After several months of planning, everything was finally in place for an eight day trip to southern Portugal and southern Spain. I had spent a lost of time researching the sites to visit and had read countless trip reports posted on the Internet, bought at least five site guides, and contacted several birders that had visited the area. This was my second birding trip to Spain, but the first time I had hit the southern area, and Portugal was new territory completely. I was to be joined on this tour by John Oake, Andy Grinter and Martin Seery, all local Somerset birders.
Travel and Accommodation
We booked cheap flights with Flybe.com (http://www.flybe.com) from Southampton to Faro setting off mid afternoon on Saturday 5 May and returning the following Saturday. Car hire was done online via Budget Car Rentals (http://www.budgetcarrentals.com), who offered by far the best deal. I booked accommodation for the first night at a local hotel near Faro airport, through http://www.alpharooms.com. Our other accommodation was arranged on our behalf by local bird guides who we were using while in Spain and Portugal. We stayed two days in El Rocio at a campsite (with permanent lodges) called La Aldea (http://www.campinlaaldea.com) and three nights in Sagres at Aparthotel Orquidea (http://www.veloz-plus.com/orquidea).
References and Maps
1-Birdwatching on Spain’s Southern Coast; John Butler; ISBN 84-89954-38-0
2-Where to Watch Birds Southern & Western Spain; Ernest Garcia and Andrew Paterson; ISBN 0-7136-5301-9
3-Where to Watch Birds in Spain and Portugal; Laurence Rose; ISBN 0-600-58404-6
4-Summer Birding on the Central Algarve; Jon Hardacre; ISBN 0-9552302-0-9
5-Finding Birds in Southern Spain; Dave Gosney; ISBN 1-898110-16-6
6-Finding Birds in Southern Portugal; Dave Gosney; ISBN 1-898110-18-2
7-Portugal Sul Algarve; Michelin 1:300000 Map 593; ISBN 2-06-711719-X
8-Andalucia; Michelin 1:400000 Map 578; ISBN 2-06-100765-1
John Butler, Doñana Bird Tours. http://www.donanabirdtours.com
Simon Wates, The Algarve Birdman. http://www.algarvebirdman.com
Both guides are well recommended, we could not fault either.
5 May 07 – Fly from Southampton to Faro, an evening of birding and a stay at Hotel Monaco, Faro
6 May 07 – Birding around Ludo Farm, on to Castro Marim, and Doñana. Stay at El Rocio
7 May 07 – Day Tour with John Butler, Doñana Bird Tours. Stay at El Rocio
8 May 07 – Journey to Bolonia, taking in Los Palacios y Villafranca, Laguna de Medina and Ojen Valley. Stay in Bolonia
9 May 07 – Birding in Bolonia and then journey to Sagres, stopping at Alvor Estuary. Then birding around Sagres area. Stay in Sagres
10 May 07 – Birding around Sagres and Lagos. Stay in Sagres
11 May 07 – Birding around Castro Verde area. Stay in Sagres
12 May 07 – Birding around Ludo Farm, fly back from Faro to Southampton
Saturday 5 May 2007
We were scheduled to leave Southampton at 3.10pm but our flight was delayed by nearly two hours, and despite the fact we were over two hours early, courtesy of Cathy Oake’s taxi services, we somehow managed to miss our check in and had a major panic as we had to convince the desk clerk that she should let us on the flight, which after a couple of phone calls, she did. We eventually left Southampton and landed in Faro just before 8pm, and went to pick up the hire car. I had booked this online using economycarrentals.com and got the car from Auto Jardim, a Portuguese car rental firm. We had a Renault Laguna estate, which was ideal for our kit and four blokes, plenty of room and pace! As it was now dark, our planned birding went out the window and we headed to our hotel. After a couple of wrong turns we found the Hotel Monaco and booked in, then hit the town in search of a bite to eat. The hotel was located in Montenegro, about 4km from the airport. We only managed to pick up House Sparrow plus unidentified swifts in failing light and a fly over egret, probably a Cattle Egret.
Sunday 6 May 2007
An early start and a 7.30am continental breakfast at the Hotel, where we picked up House Martin (several), Hoopoe (2), Serin (2), Goldfinch (1), Collared Dove (3), Pallid Swift (2+) and House Sparrow (several) from our rooms, before heading off back towards the airport and an explore of the area known as Ludo Farm.
Ludo Farm is mentioned in a whole host of site guides, and with good reason. I took the car down a good dirt track, stopping at intervals, whole John, Andy and Martin walked the path hoping to pick out the birds. Our first stop was at the start of the track proper, just past the campsite used for the famous Faro motorcycle rally. Here we picked up a number of quality birds, including Hoopoe (2+), Iberian Magpie (6+), Greenfinch (4+), House Sparrow (abundant), Barn Swallow (several), House Martin (several), Serin (2+), Spotless Starling (4+) and Goldfinch (4+). John and Andy got on a pair of Crossbills, but Martin and I missed them. We also heard Iberian Green Woodpecker, but had no sighting of the bird.
We then drove on for about 500m and stopped at a small derelict house. An area of open grassland and marsh produced lots of birds. These included Zitting Cisticola (2+), Turtle Dove(2), Cetti’s Warbler,(2+ heard) Common Waxbill (12+), Whinchat (1), Stonechat (1), Woodchat Shrike (1), White Stork (4), Lesser Black-backed Gull (2), Cormorant (1), Mallard (6), Iberian Magpie (several), Hoopoe (2), Jay (1), Spotless Starling (2+), European Bee-eater (1), Serin (several), House Sparrow (abundant), Corn Bunting (3+), Wren (1 heard) and Great Spotted Woodpecker (1 heard).
Continuing down the track to Ludo Farm we carried on for about a kilometre past the “Prohibito” sign at an obvious gate, which despite looking as if it should be locked, was wide open. We stopped overlooking an area of saltpans and spent some time going through the numerous birds that were feeding on the saltpans and surrounding areas. Here we saw Caspian Tern (1), Little Tern (2), Kentish Plover (several), Dunlin (several), Curlew Sandpiper (2), Turnstone (1), Black-winged Stilt (5), Avocet (4), Redshank (4), Greenshank (2), Spoonbill (1), Grey Heron (1), Sanderling (8+), Black Kite (2), Crested Lark (1), Little Egret (3), Marsh Harrier (1 female), Little Stint (2), Moorhen (3), Coot (4), Little Grebe (2), Cetti’s Warbler (2+ heard), Kestrel (1 male), Grey Plover (1 summer plumaged bird), and a singing acrocephalus warbler. We also saw a single Pectoral Sandpiper on the saltpans, displaying some obvious hostile attitudes towards the other waders.
After a couple of hours, we headed back towards Faro and on to the A1 motorway and began the trip east towards the Spanish border and our next birding site.
After a fifty kilometre drive we arrived at the nature reserve at Castro Marim. This is easily accessible from the motorway, coming off at junction 18 and heading towards Mertola on the N122 for a couple of hundred metres before turning right alongside the motorway. There is an obvious track that you follow to the reserve, we stopped a few times before the visitor centre, and the birds we saw were plentiful.
Pulling up and getting out of the car just inside the reserve boundary, the first birds we see are a pair of European Bee-eaters, copulating on the top of a small tree, with several others flying around! Scouting around we soon came across a adult Great Spotted Cuckoo sitting up in a nearby bush, and affording excellent views. On our way to the visitor centre we also added Red-rumped Swallow (5+ nesting under a road bridge), Southern Grey Shrike (1), Marsh Harrier (pair), Cattle Egret (2), Stonechat (2 males), Red-legged Partridge (1), Montagu’s Harrier (1 male), Little Tern (2), Black-winged Stilt (3+), Little Egret (1+), Crested Lark (1+), Zitting Cisticola (several), Black-billed Magpie (1), Sardinian Warbler (several), Red-crested Pochard (3 drakes), Yellow Wagtail (3+ of the Spanish race iberiae), Osprey (2), Spoonbill (3), Yellow-legged Gull (1), Knot (c.15), Kentish Plover (1+), Spotless Starling (several), Mallard (several), Gadwall (several). After a good couple of hours of birding we decided to head away from Castro Marim and in to Spain. We hit the road at 2.30pm with the temperature a comfortable 27oC.
Stopping at a service station for a quick sandwich and a drink we had a singing Skylark from the car park. As we crossed in to Spain we had to move the clocks forward an hour as we crossed a time zone. Following an uneventful drive to El Rocio, coming off the motorway at Junction 48 and heading south on the A483, we signed in at La Aldea at 4.50pm local time. We were to stay here for the next two nights, in a wooden bungalow, with plenty of room for the four of us. Outside the bungalow were several House Sparrows, Serin (1 singing male), Spotless Starling and Goldfinch.
We quickly unloaded the car and, as there was still plenty of sunlight, decided to head off south to an area of the Doñana National Park known as Acebuche, about 10km south of El Rocio. This is one of the key areas recommended in several of the site guides, and is well worth a visit, not least for some of the best views you will get of Iberian Magpies as they hop around the picnic area scavenging for scraps. Acebuche has a large visitor centre and several hides, most of which are close to the centre, but a few are a bit more distant. I think we visited all but two of the hides and saw a wealth of birds consisting of Bee-eater (several), Iberian Magpie (numerous), House Sparrow (abundant), White Stork (several, including a nesting pair on the visitor centre roof), Great Reed Warbler (1 heard), Nightingale (4+), Spotted Flycatcher (1), Serin (several), Little Grebe (4+), Red-knobbed Coot (pair with two young – our only birds of the entire trip), Red-crested Pochard (3+), Northern Pochard (1 drake), Purple Heron (1 adult), Black Kite (1), Common Buzzard (1), Reed Warbler (2+), Sardinian Warbler (1), Hoopoe (1+), Barn Swallow (several), House Martin (4), Little Ringed Plover (1), Spoonbill (4), Grey Heron (2), Sparrowhawk (1), Great White Egret (1 bird seen by John and Martin but missed by myself and Andy), Booted Eagle (1 pale phase), Moorhen (3), Coot (several), Sedge Warbler (1 seen by John), Dartford Warbler (1 adult and a juvenile), Great Tit (2), Woodchat Shrike (1) and Pied Flycatcher (1 male).
After a pretty productive few hours, we decided to head back to El Rocio as we were starting to get a bit hungry! However, we passed the entrance to La Rocina, another recommended Doñana site, and popped in, but with only 30 minutes until it closed we thought it best to leave that to another day. Instead we stopped on the southern outskirts of El Rocio to scout over the large lake. There were not a huge number of birds present, but plenty of variety. We saw Spoonbill (8+), White Stork (several), Purple Heron (5), Grey Heron (4), Northern Pochard (12+), Little Egret (1), Whiskered Tern (2), Yellow Wagtail (1 male), Coot (several), Moorhen (several), Mallard (several), Greater Flamingo (4), Black-crowned Night Heron (2), Black Kite (4+), and a Squacco Heron (seen flying in to reeds by John).
At 9.15pm, though it was still 22oC, with failing light we packed up and drove back to the campsite with the intention of eating in the on site restaurant, however, when we got there it was all locked up. Our only option was to head back to the lake where we had seen a restaurant. Fortunately, despite the late hour, it was still open. With a menu entirely in Spanish, we made educated guesses as we chose our dinner.
Fortunately, we chose well and had a wonderful meal. We eventually got back to our bungalow, and hit the sack after a long and productive days birding. We had driven some 242 km.
Monday 7 May 2007
A fairly late start compared to yesterday, as we got up and wandered down the road to the local service station to pick up a few things for breakfast, which ended up consisting of cheese and salami sandwiches heated in a pan, with a glass of orange juice. On the short walk back to the bungalow we saw Bee-eater (6), Black Kite (3), Crested Lark (3) and a single Thekla Lark. Plus, of course, the numerous House Sparrows and Goldfinches that were everywhere we went.
We had arranged a day’s tour of Doñana with John Butler of Doñana Bird Tours, and as we awaited him outside La Aldea we saw a splendid male Golden Oriole in flight (though a bit distant). John arrived at 9.05am with the two other birders joining us for the day, Liz and Dave were returning visitors to Doñana having had a day tour with John last autumn. We all piled in to the Doñana Bird Tours people carrier and took off.
Our first stop was just to the north-east of El Rocio at a site called Puete Del Ajolis. This was a river crossing overlooking an area of reeds to the south, with a wooded area along the river bank to the north. Setting up our scopes we had a good scan about the area and saw Black-crowned Night Heron (1 juvenile), Nightingale (2+), Serin (3), Cetti’s Warbler (1), Black-shouldered Kite (2), Tree Sparrow (1), Greater Flamingo (2 distant birds in flight), Woodpigeon (3), Stonechat (1), Woodchat Shrike (2). The pair of Black-shouldered Kites were our first of the trip and showed well but distantly to the south of the bridge. As we jumped back in the car and headed to our next site and saw an adult and juvenile Great Spotted Cuckoo on the track. Though we got close to them, they were jumpy and a photo opportunity did not arise. We also had a fly-over Jackdaw.
Our next stop was going to be an area of the Corridor Verde, and on the way (about a 20 minute drive) we managed to see Red-rumped Swallow (2), Little Egret (1), Raven (1), Iberian Magpie (5), Dartford Warbler (1), Melodious Warbler (1), Cuckoo (1 bird heard), Common Buzzard (2) and John and Andy saw a wheatear ssp. but could not get enough on it to identify as we drove past.
At 10.40 we arrived at the start of a dusty track through an area of the Corridor Verte. The whole “corridor” had been formed as a result of a chemical spill from a mine, resulting in a huge area becoming contaminated with heavy metals. This meant that acres of food crops had to be destroyed, and the area was given over to wildlife and is now a managed nature conservation area. We made a few stops at various places down the track over about six kilometres or so. Black Kites (8+) were numerous and Booted Eagles (4) were noticeable. We also saw Woodchat Shrike (2), Corn Bunting (several), Nightingale (1), Zitting Cisticola (1), Red-rumoed Swallow (2 nesting under a river bridge), Osprey (1 perched up by a small lake before giving us a super fly-over), Red-legged Partridge (1), Spoonbill (1), Cattle Egret (6+ and 40+ in a sheep field), Kestrel (2 males), Black-shouldered Kite (1), Crested Lark (several), Hoopoe (1), and as we left the track to join a tarmac road stopped briefly at a breeding site were at least 40 Collared Pratincoles were flying around. We only saw one bird on a nest. John mentioned that a couple of days earlier he had seen Pin-tailed Sandgrouse in this field (one of my target birds having missed them in Morocco and central Spain), but there was no sign of these elusive birds…the other areas we tried had grass that was just too long to find any ground feeding birds.
Our next stop was just a quick diversion to an area called Dehesa da Pilas where there was a large Spanish Sparrow colony (some 500+ birds apparently). We also saw several Bee-eaters here and nesting White Storks. A Turtle Dove flew through and a Melodious Warbler showed well. With time getting on and hunger setting in John took us off to a picnic site, however, peer pressure got to him as we stopped at an area of flooded saltpans as a couple of terns caught our eye. Pulling off the road we got out and scoped the saltpans and realised what a wealth of birdlife was on offer. Two species of tern and several waders were on offer with Black Tern (4+), Gull-billed Tern (2), Black-winged Stilt (2), Common Sandpiper (1), Redshank (3), Ringed Plover (several), Collared Pratincole (5+), Grey Plover (2) and Greenshank (2).
After a very welcome and tasty home-made picnic lunch and an ice cold beer (our thanks to John’s wife Rebecca), we headed off to our next major stop, which was to be the Doñana visitor centre. En route to the centre, driving down a badly kept track we saw a Short-toed Lark. About a kilometre before the visitor centre we stopped to look over a large flooded area were we saw Greater Flamingo (hundreds), Black-winged Stilt (several), Avocet (several), Gull-billed Tern (5) and Black-headed Gull (3).
Arriving at the visitor centre we found out that they had spent the morning ringing Glossy Ibis chicks. Fortunately the ringers had packed up for the day and the birds had settles after the earlier disturbance and everything was back to normal, except that the area the ringing had taken place in stank! And it happened to be the best area to see the heronry! Looking out of the large windows of the visitor centre we were amazed by the sheer number of ibis, herons and egrets. The heronry contained Little Egrets, Cattle Egrets, Squacco Herons and Black-crowned Night Herons, all in good numbers. A Purple Heron was feeding young birds on the nest. We were lucky enough to see a female Little Bittern fly across in front of us and land in a tree, showing well for several minutes. The Glossy Ibis colony must have contained several hundred pairs, but the highlight was undoubtedly a Western Reef Heron which had paired with a Little Egret and was on its nest. The bird was at times obscured but afforded some great views at times. Western Reef Herons have been recorded in Doñana for the last few years (though there were no records in 2006), and we were fortunate enough to see this bird, one of the birds of the trip. Besides the birds in the heronry we also saw Great Reed Warbler (1+), Red-crested Pochard (1 drake), Garganey (1 drake), Great Crested Grebe (1) and Andy was lucky enough to get on a Purple Gallinule as it plunged in to the depths of the vegetation. We grabbed a drink from the visitor centre as we left and continued west down the track to our next stop.
We continued along the track for about a further kilometre or so, finally stopping at a site overlooking another fair sized area of open water and vegetation to the north of the track. From here we saw Great White Egret (2), Black-tailed Godwit (40+), Griffon Vulture (13), Spoonbill (several), Yellow Wagtail (3+), Collared Pratincole (several), Turnstone (1), Curlew Sandpiper (6), Whiskered Tern (5), Ringed Plover (several), Dunlin (several), Grey Plover (100’s), Lapwing (3+), and Little Stint (1).
Before we realised it, it was 5.00pm, and time for us to head back to El Rocio and the end of our tour with John. However, the excitement was not quite over and along the way back we added Red Kite (2), Short-toed Eagle (3), Montagu’s Harrier (1 ringtail), Marsh Harrier (1 male), Northern Wheatear (1), Linnet (2) and John and Andy picked up a Carrion Crow.
John dropped us back at the campsite at 6.30pm, the end of an enjoyable and productive day’s tour of Doñana. John’s local knowledge of the area was a real benefit and well the 35€ per person. I would recommend Doñana Bird Tours to anyone wanting to get the most out of a day in the Doñana area.
As it was still early, with plenty of daylight left, we had a quick turn round and picked up our car before heading south from El Rocio to the nearby La Rocina reserve, just two kilometres from our campsite. La Rocina is another cracking reserve, and we saw plenty of birds including Pochard (3+), Whiskered Tern (2), Savi’s Warbler (1 seen and a couple more heard), Grey Heron (1), Purple Heron (1), White Stork (several), Marsh Harrier (a pair), Sedge Warbler (one heard), Little Grebe (2), Nightingale (several singing birds), Chaffinch (1 male), Cetti’s Warbler (1+), Crossbill (1 female), Short-toed Treecreeper (3), Hoopoe (1), Purple Gallinule (one seen by Martin and Andy), Common Sandpiper (5), Serin (2+), Bee-eater (several), Collared Dove (4), Blue Tit (3), Great Tit (1), Cirl Bunting (1 heard), Melodious Warbler (2), and Blackbird (1). Of interest, we also saw a Turkish Gecko sunning itself on a concrete post outside on of the hides.
One disappointment with La Rocina was the long walk out to the Coot Hide to find no water, let alone any Coots! We decided to turn back rather than press on the most distant hide as time was getting on and the reserve was due to lock its’ gate at 9.00pm. So we left La Rocina and returned to La Aldea for dinner at the restaurant on site (which was open tonight). After a good meal and a couple of drinks, we decided to try for Red-necked Nightjars as we had no luck the night before. John took the wheel as he’d had one beer to my two, and we drove back to La Rocina. Finding the gates open we drove about a kilometre or two down the road past the reserve and we saw two Red-necked Nightjars sat on the tarmac soaking up the warmth, before they were flushed by the car’s headlights. They afforded excellent views in the headlights, though despite open windows we could not pick out their characteristic call. We managed to get back to La Aldea for another beer before closing and then, at the end of a long day, decided it was time for some much needed sleep.
Tuesday 8 May 2007
A leisurely start to the day, checking out of La Aldea at 9.25am after another home-made breakfast of bread, cheese and salami. We took the A483 back north to the motorway where we headed east to Sevilla. The traffic around Sevilla was not too heavy, and the roads were extremely well signposted, so we got round the ring road and ended up on the southern road, AP4 – E5 (most roads seemed to have more than one number which was at times confusing), towards Cadiz and Jerez. We stopped at the services just south of Dos Hermanas for 20€ of fuel and a bottle of water, before driving on for a few more kilometres and leaving the motorway at junction 23, Los Palacios y Villafranca (there was a 90 cent toll on leaving the motorway). Our destination was a track that followed the canal to the north of the down where there was a good site for Western Olivaceous Warbler.
We found the track along the canal without too much trouble, though it was further outside the town than we were expecting. Driving down the track, a huge iguana-type lizard shot out of the undergrowth and ran along in front of the car for 50 metres or so. We later learned that this was an Oscillated Lizard, one of the biggest reptiles in Spain, and it was quite a site! We found the described site, opposite a large derelict building holding breeding White Storks. As we got out of the car, John managed to tread in an ant’s nest and was soon covered. There were literally hundreds of ant’s nests in the area we explored. As we took a look around it was obvious that there was a notable heronry nearby as we saw Cattle Egret (numerous), Little Egret (several), and Black-crowned Night Heron (3+). Other birds noted included Linnet (3), Zitting Cisticola (1+), Nightingale (2+ singing), Melodious Warbler (2+), Thekla Lark (2 very showy birds), Reed Warbler (2+), Cetti’s Warbler (3+), Kestrel (1), Turtle Dove (1), Crested Lark (several), and as we headed back to the main roads a singing Cuckoo on a pylon. There were no signs of any Western Olivaceous Warblers, though Andy got on a couple of interesting warblers that had vanished by the time the rest of us got there. We eventually got back on to the motorway and sped on coming off the E5 at junction 85 at Jerez and taking the A381 towards Algeciras.
After a few kilometres I decided it may be worth leaving the motorway for a brief stop at Laguna de Medina, a freshwater lake just five minutes of the main road. Getting there in the heat of the day may not have been ideal, it was 40oC according to the car’s thermometer, but we saw some quality birds, the highlight being our only White-headed Ducks of the trip (a male and female). Laguna de Medina is also a good site for Marbled Duck, though despite intense searching we found none. We bumped into a Belgian birder who had spent several hours at the lake searching to no avail. As well as the White-headed Ducks we saw Sardinian Warbler (4+), Corn Bunting (several), Great Reed Warbler (6+), Yellow Wagtail (1 male), Coot (numerous), Mallard (numerous), Great Crested Grebe (6+), Black-necked Grebe (8+), Yellow-legged Gull (18+), Little Grebe (1) and Black Tern (2).
We returned to the car and back on to the motorway, coming off at junction 31 and cutting cross country on the A393 to Vejer. The drive was pretty uneventful and at Vejer we took the N340 (E5) east. Stopping off for a Coke and a ham roll to replenish our energy reserves we had wonderful views of the hilltop town of Vejer. The next port of call was to be the plains of La Janda (mentioned in numerous trip reports and site guides), but somehow we managed to miss the various turnings, instead passing through a vast wind farm which dotted the plains north and south of the road, and turning off at Facinas. Here we took a new tarmac road up towards the Ojen Valley (another recommended site). Unfortunately, after a few kilometres, this deteriorated into a pretty horrendous track, especially in a fully loaded estate car. I managed to get the car up to the far end of the reservoir, but then decided discretion was the better part of valour, and decided to turn round! We parked up by the reservoir and took a look around. An area known for raptors we were soon to be rewarded with a couple of Griffon Vultures soaring. There were two distant kettles of raptors which we identified as Honey Buzzards (some 60 birds in total). A couple of Common Buzzards passed by and I was lucky enough to get on a Bonelli’s Eagle as it descended in to the mountain top trees, though no-one else could get in it in time. Other birds in the area included Sparrowhawk (1), Thekla Lark (2+), Willow Warbler (1 heard singing), Common Sandpiper (3), and a Bullfinch heard calling. As we descended back towards Facinas we briefly stopped to see if the Cork Oak woodland either side of the track would produce anything. We saw our first Robin of the trip and a Western Bonelli’s Warbler was singing away, but we could not locate it in the dense vegetation. Leaving Facinas we took the minor road to Bolonia (CA2216) for our next stop and a major target bird. Bolonia is well known as being the first place in Europe that White-rumped Swifts bred, and is still reckoned as being the best place to see these birds. Excitement was building already, and we stopped at the top of the hill overlooking the small town of Bolonia for a can of coke and an ice cream. I asked the café owner about accommodation in the village, and he told me there was a hostel.
As this was the only night that I had not arranged accommodation for, I was relieved.
Though I had mentally prepared myself for a night in the car if necessary, I don’t think the lads were at all keen on that idea! As we entered the village of Bolonia we decided it would be best to find somewhere to stay before doing any more birding. At the eastern end of the village we found a hostel and went to enquire about staying the night. The La Hormina Voladora was a wonderful discovery. With excellent rooms, and a really lovely hostess, we booked in at 42€ a night. As there was only one twin room and a couple of doubles, John and Martin decided to splash out and have their own rooms. Andy and I shared the twin, so half the price!
After dropping off our luggage we headed off to the Sierra do la Plata at the western end of Bolonia and the White-rumped Swift nesting site! As we drove up towards the site, we again bumped in to the Belgian birder we had met earlier in the day at Laguna de Medina. Parking up and having a chat we soon found ourselves amazed as literally hundreds of Honey Buzzards were gathering over our heads coming straight over the Mediterranean Sea from north Africa (easily viewable with the naked eye). This was some spectacle and we were all in awe of the sheer numbers and views of these birds.
Apparently, we were right in the middle of the two-week window when most Honey Buzzards pass from Africa to Europe, when some 250,000 birds migrate north. Over the course of the evening the Honey Buzzards continued to pass through, and by dusk we reckoned at least two thousand birds must have flown north over our heads.
After a while we dragged our eyes away from the marvel above us and checked out the other birds that were milling around. These included Black Kite (2), Swift (some 2500 birds passing through), Red-rumped Swallow (2), Black-eared Wheatear (2), and Crag Martin (2+). We then left our Belgian friend and continued up the road to an obvious viewing point, just below some cliffs (with an obvious cave entrance that had been fenced off). We parked up here waiting for the White-rumped Swifts and continued to observe Honey Buzzards flying past. We also saw Goshawk (1, possibly 2 birds), Kestrel (2+), Peregrine (a brief view), Bee-eater (2), Turtle Dove (1), Iberian Green Woodpecker (1 heard), Great Spotted Woodpecker (1 heard), Alpine Swift (1), Griffon Vulture (2) and Blue Rock Thrush (1 male seen and heard singing). After about an hour a car pulled up and the Belgian birder got out. After letting him know that there had been no sign of the swifts yet, he mentioned that he had just had a Roller, about half a kilometre back down the mountain. As I had never seen Roller, and as it was one of my target birds, I was completely torn. Knowing that if I rushed off for the Roller I would probably miss the swifts, I was caught between a rock and a hard place. However, I bit the bullet and jumped in the car, and Andy and Martin joined me. John stayed behind to watch the cliff for swifts. I put my foot down and hammered it down the mountain, feeling a bit like Colin MacCrae, and screamed to a halt as Andy spotted a bird on the telephone wires. Jumping out we had found it! The Roller was perched up and I managed to get a few shots of it, what a splendid bird. After marvelling at the bird for a few minutes we got back in the car and I floored it all the way back up the mountain (thank God there was nothing coming the other way). Getting back to the swift cave, it turned out we had missed nothing. So John and Martin went to take a look at the Roller. We later learned that on the way back down John asked Martin how much further and was told “You’ve gone too far!”, so they had a bit of fun trying to relocate the Roller. However, they did, so we all got the bird on our trip list. As the light started to fade, it was becoming obvious that we were not going to be lucky tonight, though a singing Red-necked Nightjar was a delight, especially when it kindly gave us a fly past over the horizon. We packed up and left our Belgian friend, and drove back to the hostel, dropped off the car and walked in to the village looking for a bite to eat…at 10.00pm!
After a quick beer at the first bar in the town, we learned that they were not doing food, a brief look in the next place was pointless, until eventually we entered a small café bar and settled down. With only Tapas on offer it proved to be an entertaining evening. With us each taking it in turns to order a round of Tapas and beers we tried a number of dishes, for just 9€ a round! We were the last to leave this typically local café, and thanked them for such an enjoyable couple of hours. We had had a very long day today, having driven 323 kilometres, but it had been well worth it, despite missing the swifts.
Wednesday 9 May 2007
As we were reliant on Plan B now for any chance of White-rumped Swift, Andy and I were up and on the beach at 7am. John Butler had informed us that the swifts came down early morning to feed over the small brackish pool where the small river that runs through Bolonia hits the beach. Despite the early hour we saw Yellow-legged Gull (several passing by our to sea), Audouin’s Gull (2 sub-adults out to sea, plus an adult bird on the beach), Crested Lark (1), Melodious Warbler (1), Sardinian Warbler (2), Barn Swallow (several), Great White Egret (4 flew over heading north from over the Mediterranean Sea), Kentish Plover (8+), Grey Plover (1), Ringed Plover (1), Common Sandpiper (1), Sanderling (1), Turnstone (1), Honey Buzzard (100+ passing over north), Red-rumped Swallow (1), Black Kite (100+ passing over north), Egyptian Vulture (1), Griffon Vulture (1), Collared Dove (1), Tern ssp (20+ distant birds offshore) and Pallid Swift (2). We decided to give up and head for a coffee and a quick breakfast somewhere in the village. However, just as we were turning our back on the pool and beach John caught a glimpse of something different. At last, at 8.30am, a White-rumped Swift…passing over our heads by just a couple of metres, and feeding and drinking from the pool. The bird showed extremely well for a couple of minutes, before vanishing in to the air as quickly as it had arrived. I was ecstatic, this was the main bird for me on the trip, and words cannot describe how I felt having seen it at last, and after so many hours last night and this morning looking for it!
Having a coffee and ham and cheese baguette at the café we ate in last night, we were all on top of the world. We eventually left Bolonia at 10.05am, after checking out of the hostel, and having a chilled out breakfast, watching some 40 or so Black Terns feeding on the shore line. We took the same route back west as we had taken to Bolonia. We again stopped on the E5 for another 20€ of fuel, about fifty kilometres south of Sevilla. Again we had to pass through a toll, at a cost of 5.50€, but it sure as hell beat finding a way round on minor roads. Whilst travelling birds of note we saw included Short-toed Eagle (1), Hoopoe (1), Iberian Magpie (1), Collared Pratincole (2), and Jackdaw (2).
At 1pm we had got past the Sevilla traffic, and we stopped for a sandwich and drink at another service station, where we saw Common Buzzard (2+) and Raven (2). As I was starting to feel rather tired, John took over the driving and we continued heading back to Portugal. Without any more stops we decided on trying the Alvor Estuary. We left the motorway at junction 4, and took the N125, heading south at Mexihoeira Grande over the railway line to the estuary. This was another site that had been mentioned in the site guides as well worth a visit. Whether it was the time of day, or the time of year, or a combination, we found very little Alvor, Little Owl (1), Bee-eater (several), Black-winged Stilt (several), Zitting Cisticola (1+), Little Tern (8+), Yellow-legged Gull (several), Lesser Black-backed Gull (2+), Knot (8+) and Godwit ssp (several). There were plenty of more distant waders, but the light and heat haze were too bad to get a firm identification on any of these birds. After just twenty minutes, we gave up and headed on towards Sagres. We phoned Simon Wates at this point as he was to be our guide for the next couple of days that we were to spend in Sagres. We arranged to meet Simon in the small town of Raposeira at 4.30pm and headed off to meet him.
Simon Wates left England, having been a Manchester lad, some 13 years ago, and had spent time in Spain before moving to the Algarve about eleven years ago. Simon has done loads of work for various conservation bodies in Portugal and runs bird tours in the Algarve, Alentejo and further a field. We had planned to spend the rest of the day with Simon, as well as Thursday and Friday. After a quick coffee and chat at his local café, Simon suggested we all go in our car and take in a few sites nearby before the end of the day. Our accommodation for the next three days was to be at the Orquidea Aparthotel in Sages (kindly booked for us by Simon) just fifteen minutes down the road, so we had plenty of time to do some birding!
We all climbed in to the Laguna Estate and headed through the narrow streets of Raposeira and on to some plains some four kilometres north of the town. We saw a few birds as we travelled across the plains, before reaching a steep track down in to a valley. This was to be our first main stop. Simon explained that there was a pretty deep rut half way down the track, but it should be passable. To save time and a fair walk, I decided to risk it and took the car down the track…mistake! I bottled it when I saw the state of the track, and so had to turn round. Not a problem, until I mention that our Laguna had an automatic hand brake, so when I was attempting my five point turn across the track, with a bank on one side, and a fifty foot drop the other, I shot forward instead of backwards, resulting in just one of my front wheels on the ground! The boys, all of whom were out of the car, positioned themselves on the edge of the drop, and pushed me back on to the track. Eventually, I got the car turned round and parked up, though I was shaking somewhat when I got out from behind the wheel! Another foot and I would have been at the bottom of the valley! Anyway, having survived the near miss, we walked down the track observing the various birds on the way which included Tawny Pipit (1), Woodchat Shrike (2), Iberian Chiffchaff (1+ seen and a few more singing), Subalpine Warbler (1 heard singing), Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (1 male showed well for several minutes), Alpine Swift (2+), Mistle Thrush (2), Linnet (several), and Thekla Lark (several). With time our enemy we marched back to the car and headed to a site for a Portuguese rarity.
For obvious reasons I cannot divulge the site we next visited but the target bird was Eagle Owl, and we heard and saw the male on a cliff face before he took off to hunt over the surrounding area. It was something quite spectacular. We also picked up Rock Dove (1), Blue Rock Thrush (1+), and a singing Quail. At another site we had what was to be a major surprise. Just scanning through a few birds in the top of a tree Andy called out Wood Warbler. John, Martin and I didn’t think much of the call and just got on the bird, but Simon almost had kittens. We all saw the bird I got a couple of record shots of what, if accepted, will be the first Portuguese record of Wood Warbler. It was a strange experience, seeing a bird that is not uncommon in the United Kingdom, but a major mega in Portugal. Apparently, Wood Warblers are fly over migrants and simply do not land in Portugal, passing straight over. In the same tree we saw a couple of Spotted Flycatchers.
With all the excitement we headed to Sagres, where Simon helped us book in to the hotel, though the receptionist spoke pretty good English. After booking in we walked round the corner for a bite to eat, and Simon decided to join us. We had a good meal at a café/bar called Estrela do Mar. Another good meal and a few beers, and another extremely long day. We had driven 530 kilometres today, and by the time we left the café at 12.10am we were all worn out. The hotel rooms were excellent, though I think we were that tired we could have slept anywhere!
Thursday 10 May 2007
We were up at 6.00am and showered and ready to meet Simon at 6.45am. We grabbed a coffee at one of the cafés in the town, and some fuel for Simon’s car, with a pair of Red-rumped Swallows showing well on a telegraph wire, enabling me to get a few photos. As we were taking two cars for the next two days, John, Andy and Martin took it turns riding with Simon. After our quick refuel we headed to Ponta da Atalaia for a sea watch. We parked up, and saw a female type Golden Oriole (obviously a passage bird which was interesting), and climbed down to an area for setting up scopes. Ponta da Atalaia is slightly lower than Capo St Vincente and Ponta de Sagres so you are nearer the birds. We had a good sea watch for about an hour seeing Balearic Shearwater (9), Gannet (several, mainly sub-adult birds), Yellow-legged Gull (several), Lesser Black-backed Gull (several), Blue Rock Thrush (1), Black Redstart (1 male of race aterrimus), Common Tern (13), Shag (7), Common Scoter (6), and Cory’s Shearwater (1). Back on the headland we also saw Sardinian Warbler (1+), Alpine Swift (1), Pallid Swift (several with Common Swifts), Bee-eater (1 heading south out to sea), Sedge Warbler (1 heard singing) and John caught a sight of a Northern Wheatear.
We jumped back in the cars after a successful start to the day, and took a quick drive to a stand of fir trees. This site is mentioned in the Gosney book as the only area of vegetation for migrants. Having spoken to Simon and observed the flora around Sagres, I feel this is not accurate. There are a lot of areas of vegetation that could attract migrant birds, and all should be checked in the right conditions. This stand of fir trees has now become a favourite picnic spot, and litter is a problem, and there are now a number of tracks leading in to the area. Despite this, there was no-one there when we arrived and the few birds present were Turtle Dove (1), Collared Dove (3), Stonechat (1), Jackdaw (2), Goldfinch (2+), and a male Pied Flycatcher of the Iberian race iberiae which was an unexpected bonus.
We took the road to Cabo de Sao Vicente and then took a minor road heading north to a farm complex known as Valesanto. This was an area of fairly vast grasslands and low scrubby bushes. We pulled off the road and heard the raspberry call of a male Little Bustard, and before too long we saw the displaying bird in a grass meadow. After a few minutes we drove on for about half a kilometre and parked up for a walk around. Simon told us that this was one of the best areas to see Spectacled Warbler, and he wasn’t lying. Before long we had heard and seen at least three pairs of this charismatic warbler, though getting photos was a nightmare and I managed only a couple of record shots of females and a wonderful shot of a bush a male had been perched in half a second before I took the picture! We were also fortunate enough to see three male and two female Little Bustards flying around (one of which was properly the male we had seen singing earlier). Also in the area we saw Red-legged Partridge (2), Red-billed Chough (2), Linnet (2), Corn Bunting (several), Blackbird (1), Stonechat (2+), Hobby (1), Tawny Pipit (2), and a single Greater Short-toed Lark. Whilst we were taking in the birds on the deck, a strange call attracted our attention, Simon called out “What was that?” and looking up I got straight on a Little Swift! It was associating with a flock of Common and Pallid Swifts and showed extremely well just over our heads. In the next twenty minutes or so it passed over us at least a couple more times. What a wonderful bird, and our fifth species of Swift on the trip! After the excitement we got back in the car and drove down to Cabo de Sao Vicente, the most south-western point of mainland Europe!
Obviously a tourist attraction, there were half a dozen or so stalls selling various bits and pieces. Getting out of the car we first took a little stroll around. A major sea fog was blowing in off the Atlantic from the west and this meant seawatching was impossible. Simon did point out the wintering site for Alpine Accentor, but they were long gone to their breeding sites. There were few birds around, though we had good views of a Peregrine perched on the cliff face. A Garden Warbler showed briefly, obviously a migrant passing through. A few Rock Doves were milling around and a pair of Black Redstarts were present. As it was getting on, we decided to take advantage of the hot food kiosks, and had a couple of German sausages and a drink from one of the stalls. We were also given a certificate to prove we had been at the most south-western point of mainland Europe!
Will full stomachs we got back in the cars, I just managed to get the Laguna out of the car park before a coach blocked me in, and took a longer drive to our next site, an area of cork woodland near Lagos Zoo, known as Lagoa de Rosa. Our main reason for visiting this site was Iberian Green Woodpecker. Although not “split”, the race Picus viridis sharpei has a distinctly different look about it, with grey cheeks and less black on the head. Simon had discovered a nest hole, and so it was just a matter of waiting and hoping to see a bird make a visit! We left the hire car and all climbed in to Simon’s car to minimise disturbance, and parked up in a small clearing. As we got out of the car we could hear Turtle Dove singing, and we saw a Woodchat Shrike. Then Andy called out, as he had an Iberian Green Woodpecker on a mid-distance tree. Unfortunately, it was flighty and took off. John and I managed to get brief flight views as it flew away from us, but not what I’d hoped for. Hoping for more luck later, we set up at a safe viewing distance from the nest hole and waited. The woods were pretty quiet, probably due to the time of day, and the expected numbers of birds were not forthcoming. After about thirty or so minutes, with no sight or sound of any woodpeckers, we decided on taking a stroll through the woodlands to see what was about. We managed to pick up a few species, including Woodlark (2), Chaffinch (1 heard), Hoopoe (1), Iberian Magpie (numerous), Great Tit (1 heard), Blue Tit (1 heard ), Blackbird (1 heard), Spotless Starling (2+), Nuthatch (1+), Jay (2), Crested Tit (1), and Golden Oriole (2). We did hear an Iberian Green Woodpecker calling, but as it was so quite generally speaking, we decided to head off to our next site.
We stopped off for a quick beer at a café in Bensafrim, before taking a slight detour down a side road where Simon knew there were some Rock Buntings around. Before long we managed to track down a singing male, as well as Nightingale (2), Zitting Cisticola (2+), Blue Tit (1), Wren (1), Melodious Warbler (1), Greenfinch (1), and Stonechat (4). After a brief stop we turned back on the main road and stopped by the roadside a kilometre on where we saw two Woodlarks and another two Rock Buntings. We then drove on to the next main site, which was again about a kilometre further on. As we were whizzing round minor roads to the general area to the north-west of Lagos, I was soon a little disorientated, and with no major villages it was hard to gauge exactly where we were!
Parking up opposite a small farmstead, we took a walk up a track running parallel to a small river. With open scrub on one side and a wooded valley on the other there was certainly a good mix of habitat. Getting out of the car, we saw a pair of Grey Wagtails, our first of the trip, and soon added Cirl Bunting with a male singing in a tree next to the track. The birds we recorded here were typical of the area, with Short-toed Eagle (2 over), Robin (1 heard), Turtle Dove (1), Woodlark (1), Firecrest (1 heard singing), Nightingale (several heard), House Sparrow (numerous), Corn Bunting (several), Jay (at least two birds heard), Sardinian Warbler (2+), Greenfinch (1+), and Chaffinch (2+). Martin called out to Simon and me as we were walking back to the car as a large raptor passed overhead, it was another Short-toed Eagle, but minutes later John called out for another raptor, only this time it was a Bonelli’s Eagle, and it was showing really well above us, within a minute or two it was joined by a second bird, and both drifted overhead before passing out of view behind the skyline. This made up for the bird missed by John, Andy and Martin back in Spain in the Ojen Valley, and these birds showed much better than the distant bird I had seen earlier in the week. With time getting on, we headed back to Lagoa de Rosa for another try for the Iberian Green Woodpecker!
Following the same procedure as earlier in the day, we got out and tried the nest hole. After another painstaking wait we again drew a black, but heard a bird calling close by. So again we went on a wander, and saw pretty much what we had previously at this site, though we did see a pair of Nuthatches visiting their nest hole, a couple more Crested Tits, a single Crested Lark and a small flock of Long-tailed Tits of the Iberian race (ssp. irbii).
At 7.30pm we decided to call it day. With a long trip planned for Friday we thought an early night may be in order. We left Simon drove back to Sagres, eating again in the small café bar (Estrela do Mar) where we had dined yesterday evening. We had another excellent meal, and time flew as we ate and drank. Leaving the café well past 11pm, we finally got to bed after another long, but again eventful and productive days birding.
Despite being in the Sagres and Lagos area all day, we had still managed to clock up nearly 100 kilometres just pottering from site to site.
Friday 11 May 2007
Today was going to be a long day! We were leaving the Algarve and going up to the steppes and plains of Baixo Alentejo, primarily the area to the east of Castro Verde. Up and out of the door by 5.40am we met up with Simon in Raposeira at 6.00am and took the N125 east, picking up the motorway (A22-IC4) at junction 1 until we reached junction 10 when we took the northerly route up the A2-IP1-E1 motorway. There was a 5€ toll for this road, but it saved a lot of time. We stopped for a coffee and quick bite to eat after an hours drive from Sagres, and picked up some sandwiches and some locally made chicken pies for later in the day. Coming off the motorway at junction 12 (where we paid the toll) we took the E803 east through Castro Verde and on to the N123, seeing a fly-over Little Bustard, a pair of Montagu’s Harriers and a Southern Grey Shrike whilst driving.
Some seven kilometres east of Castro Verde we pulled off the N123 at a bridge over the Ribeira de Cobres. This was Simon’s first spot for Rufous Bush-robin, one of the target birds for the day. We carefully set up our scopes on the bridge, mindful of the maniacal drivers hurtling down the road. Looking down the river we picked up a number of species; Nightingale (1+), Cetti’s Warbler (1+), Bee-eater (several), Spanish Sparrow (4), Montagu’s Harrier (sub-adult male and adult male), and Red-rumped Swallow (4+ nesting under the bridge). Simon then raised a call as he had found a Rufous Bush-robin and had it in his scope. I quickly got a bead on it as it flew before relocating it on a wire fence in the company of a Woodchat Shrike and male Stonechat. It showed well for a short time before flying in to cover.
Unfortunately, not everyone had got on to the bird, so we decided to walk along the river to try and find the bird again. As we walked along we saw Common Sandpiper (2), Mallard (1 female), Kingfisher (up to four birds), Collared Dove (2+), Little Ringed Plover (up to seven birds nesting on the gravel river banks), Spanish Sparrow (flocks of ten and eight birds flying over), Grey Heron (1) and Little Egret (2). We also managed to see the same, or another, Rufous Bush-robin singing on top of a bush in the river bed. This bird was also rather flighty, and I did not get a chance to get a record shot of it. However, we all got good views of the bird through our scopes, and watched it singing for a couple of minutes before it flew off in to some dense cover further up the river. With a planned tour of the local LPN reserve booked for 9.45am we had to walk back to the cars to avoid being late. Halfway back I realised I had left my notebook on a stone wall back where we had been watching the Rufous Bush-robin, so I had to run back and get it!
There is a large LPN reserve called Herdade de Sao Marcos which stretches across the plains between Guerreiro in the south and Sao Marcos da Ataboeira to the north. This is not public access land, though in many of the site guides for the area it is marked as open access. The LPN own the land and will offer guided tours for just 17€ per person. This prevents anyone disturbing the breeding birds, most noticeably the Great Bustard population. Disturbance from birders without permission to access the land has had a negative effect on the breeding success of the Great Bustards as birders have tried to get too close to the birds, thus preventing the males from displaying. There have also been some cases of egg theft, so visitors really should not access this land without arranging it with the LPN, contrary to many of the site guides.
We drove round to Guerreiro on minor roads and met our guide, called Rui, before entering the reserve. We had cracking views of a pair of Stone Curlews on the track before they flew in to a neighbouring field, just a couple of hundred metres from the car. The track through the reserve is about six or seven kilometres in length, and we had the services of Rui for about ninety minutes. We made three or four stops to check the surrounding countryside for birds and saw quite a variety of species; Quail (at least two heard singing), Little Bustard (1 male), Lesser Kestrel (9), Calandra Lark (several), Mallard and Gadwall (four or five of each distantly on a small pool), Montagu’s Harrier (at least four birds), Great Bustard (7 birds in total), Corn Bunting (several), Zitting Cisticola (1), Raven (1), Hoopoe (2), Roller (1 seen distantly in flight), Spanish Sparrow (1 nesting below a White Storks nest), Black Kite (2+) and Crested lark (1). We were also able to get on a distant gathering of vultures, which gradually got closer before passing overhead. Most birds were Griffon Vultures (at least twenty birds), but there were also two Egyptian Vultures (sub-adult), and a single Black Vulture. As we left the LPN reserve we thanked Rui for his time, and paid him our 17€. He gave us a couple of information packs detailing the work the LPN do, and he thanked us for supporting the LPN, something none of us begrudged doing.
As the exit from the LPN land was directly opposite the turning in to Sao Marcos da Ataboeira we decided to pop in to the village and grab a coffee, which was most welcome! After our short respite we got back on the N123 and drove a few kilometres back west, stopping with a screech as Simon slammed on his breaks in front of us.
Quickly getting out of the car to see what he had spotted we got on a Monk Parakeet perched on the roadside telegraph wires near a stand of Eucalyptus trees. Monk Parakeets breed on some numbers in the parks around several of the cities in Portugal and southern Spain. I had originally considered visiting Cadiz on our way to Bolonia, but decided against it because of time, so finding this bird was a real bonus!
Leaving the Monk Parakeet as it flew in to the trees we continued a short way down the N123 before taking a right hand turn on to a track to Aparica (a small farm). We were to take a trip down this tack to a small lake and then back the same route to check out the area. Simon had seen two Black-bellied Sandgrouse here a couple of days before, and was hoping they might still be in the area. Pulling over to look at the field in question, we scanned across several times. Eventually I managed to get on some birds feeding on the ground near a large irrigation structure. I soon identified them as four Black-bellied Sandgrouse (two males and two females), and got the others on to them without too much trouble. They showed well, though distantly, even getting up in the air to give us some flight views before settling in the field again.
Passing the farm buildings we drove down a track alongside the lake/reservoir before parking up to have a walk around. On the main body of water there were Coot (numerous), Great Crested Grebe (2+), and Mallard and Gadwall in some numbers, with at least one Great Reed Warbler singing from the waterside rushes. A smaller pool of water further down the track produced much more interest however, with a surprise in the form of a Black Stork! The bird was probably a second or third calendar year bird, and was feeding on the pool fringes, before having a preen.
Eventually it took off and circled above our heads with a couple of White Storks and a Raven. Other birds frequenting this pool included a number of Gull-billed Terns (20), Black-winged Stilt (1), and Greenshank (1). Along the track we also noted a couple of Black Kites, apparently nesting in a stand of trees nearby, several White Storks and a Southern Grey Shrike. It was nearing 1pm and the temperature had risen to 31oC, with all the grass fields we had passed through during the course of the morning it was perhaps unsurprising that I had got a bout of hay fever, with a streaming nose starting to really irritate me! We got back in the cars and retraced our steps along the track to Aparica Farm and back on to the N123, heading east away from Castro Verde towards Mertola, before taking a right turn on to a minor road towards Joáo Serra.
After a couple of kilometres we had a brief stop at a small river bridge where we saw a couple of Iberian Magpies and four Crag Martins. We did not linger here but pressed on the next site we were to visit. It was the second of Simon’s Rufous Bush-robin sites, and was another river bed. We parked up off the road and walked over the river bridge and along the river bank. There had been some serious floods in the not too distant past, and the force of the water had ripped the rail from the side of the bridge, and the riverside field had massive deposits of gravel and stones left by the flooded river. In the vegetation in the river channel we could hear Nightingale (1) and Great Reed Warbler (1), and a pair of Linnets were seen. A couple of Bee-eaters were flying around calling, and we also heard a Rufous Bush-robin singing. Eventually we pinned it down to top of a bush on the far side of the river. The bird seemed to have a serious of song perches and was doing a small circuit. Unfortunately, none of these perches were overly close, and while I managed a record shot, it was nowhere near close enough for any sort of decent picture. As we lost the Rufous Bush-robin again, we decided to head back to the car, at least one Little-ringed Plover was flying around and we heard a Stone Curlew.
The sky yielded a few raptors, with Black Kite (2), Short-toed Eagle (1), and Griffon Vulture (2) all being seen. Suddenly, Simon got on and called an Aquila eagle species. Both Simon and I got it in our scopes, and soon John, Andy and Martin also got on the distant bird. Before long, Simon and I were exchanging nervous glances, both believing we knew the species but not quite having the bottle to call it.
Eventually, it banked a bit closer affording a good view of the under-wing pattern, and we were able to call without any remaining doubt, a sub-adult Spanish Imperial Eagle! The bird was, we thought, probably a second or third calendar year bird, showing the distinct contrast in the wing colour. Eventually, it drifted a bit closer and everyone was thrilled. Not as good as the views I had in Spain last year, but a wonderful bird to see. As we got back to the cars we could hear a Little Bustard singing, and soon got on it. There were also several White Storks nesting on the telegraph poles. Just as we were about to head off the Spanish Imperial Eagle reappeared much closer, and showed in much better light.
We decided to carry on and had another brief stop just the other side Alvares where we saw Southern Grey Shrike (1), Golden Oriole (2), Montagu’s Harrier (a pair, identified by Martin on call initially), Black-eared Wheatear (1 male), and our one and only White Wagtail of the trip. Continuing on we picked up the N267 and stopped on the edge of Mertola. Our target species here was Lesser Kestrel, and we soon got on a splendid male perched on the castle wall. There were also at least two female birds around, and a Common Kestrel just to keep us on our toes. Also in the river valley, which was more like a small gorge, we saw Crag Martin (several), Jackdaw (2), Blue Rock Thrush (1 male), Iberian Magpie (2), Spotless Starling (1+), and several House Martins. We then drove in to the town proper and stopped for a coffee in a real local’s café. I also took the opportunity of visiting a pharmacy to get some antihistamines to stop the continuing hay fever from which I was suffering.
We then jumped back in the cars for what was to be a fairly long drive in to the Parque Natural do Vale do Guadiana and the gorge of Pulo do Lobo. Time was against us now, with the light already starting to fade. We stopped at a site to try for Rock Petronia, but were unsuccessful, but on the drive to (and from) the gorge we did see Hoopoe (1+), Red-legged Partridge (several), Bee-eater (several), Iberian Magpie (numerous), Crag Martin (several), Barn Swallow (several), Common Buzzard (1), Short-toed Eagle (1), Hawfinch (1), Turtle Dove (several) and Little Owl (3). Parking at the bottom of the gorge we had a fly through Black Stork, as it flew down the length of the gorge and right over our heads, a wonderful bird to end the day’s birding. Most of the drive down to the gorge at Pulo do Lobo was on a track, and not on the Michelin map we were using. We then left the gorge and stopped for a quick coffee in one of the local villages before driving on to Castro Verde looking for somewhere to eat.
We eventually got back to Castro Verde around about 10.30pm, and it soon became apparent that finding food anywhere would be tricky. Simon’s recommended restaurant was closed, and we had to plumb for a rather trendy looking bar. Simon quickly asked the girl serving about food, and she did say she could do us hamburgers (which Simon and I tried) or toasted sandwiches (which Martin, Andy and John opted for). The food was good, and filled a hole, but not up to the standard we had got used to over the week. This was probably because the one barmaid had to do the food, server the drinks and clear the tables without any apparent help. Her comment about “having to serve these English now…” backfired when she realised Simon spoke Portuguese, much to her embarrassment! After a chat over our meal, we jumped back in the cars and took off back down the toll road for the long drive back to Sagres, it was midnight when we left Castro Verde! When we reached Raposeira we bid our farewells to Simon and thanked him for two and a half days of excellent birding. The time he put in was unbelievable, today alone we had been in the field for eighteen hours! Simon local knowledge was absolutely amazing, and I would recommend his services to anyone wanting to tour the Algarve or Alentjo as he went out of his way to find us the birds.
By the time we got back to our hotel in Sagres it was 1.50am, we had done a 21 hour day and were all shattered, I had driven 438 kilometres today.
Saturday 12 May 2007
A leisurely start to the day, checking out of the hotel and settling the bill, before going for a coffee and croissant in a local café. Over our breakfast we had a chat about what to do for the bulk of the day before our check in time. We decided to head straight back to Faro and give the Ludo Farm area more of a going over. The drive back to Faro was about 140 kilometres and within a couple of hours we were back where we started our trip, parked up on the track to Ludo Farm, near Faro airport, looking for birds.
Our first stop saw us having a stroll around the wooded hillside, where we saw White Stork (5+), Common Buzzard (1), Short-toed Treecreeper (1+), Turtle Dove (1+ heard), Bee-eater (6+), and Iberian Magpie (several).
We then carried on towards the saltpans where the waders we saw were all present in good numbers,; Kentish Plover, Avocet, Dunlin, Sanderling, Redshank, and Black-winged Stilt. A few Little Terns were also milling about. We parked up at the entrance to Ludo Farm and walked west alongside the golf course (an area we had not explored last Sunday). After a long walk, we reached the hide overlooking the lake on the golf course where we saw a whole host of birds including Purple Gallinule (at least 3 adults, including a pair feeding one young bird), Little Bittern (male and female seen in flight), Little Grebe (2+), Pochard (several), Red-crested Pochard (several), numerous Coot and Moorhen, Gadwall (several), Mallard (one pair), Great Crested Grebe (1+), Little Egret (1+), Cormorant (1 juvenile), Cetti’s Warbler (1), Yellow Wagtail (5), and Common Waxbill (3+).
Leaving the hide we walked on another hundred metres or so and added Bar-tailed Godwit (1, the 190th species of the trip), Red Knot (50+), Mistle Thrush (1), House Sparrow (numerous), Yellow-legged Gull (3+), Sardinian Warbler (4+), Serin (2), Zitting Cisticola (3+), Spoonbill (4), Crested Lark (4+), Little Stint (1), Greenshank (1), and Hoopoe (3+). With a long walk back to the car we headed back and left the Ludo Farm area, taking the short drive down to the beach at Praia de Faro.
Parking up on the seafront, I took the decision to leave my bins in the car, as I thought the lads looked a bit dodgy walking down a beach with pairs of binoculars round their necks, and lots of scantily clad Portuguese women all over the place. We ordered a bite to eat (chips and a ham and cheese toasted sandwich) at one of the beach cafés before heading back towards Faro to drop the hire car back. The guys at Auto Jardim hardly checked the car, simply handing over the documentation and taxiing us back to the airport. We had driven some 1820 kilometres over the course of the week.
Checking in at the airport we grabbed a celebratory pint in the bar to round off what had been a packed but extremely successful weeks birding. We had managed to collect 190 different species of bird (see systematic list below) and had all had a most wonderful time. Our return flight was only delayed by thirty minutes and we were soon heading back to Southampton, landing at 9.30pm. Cathy was waiting for us and drove us back to Gillingham where we all said our goodbyes. It was a wonderful week, and extremely successful…where to next?
1 Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus Uncommon on larger bodies of water
2 Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis 8+ at Laguna de Medina
3 Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis Common
4 Cory's Shearwater Calonectris diomedea 1 past Ponta da Atalaia
5 Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 9 past Ponta da Atalaia
6 Gannet Morus bassanus Several past Ponta da Atalaia
7 Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 7 off Ponta da Atalaia
8 Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo sinensis Singles at Ludo Farm
9 Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus Female at Donana Visitor Centre and a pair at Ludo Farm Golf Course Lake
10 Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides Seen in Donana heronry, plus a single at El Rocio
11 Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax Seen in Donana heronry, plus a singles at other sites
12 Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis Common in Donana
13 Great White Egret Egretta alba 3+ seen in Donana and 4 flew north over Bolonia
14 Western Reef Heron Egretta gularis Adult dark phase in Donana heronry
15 Little Egret Egretta garzetta Numerous
16 Grey Heron Ardea cinerea Numerous
17 Purple Heron Ardea purpurea Uncommon in Donana
18 Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia Common in Donana
19 Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus Numerous in Donana
20 White Stork Ciconia ciconia Abundant
21 Black Stork Ciconia nigra Sub-adult at Aparica and adult at Pulo do Lobo
22 Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber Numerous in Donana
23 Mallard Anas platyrhynchos Abundant
24 Gadwall Anas strepara Abundant
25 Garganey Anas querquedula 1 drake at Donana Visitor Centre
26 Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina Numerous
27 Northern Pochard Aythya ferina Numerous
28 Common Scoter Melanitta nigra Flock of 6 past Ponta da Atalaia
29 White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala A pair at Laguna de Medina
30 Osprey Pandion haliaetus 2 over Castro Marim, and 1 at Corridor Verde
31 Black Kite Milvus migrans Numerous
32 Red Kite Milvus milvus 2 in Donana
33 Black-winged Kite Elaneus caeruleus Uncommon in Donana, and two at Lagoa de Rosa
34 Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus Uncommon
35 Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus 1 at Bolonia, and two sub-adults at Herdade de Sao Marco
36 Black Vulture Aegypius monachus 1 at Herlade de Sao Marcos
37 Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus Common around Bolonia and Alentjo plains
38 Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus Uncommon
39 Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus 1 male at Castro Marim, uncommon around Alentjo plains
40 Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus 1 at Acebuche and 1 at Ojen Valley
41 Goshawk Accipiter gentilis 2 at Bolonia
42 Common Buzzard Buteo buteo Widespread
43 Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus Several 1000 north over Bolonia
44 Bonelli's Eagle Hieraeetus fasciatus 1 at Ojen Valley and two north of Bensafrim
45 Booted Eagle Hieraeetus pennatus Several in Donana
46 Spanish Imperial Eagle Aquila adalberti Sub-adult near Almodovar
47 Peregrine Falco peregrinus 1 at Bolonia and 1 at Capo de Sao Vincente
48 Hobby Falco subbuteo 1 near Valesanto
49 Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus Common
50 Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni 9 at Herdade de Sao Marco and 3 at Mertola
51 Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa 1 at Castro Marim, common in Parque Natural do Vale do Guadiana
52 Quail Coturnix coturnix 1 heard near Raposeira and two heard at Herdade de Sao Marco
53 Moorhen Gallinula chloropus Common
54 Purple Gallinule Porphyrio porphyrio Singles in Donana and La Rocina, 3 + 1 juv at Ludo Farm on Golf Course Lake
55 Coot Fulica atra Abundant
56 Red-knobbed Coot Fulica cristata Pair with 2 young at Acebuche
57 Great Bustard Otis tarda 7 at Herdade de Sao Marco
58 Little Bustard Tetrx tetrax 5 near Valesanto, singles at various sites on Alentjo plains
59 Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus Abundant
60 Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta Common
61 Stone Curlew Burhinus oedicnemus 2 at Herdade de Sao Marco, singles at a couple of sites on Alentjo plains
62 Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola Numerous in Donana in certain areas
63 Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula Common
64 Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius Uncommon
65 Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus Common
66 Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 1 at Ludo Farm, flock of 100+ in Donana
67 Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 3+ in Donana
68 Dunlin Calidris alpina schinzii Common
69 Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea 2 at Ludo Farm and 6 in Donana
70 Red Knot Calidris canutus 15+ at Ludo Farm and 8+ on Alvor Estuary
71 Sanderling Calidris alba Common at Ludo Farm
72 Little Stint Calidris minuta 2+ at Ludo Farm, 1 in Donana
73 Pectoral Sandpiper Calidris melanotos 1 at Ludo Farm
74 Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa Common in Donana
75 Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica 1 at Ludo Farm
76 Redshank Tringa totanus Several at Ludo Farm and in Donana
77 Greenshank Tringa nebularia 3+ at Ludo Farm and 2 in Donana
78 Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos Uncommon
79 Turnstone Arenaria interpres Singles at Ludo Farm and in Donana
80 Audouin's Gull Larus audouinii 3 at Bolonia
81 Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus 4+ in Donana
82 Yellow-legged Gull Larus cachinans michahellis Uncommon
83 Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus intermedius Uncommon
84 Caspian Tern Sterna caspia 1 at Ludo Farm
85 Common Tern Sterna hirundo 13 past Ponta da Atalaia
86 Little Tern Sterna albifrons Common at Ludo Farm
87 Gull-billed Tern Sterna nilotica 20+ near Aparica
88 Black Tern Chlidonias niger 40+ off Bolonia, 2 at Laguna de Medina, 2 in Bolonia
89 Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybridus 2 at El Rocio, 5 at La Rocina
90 Black-bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles orientalis 4 near Aparica
91 Rock Dove Columba livia 4+ at Cabo de Sao Vincente, 1 near Raposeira
92 Woodpigeon Columba palumbus Scarce, 4+ in Donana and singles at other sites
93 Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto Common
94 Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur Uncommon
95 Monk Parakeet Myiopsitta monachus 1 near Sao Marcos da Atabueira
96 Great Spotted Cuckoo Clamator glandarius 1 at Castro Marim, 2 in Donana
97 Cuckoo Cuculus canorus 1 in Donana and 1 at Los Palacios y Villaframe
98 Little Owl Athene noctua 1 at Alvor Estuary, uncommon elsewhere
99 Eagle Owl Bubo bubo 1 at an undisclosed site
100 Red-necked Nightjar Caprimulgus ruficollis 2 at La Rocina and 1 at Bolonia
101 Little Swift Apus affinus 1 near Valesanto
102 White-rumped Swift Apus caffer 1 at Bolonia beach
103 Alpine Swift Apus melba 1 at Bolonia, 2+ at Cabo de Sao Vincente, 2+ north of Raposeira
104 Common Swift Apus apus Common
105 Pallid Swift Apus pallidus Uncommon
106 Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 2-4 at Ribeira de Cobres
107 Hoopoe Upupa epops Common
108 European Bee-eater Merops apiaster Common
109 Roller Coracias garrulus 1 at Bolonia and 1 at Herdade de Sao Marco
110 Iberian Green Woodpecker Picus viridis sharpei Heard at Ludo Farm and Bolonia, 1 bird seen briefly at Lagoa de Rosa
111 Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major Heard at Ludo Farm and Bolonia
112 Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor 1 pair seen north of Raposeira
113 Woodlark Lullula arborea 2 seen at Lagoa de Rosa, one seen north of Bensafrim
114 Skylark Alauda arvensis 1 seen from service station off A1 motorway
115 Crested Lark Galerida cristata cristata Uncommon
116 Thekla Lark Galerida theklae theklae Uncommon
117 Greater Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla 2+ in Donana, 1 near Valesanto
118 Calandra Lark Melanocorypha calandra Several at Herdade de Sao Marco
119 Sand Martin Riparia riparia Several at El Rocio
120 Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris Locally common in Alentjo plains
121 House Martin Delichon urbica Common
122 Red-rumped Swallow Hirundo daurica Uncommon
123 Barn Swallow Hirunda rustica Common
124 Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris 1 north of Raposeira
125 White Wagtail Motacilla alba 1 near Mertola
126 Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea 2 north of Bensafrim
127 Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava iberiae 3+ at Ludo Farm and 2+ in Donana of Spanish race iberiae
128 Nightingale Luscinia luscinia Common
129 Western Rufous Bush Robin Cercotrichas galactotes galactotes Singles at two sites in Alentjo plains
130 Robin Erithacus rubecula 1 in Ojen Valley
131 Stonechat Saxicola torquata Common
132 Whinchat Saxicola rubetra 1+ at Ludo Farm
133 Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros aterrimus 2 at Cabo de Sao Vincente
134 Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe 1 in Donana
135 Western Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica hispanica 2 at Bolonia and 3+ in Alentjo plains
136 Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius Singles at a number of sites
137 Blackbird Turdus merula Uncommon
138 Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus 1 at Ludo Farm and 2+ north of Raposeira
139 Savi's Warbler Locustella luscinioides 1+ at La Rocina
140 Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus Uncommon in Donana
141 Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus Uncommon
142 Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus Scarce, heard in Donana
143 Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti Common
144 Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis Abundant
145 Melodious Warbler Hippolais polyglotta Singles at a number of sites
146 Garden Warbler Sylvia borin 1 at Cabo de Sao Vincente
147 Sardinian Wabler Sylvia melanocephala Common
148 Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata 2 at Acebuche, 1 in Donana
149 Spectacled Warbler Sylvia conspicillata 6+ near Valesanto
150 Subalpine Warbler Sylvia cantillans 1 heard north of Raposeira
151 Western Bonelli's Warbler Phylloscopus bonelli 1 heard in Ojen Valley
152 Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix 1 at site near Raposeira *Potential first for Portugal*
153 Iberian Chiffchaff Phylloscopus brehmii Locally common in south-west Algarve
154 Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus 1 heard in Ojen Valley
155 Firecrest Regulus ignicapillus 1 heard near Bensafrim
156 Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata 2 at a site near Raposeira
157 Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca hypoleuca 1 at Acebuche
158 Iberian Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca iberiae 1 at site near Sagres
159 Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus irbii 4-6 at Lagoa de Rosa
160 Crested Tit Parus cristatus 3 at Lagoa de Rosa
161 Great Tit Parus major Uncommon resident
162 Blue Tit Parus caeruleus Scarce resident
163 Nuthatch Sitta europaea hispanica 2+ at Lagoa de Rosa
164 Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla 3+ at La Rocina
165 Wren Troglodytes troglodytes 1 heard at Ludo Farm
166 Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis 1 at Castro Marim, singles at Alentjo plains
167 Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator Common
168 Jay Garrulus glandarius 1 at Ludo Farm, 2+ north of Bensafrim
169 Black-billed Magpie Pica picaScarce resident
170 Iberian Magpie Cyanopica cyanus Abundant
171 Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 2+ near Valesanto
172 Carrion Crow Corvus corone Scarce resident
173 Jackdaw Corvus monedula Locally common resident
174 Raven Corvus corax 1 seen in Donana, 1 at Aparica, 2 off A1 motorway
175 Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus 1 at El Rocio, 2+ at Lagoa de Rosa, 2 near Mertola
176 Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor Uncommon
177 Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis Locally numerous
178 House Sparrow Passer domesticus Abundant
179 Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 1 at Puente Del Ajolis
180 Common Waxbill Estrilda astrild 12+ at Ludo Farm
181 Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs Scarce resident
182 Serin Serinus serinus Common
183 Linnet Acanthis cannabina 2 near Almodovar and 2 near Valesanto
184 Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis Abundant
185 Greenfinch Carduelis chloris aurantiiventris Common
186 Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula europea 1 heard in Ojen Valley
187 Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes 1 in Parque Natural do Vale do Guadiana
188 Crossbill Loxia curvirostra 2 at Ludo Farm and 1 at La Rocina
189 Corn Bunting Milliaria calandra Abundant
190 Rock Bunting Emberiza cia 3+ north of Bensafrim
191 Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus 2+ north of Bensafrim