Alentejo, 13th June.

13.  Short-toed Eagle
1 over Foia, 12th June.

14.  Montagu's Harrier
Common in Alentejo, 13th June.

15.  Lesser Kestrel
Probables on cliffs at Praia de Caneiros, 8th June, and Ponte de Piedade, 16th June.

16.  Kestrel
Fairly common everywhere.

17.  Peregrine
1 over Foia, 12th June.

18.  Red-legged Partridge
2 in Alentejo, 13th June.

19.  Quail
Fairly common in Alentejo, 13th June, heard only.

20.  Moorhen
1 in Alentejo, 13th June; several at Pera Marsh, 20th June.

21.  Purple Gallinule
2-3 ad + 1 juv, Pera Marsh, 20th June.

22.  Coot
Common at Pera Marsh, 20th June.

23.  Little Bustard
7 in Alentejo, 13th June.

24.  Great Bustard
2 in Alentejo, 13th June, plus 2 probables in flight.

25.  Black-winged Stilt
Common at Pera Marsh, 20th June.

26.  Avocet
Several at Pera Marsh, 20th June.

27.  Stone Curlew
2 in Alentejo, 13th June.

28.  Collared Pratincole
30+ pairs in Alentejo, 13th June.

29.  Little Ringed Plover
Pair in Odelouca Valley, 15th June.

30.  Kentish Plover
3 ad + 1 juv, Pera Marsh, 20th June.

31.  Black-tailed Godwit
Several at Pera Marsh, 20th June.

32.  Black-headed Gull
A few seen from Portimao estuary bridge on N125.

33.  Yellow-legged Gull
Common all along the coast.

34.  Little Tern
2 at Pera Marsh, 20th June.

35.  Rock Dove
Common on coastal cliffs.

36.  Collared Dove
Common around Sesmarias.

37.  Turtle Dove
1 at Sesmarias, 9th June.

38.  Little Owl
1 heard at Sesmarias, 7th June; several seen in Alentejo, perched on rocky outcrops; 1 in Odelouca Valley, 17th June; 1 at Pera Marsh, 20th June.

39.  Red-necked Nightjar
1 in Odelouca Valley, 17th June.

40.  Swift
Common, but many not specifically identified.

41.  Pallid Swift
Common, especially on cliffs.

42.  Alpine Swift
Common, especially over cliffs.

43.  Bee-eater
Fairly common everywhere, often seen from car.

44.  Roller
1 in Alentejo, 13th June.

45.  Hoopoe
Fairly common everywhere, often seen flying over road.

46.  Calandra Lark
Common in Alentejo, 13th June.

47.  Short-toed Lark
Several at Pera Marsh, 20th June.

48.  Crested Lark
Common in Alentejo, 13th June; common at Pera Marsh, 20th June; a few seen elsewhere from the car.

49.  Thekla Lark
1 at Pera Marsh, 20th June.

50.  Woodlark
1 at Foia, 12th June.

51.  Swallow

52.  Red-rumped Swallow
1 at Guia, 11th June; several in Alentejo, 13th June.

53.  House Martin

54.  Tawny Pipit
1 at Pera Marsh, 20th June.

55.  Yellow Wagtail
1 at Pera Marsh, 20th June.

56.  Grey Wagtail
1 at Caldas de Monchique, 12th June; 2 at Odelouca Valley, 15th June.

57.  Stonechat
Pair at Foia, 12th June; several Alentejo, 13th June.

58.  Black-eared Wheatear
2 in Alentejo, 13th June.

59.  Blackbird
Fairly common.

60.  Fan-tailed Warbler
Common everywhere in Algarve.

61.  Great Reed Warbler
At least one heard singing at Pera Marsh, 20th June.

62.  Sardinian Warbler
Common everywhere in Algarve.

63.  Whitethroat
1 at Foia, 12th June.

64.  Blackcap
1 heard at Caldas de Monchique, 12th June; 1 heard at Odelouca Valley, 15th June

65.  Chiffchaff
1 heard at Caldas de Monchique, 12th June.

66.  Blue Tit
1 heard at Caldas de Monchique, 12th June.

67.  Southern Grey Shrike
Common in Alentejo, 13th June; 2 at Pera Marsh, 20th June.

68.  Woodchat Shrike
Quite common everywhere.

69.  Azure-winged Magpie
Several in roadside trees in Alentejo, 13th June; 3 at Odelouca Valley, 15th June.

70.  Jackdaw
A few on cliffs at Ponte de Piedade, 16th June.

71.  Spotless Starling
Several at Praia de Caneiros, 8th June; several in Alentejo, 13th June.

72.  House Sparrow

73.  Spanish Sparrow
Many nesting in White Stork nests, between Ourique and Castro Verde, Alentejo, 13th June.

74.  Serin
1 at Caldas de Monchique, 12th June; 1 at Odelouca Valley, 15th June.

75.  Greenfinch
A few around Sesmarias.

76.  Goldfinch
Several at Pera Marsh, 20th June.

77.  Linnet
Several at Foia, 12th June.

78.  Rock Bunting
At least 1 singing male at Foia, 12th June.

79.  Corn Bunting
1 at Foia, 12th June; several in Alentejo, 13th June.

Mike Taylor

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