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Friday, April 12, 2013

Birding break in the Algarve pt1

Crazy weather year so far in the UK I think you'll agree, certainly all my friends and visitors at Askham Bog are anxious about the impact this cold early Spring weather is having on our wildlife .... I'm not sure how any early returning warblers will have fared against these biting easterly winds we've been having of late but here's hoping that they find a way and we get some warmth soon!

Meanwhile, I've been away in Portugal for a short break to catch a bit of sun and some Spring passage migration. Bit early in the season maybe but there was plenty about and plenty to point my lens at. I spent 5 days in on the Eastern side of the Algarve, mainly around Tavira and Castro Marim and then my birding pal Mark came over for 5 days and we did the Western end.

Before flying out I treated myself to a Kenko 1.4 converter for my lens for a bit more reach and have to say that although the extra zoom was exciting at the time, the results were not always good and many shots that I thought were going to be corkers were too grainy to do anything with, even with Adobe Lightroom. I live and learn .... methinks I should have spent more pennies and gone for Canon glass!

First good bird was a Booted Eagle from the car just outside the airport. First birding experience was 30 mins out of Faro .... the sun was shining, it was warm and I just had to get out of the car and birdwatch! Can't remember the exact location but I stumbled upon one of the entrances to the Rio Formosa national reserve somewhere nr Olhao and had my first Spanish Sparrows ... here's a cracking male (pic left), and the first of many Hoopoes (pic below). I also had my first Willow Warbler along with what were presumably resident Blackcaps and Sardinian Warblers.

Grey Plover
Although quite densely populated by holiday complexes. the 50 kilometer stretch of coast from Faro all the way to the Spanish border is dominated by vast areas of saltmarsh and a sand bar some 200 metres further out with several access points. I stopped off at a spot called Lux and was immediately into Black and Bar Tailed Godwits, Knot, Redshank, Dunlin, Kentish Plover, Sanderling, Grey Plover, Avocet and Greenshank, all in good numbers

On to Tavira then, and along with Faro and Olhao, this small town with Moorish history is one of the main settlements in the Rio Formosa reserve area. With the sun still shining and glad of the opportunity to walk around in a t shirt after such a long reliance on hats n scarves in the UK,  I headed straight to the salt pans and marshes, had a good tramp around and even camped out at the old ruined fort out there ( Forte do Rato ) ...... and here's a pic of my tent within the fort taken the next morning.

I spent most of the next day at Tavira, there were birds and bird activity everywhere I looked .... wading birds mainly I guess were the main attraction and I must have seen every species of waders I saw last year in one day here! No rarities but wow what great numbers .... I'd not seen such a proliferation since Andalucia a few years back and its difficult to know where to start!

Salt pans and the associated saltmarsh habitat that border them are top feeding and gathering places for all kinds of birds and I certainly had my fill here. Complete species list will be posted in part 2 but highlights from the 2 spent at Tavira include Black Shouldered Kite, Slender Billed & Med Gull, Peregrine Falcon, Wheatear, Bluethroat, Hen Harrier and of course all those waders! Here's a few selected pics
Sardinian Warbler

Yellow Legged Gull

Slender Billed Gull

A couple of reasonable 'in flight' shots here.... I say reasonable because although I was pleased with the composition on both of these, the graininess caused by the 1.4 converter is clearly still in evidence despite all my best efforts with Adobe Lightroom....ya live n learn!
Black Shouldered Kite

If you look closely on the Black Shouldered Kite pic you'll see he has some kind of a shrew or possibly a mole in his talons ... what a pic that would have been if not for the graininess! Never mind, its a record of a great memory of watching this bird from close quarters hovering and hunting over a field lof wild flowers and at least this pic highlights the famous 'red eyes' on this bird.

Tavira turned out to be the only place to throw up a Bluethroat, a bird my mate Mark had seen lots of on a previous holiday so I was really keen to get some good shots but in the end I had only one drab female or first winter male that perched on a mud heap for a few seconds before flitting away. I scanned that wet field for ages trying to find it again but only succeeded in finding a pair of Little Ringed Plovers, one of which was quite obliging.


You have to be going some to get a good shot of a Hen Harrier wherever you are and this was at such distance I never expected much, I was just happy to see one, and a male at that, quartering the saltmarsh and obviously on passage.

Next port of call was the Castro Marim area close to the Spanish border where I spent 2 nights camping on the beach, the first night around Monte Gordo where I had a lot of rain and a damp night then further west along the beach near the Quinta da Ria golf course which was just idyllic.
Birding in the rain is ok so long as you're warm and under cover, and I was quite happy sat in a lay by with my scope poking out of the car window right in the middle of the Castro Marim reserve! Rain quite often brings birds down and it was here I had my first Swifts, lots of them with several Pallid Swifts mixed in ..... it doesn't matter where in the world you are, your first Swift of the year is always a special event. Shame I'm not quick enough to capture them with any success! I also had stacks of hirundines here too - Swallows, the odd Red Rumped Swallow and House Martins. Good few raptors passing through too with my first Montagues Harriers (4 in total) plus Lesser Kestrel and a couple of Marsh Harriers.
Sadly the light was just too bad for photographs but when it cleared up and the Swifts departed I took a stroll and took some pictures of the local Spoonbills and Black Winged Stilts .....

Black Winged Stilt
 As you can see on the Stilt pic, there were plenty of wild flowers about so I took the opportunity to photograph a few. No expert, as I've said before, so the Poppy aside, until I get around to identifying these they'll have to remain penned as 'pretty flowers'!


If there's anybody reading this that can identify any of these flowers I'd be very grateful ... plus it'll save me a job!
A quick mention of other birds seen at Castro Marim before we move on .... plenty of waders with Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank being the highlights, lots of White Storks (some clearly moving North), Red Crested Pochard, Caspian and Sandwich Tern. All seen within a quick stroll from the Guadiana Bridge (pic below) which crosses the Rio Guadiana and spans the border between Spain and Portugal
Ok, back to the long lens and this very handsome Spotless Starling singing in the morning sun on the beach at Quinta de Rai. I'd found a cracking camping spot on the beach with hardly a soul about and it was pure joy to walk down the beach in the morning .... it was warm, there was a Southerly breeze and it was no surprise to see birds on the move - Sand Martins, Red Rumped Swallows and Hoopoe in off the sea, several Willow Warblers and Chiff Chaffs in the bushes and a single Sub Alpine Warbler in amongst them.

I had a probable Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler adjacent to the Golf Course ... streaky above, long legs, eye stripe, a bit squeaky like a Fan Tailed but with a large rounded tail ... gotta be hasn't it?

And then a surprise bird in off the sea ... a Great Spotted Cuckoo (pic below). I managed a distant shot but as with the Starling pic, I'm unhappy about the graininess in such good light.

I also had some of these Common Waxbills here, curious little finch type things with bright red beaks that I think have been introduced here from North Africa; anyway I had about 15 in the car park feeding on bits of left over food - its not mine, but here's a pic of said wee thing.

From Castro Marim, I headed back West towards Tavira again. My battery on the camera had finally gone flat so I booked into a camp site at Tavira to charge it up and took the opportunity to have a shower myself ... I needed one!

Whilst the camera battery was charging I decided to head up into the hills just to the North of Tavira and was totally awestruck with the natural beauty of the countryside up there .... huge green hills and rocky outcrops and deep chalky valleys full of flowers and lush vegetation. I was instantly rewarded by 3 'firsts' for the trip - 2 Little Owls perched on fence posts (which would have made such a fab picture!), a Great Grey Shrike and a passing but close range Short Toed Eagle .... not bad for an hour's drive!

Driving back into the camp site I was a bit dismayed to be pitched next to Scottish couple in a campervan who were obviously drunk and arguing like mad. I didn't need that and the site was pretty spartan anyway so I decided to up sticks and pitch back at the old fort on the saltmarsh again. There was another Little Owl perched on the walls of the fort as I was setting up my tent and in the morning there was a Hoopoe on the same wall!

My mate Mark was flying out in the evening to join me for the last 4 days of the holiday, so I had to be in Faro later, but not before a last tramp around Tavira. Nothing new there apart from a possible Redwing and a couple of definite Auduoin Gulls but I did get some reasonable shots of a Curlew Sandpiper and Black Tailed Godwit
Curlew Sandpiper

Black Tailed Godwit
I was looking forward to seeing Mark .... travelling, birding & snapping away is great fun and I get totally self absorbed in it all, but tis always better to share these moments and after a while I miss the friendly banter ... so, back to Faro & the bonus of a hotel room (booked online by Mark's wife ... she's so understanding of our needs!)

I got to Faro early and had several hours to kill before Mark's flight (delayed by freezing conditions at Leeds / Bradford airport!) was due to arrive. Luckily the area around Faro is itself excellent for birding and I picked up Little Stint and Tawny Owl as new species as well as a few decent 'coastal' pics. Here's a common bird nicely posed ... a Lesser Black Backed Gull in a wind that was ominously strengthening from the West
Earlier I just had to stop and photograph this old boat that looked so forlorn and crying out for some attention ....  so there ya go old boat, a full spread in some old mad man's blog!
And while we're in seascape mode, here's a panoramic view of Faro from the nearby saltmarsh .....
  ...... and here's my last pic of part 1 of my Algarve trip, another common continental bird caught in a nice pose and in the setting sun, a rather lovely looking Cattle Egret.
More to come in part 2 folks .... including more new bird species, a complete species list, more stunning wild flowers,crashing Atlantic waves and an adventure with the Portugues authorities!


1 comment:


    excellent post on the algarve hope you enjoyed your stay