Back to the Trip Reports
& Spain (May 1st - 15th '99)
We arrived in Portugal in rain but thankfully by the time we had reached our apartment it had cleared up although still very cloudy. We stayed in the Quinta de Peruta apartments in Vale de Perra. Which is about 5 miles outside of Albufeira.
The first birds seen were Swifts, a year tick would you believe. Throughout the rest of the holiday we would see Swifts at most places. Other birds that were ever present were Sparrows, Cattle and Little Egret, Grey Heron, White Stork , Spoonbill, Crested lark , Pochard, Mallard, Little Grebe, Kestrel, Moorhen, Coot, Black winged Stilt, Kentish Plover , Bee-eater, Yellow legged Gull, Black headed Gull, Little Tern , Wood Pigeon, Little Owl, Hoopoe , Swallow, Red rumped Swallow , House martin, Yellow wagtail, Blackbird, Fan tailed Warbler , Woodchat Shrike, Stonechat, Sardinian Warbler, , Azure winged Magpie , Serin Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Linnet & Corn Bunting. All those birds were seen on virtually every day of our holiday.
You would envy the birds seen from the apartment. Which included nearly all of the above plus Purple Heron, Purple Gallinule, Black Tern, Bar tail and Black tail Godwit, Common Sandpiper, Whimbrel, and the star of the show being a fly by from a Red necked Nightjar. Within half a mile from where we were staying were Little Bittern, Short toed Lark, Lesser Short toed lark, Stone Curlew, Little Stint, Sanderling, Dunlin, Turnstone, Alpine Swift, Reed & Sedge Warbler and possibly the biggest star of all, a Black browed Albatross, (but I am waiting a response from a Birding organisation over there on that one.)
As you can see we were served well within a close proximity of where we were staying.
We went to Alvor Estuary but didn't get anything different from above but the highlight was coming across a family of Sardinian Warblers. I managed to get a photo of one of the adults and a chick.
From there we carried on to Sagres where some Jackdaws were the only different bird that we saw, then to the Capo de San Vicente, (the most south westerly point of Europe). Hopefully to pick up Chough, Blue Rock Thrush and Black Redstart. Barbara thought she saw a Black Redstart but couldn't confirm it. None of the others were found although we did find a Black Redstart towards the end of the holiday. On the way back home we saw our first White Stork in a field at Vila do Bispo and just passed there we were surprised to pick up a lone Raven. A call into the Barragem Bravura (these are the equivalent of our reservoirs) brought in our first Great Grey Shrike, Pied Wagtail, and a year tick with 3 Red rumped Swallows that apparently breed there. Crested lark were seen enroute to there and up high on the hills we picked up a good year tick With Thekla Lark. We rounded off the day near the apartment where the first of many Kentish Plover were seen together with Ringed Plover, Little Tern and 4 Little Owls.
The first bird seen was a Little Owl on a concrete telephone post overlooking the garden. He was to become a regular visitor and often hovered just in front of us for its tasty snacks it caught from the field by us. half a mile away and we picked up our first Whimbrel of the year, together with quite a few Hoopoe and a couple of surprise birds with a Little Bittern that flew by us and a couple of Orphean Warblers at the side of the road where we stopped. We had an easy day that day visiting just one reserve, the Ria Formosa situated on the golf courses on Quinto do Lobo. Birds picked up here included our first Azure winged Magpie of the year, first Black Tern and Flamingoes, first Greenshank together with Bee eater over 100 Knot, Redshank, Turnstone, Dunlin, Grey Plover, Little Stint, L.R.Plovers, Kentish Plover, Blue headed Yellow wagtail and White Stork.. Further down the track and we added Turtle Dove and more R.R Swallow.
It was to be one of those rare red letter days for us. We had decided to visit the Castro Marim area, roughly about 60 miles north of where we were staying. As we were getting ready a Spoonbill flew over the house.
We set off at a respectable time and arrived roughly about 09:00am about 3 miles before Castro Verde. The reason we stopped where we did was the site of a pair of raptors disappearing over a row of trees. These trees were covered in stork nests with Storks in each of them. I took a photo of one of them. We scanned the surrounding fields and the two Raptors were spotted on their return flight. They were Montagu's Harriers, and this was to be a day where we saw well in excess of 50 of these birds. wherever we went we nearly always saw one or more, the largest single count being 10 in one close area. As we progressed towards Castro Verde a few Bee Eaters made an appearance on some wires and more Storks could be seen flying around. At the end of the day we were to see well over a hundred Storks throughout this area. One thing I noticed today, and other days, was the bill clapping greeting metered out to returning Storks from their partners on the nest.
Just as we arrived at our first designated site a Great grey Shrike was seen on a wire and another was soon spotted on a wire behind us. Out on another wire we spotted two birds that surprised me. They were one of my favourites, Black-eared Wheatears. Within seconds one of my target birds came into view when a little Bustard, flew by in a display flight. Its neck looked as though it had grown two black bulges on it as it came to rest by its mate. The female quickly disappeared but watching the male I quickly realised what the short sharp "krack" noise was. it was the male call and we started to hear this "krack" all over the place. We possibly saw over a dozen different males over an hours period on this site.
As we drove a little further up the track we were treated to quite a few Montagu's Harriers giving various displays of flight and some even dropped onto posts right by us. As we progressed further up the track another raptor, very dark, loomed over the brow of a hill. A quick broadside by the bird revealed it to be a Black Kite, and as we watched this bird another appeared from the same direction. Whilst watching we had the amazing sight of a Peregrine shooting directly upwards, from behind the same hill, after a Hoopoe. It missed on the first try but did an about turn and went after it, narrowly missing it again. The Peregrine lost interest then and sped off. There were a few Thekla lark around as well as Woodchat Shrike. There was about 200 yards of this first track left and no sight of our 2nd target bird. We decided that it was time for our sandwiches and a drink of pop. Quite a few Storks were flying overhead and it all got a bit blasé with them. Another Stork drifted from in front of the farm, but was it? It looked different even from a distance of about 400 yards. It was a big bird and at first reminded me of an Egyptian Vulture. It certainly was no Stork. Then it hit me, a Great Bustard ( brilliant lifer) and it was huge. I just did not fully realise just how big these birds were. It landed on the brow of the hill about 200 yards away from us and in my excitement to take a quick photo didn't manage to focus properly.
Returning to the main road we looked out for what should have been the 3rd bridge along. Black Shouldered Kite, Quail and Roller have been reported here. We stopped at the first bridge and was confronted with more Bee Eaters, Red rumped Swallows and many more of birds seen already on the trip. Montagu's appeared and disappeared at will. A car pulled up not far from us and out stepped a couple from Milton Keynes. Whilst we chatted his wife spotted a Kingfisher and we turned and watched as it disappeared at speed upriver. At the second bridge you could hear Nightingale and Great reed warbler amongst others, including Cetti's. We decided to go for a little walk along the river and came to a spot with some flattened rocks, perfect for sitting on and drinking in the serenity of the place. The Great reed Warbler was somewhere in front of us and I positioned myself to try and find it when it suddenly popped out in front of us, a good year tick. This was quickly followed another year tick when the Nightingale shot out of the tree in front of us and disappeared into a bush. We saw a Sylvia type Warbler disappear but it was too fast to make a positive ID. Walking further along this path brought us to some old abandoned houses and something flew over the trees around us. It was a Raven and it certainly wasn't expected on the Castro Verde plains. As we watched a group of 4 Kestrel flew close by and one of them broad-sided revealing its greyish back of the upper wing. All 4 went into broad-sides and they were Lesser Kestrel, the only ones seen throughout this holiday.
We went back to the road and drove further on and a couple of birds flew onto a wire in front of us. We stopped and got the scope out. They were being very cooperative. First thing noticeable was the short bill and a very white underside. Small dark patches just under the neck on each side and I was looking at my first Short toed Lark of the year. As we drove further on a couple of Azure Winged Magpies flew by and then to our surprise one of the Magpies we are used to here in Britain flew by and joined them. The first one seen so far. We stopped under a tree that had a Stork on it. We needed a drink and as we sat we heard a sound I remembered hearing in Kefalonia and in this nest were at least 20 Spanish Sparrow.
We had reached S. Marcosda Ataboeira and that made us realise that we had gone too far. It did work in our favour though as we saw about half a dozen Spotless Starlings here. It was only 8 miles from Castro Verde. A Stonechat dropped onto the fence by us. Just then a German couple I had met at Ria Formosa the other day turned up and asked us what we had seen. After listening to us he told us of a track, on the road to Entradas, he and his wife had been up that had revealed 8 Great Bustard, Calandra Lark and Roller.
We saw 6 Great Bustards at first then they were joined by 2 more flying in. We decided to drive further in to get closer to them as they were at extreme range. Driving through a small clump of trees Barbara pulled at my arm and pointed to a tree. There about half way down was a Roller. I love these birds but this was a scruffy individual and didn't look at all well. Driving further up the track brought us to the brow of a hill overlooking a small pool. Flying to one side of us was a Common Buzzard and to the left of us was a Short toed eagle and in front of us at a range of about 300 yards were the 8 Great Bustard. The other chap tapped my arm and pointed towards the right of the field and 3 birds were flying close by. They were Calandra lark and the black underwing showed well, a cracking lifer. It was getting late now so it was time to go home as we wanted to go around the area close to our apartment when we got back.
The total birds seen at the Castro Verde area were in excess of 50 Montagu's Harrier, over 50 Crested Lark, approx 20+ Short toed Lark and roughly 10 Thekla lark as well as over a 100 Stork, 50+ Bee Eater, 20+ Red rumped Swallow,10+ Stonechat, 10+ Great Grey Shrike,10+ Woodchat Shrike, 20+ Azure Winged Magpie, 10+ Spotless Starling (we saw a few more further along the road), 20+ Spanish Sparrow, plus many more birds.
How was that for a day out. We were well pleased even though I missed the bird I wanted the most, the Black shouldered Kite.
The skies were black and heavy with rain. Barbara decided to stay put in the apartment and I decided to head for the Portuguese border and visit the Castro Marim area. The German couple I had met the other day told me of an hotel in Falesia that had loads of Common Waxbills in the trees around it. It was called Hotel Rio Falesia Mar but try as I might I couldn't find it. I did find the Hotel Falesia but if they were there they were hiding from the rain. I spent over an hour looking for them before deciding to carry on.
By the time I had arrived at Castro Marim the rain had eased quite a bit and as I drove into the northern part the first birds to be seen were Azure winged magpie, Moorhen, Mallard, Great grey shrike, Whimbrel, Black headed Gull and little Tern. A little further along the track a few Cetti's started calling but I never caught sight of any, Further along I came across some pools and my first Red crested Pochard of the holiday was seen along with Spoonbill and the usual ducks. Further into the reserve you come to a series of saltpans and little Egret, Black winged Stilt, Kentish Plover, Bar & Black tail Godwits, Ruff, with the odd Sardinian Warbler in the scrub along the edges of these pans were to be seen. The rain started to come down quite heavily again and I was surprised to see a Marsh Harrier quartering the pans in this rain. The rain was really bad now and the light had deteriorated badly as inky black clouds stretched from horizon to horizon.
I decided to go to the south of C. Marim and found my way to the large pools. Thankfully the rain had miraculously stopped and the light seemed to be getting better quite quickly. I was astounded to see so many Flamingoes in the distance. There must have been over a thousand. Then I heard a sound that I recognised, but didn't expect to hear at this place. There was a grassy field to the side and a definite "krack" was resounding around that field and another bird was responding likewise. It took a bit of finding but I did find one of the Little Bustards there. Goodness knows where the other one was. It seemed only feet from me but I couldn't find it in the long grass. Further around this track and Crested lark, Woodchat shrike and Stonechat could be seen then another bird flew across me and as it turned I could see its underwing was black. It landed on a post, a Calandra lark. Over on the far side of the pool I was surprised to find 5 Greylag Geese, the only geese I would see this holiday. Moving further along the track I came to a barren area and to my surprise, and possibly the birds as well, a Stone Curlew suddenly stood up on the track and took flight. I decided to go back home via the Ria Formosa reserve.
I didn't stay long at Ria Formosa as I wasn't feeling too well but I did get my first Purple Gallinule of the holiday. Azure wing Magpies were all over the place and I witnessed one chasing, and I would have thought catching, a Fan tailed Warbler. Both birds were twisting and turning but the Warbler couldn't seem to shake the Magpie off and they both disappeared behind a series of trees. I would like to think that the warbler escaped but I doubt it. Has anyone else witnessed anything like that?
Once at home the weather cleared up dramatically and we decided to go for a walk near to us. Looking over the marshes we saw Spoonbill flying over shortly followed by 2 Purple Heron. 5 Black tail Godwits were feeding alongside the track, forever probing with their long bills Imagine our surprise when, what seemed like a family of five, Stone Curlew came into view. They stayed in the open for ages and I was cursing my luck at leaving the camera back at the apartment. We moved further along the track and the S. Curlew started their plaintiff curlew sound. As it was virtually dusk the sound became slightly eerie in this light.
One of my target birds for this trip was the Red necked Nightjar and I was a bit envious of one person that I spoke to that almost trod on one just outside of Albufeira in daylight. In some respects it was a bit of luck that got us our first.
We decided to visit our local patch where had already seen some smart birds earlier in the week but we hadn't been there this late. It got dark just before 21:00 so we set off. We had some good birds again, namely Stone Curlew, Whimbrel, Purple Heron, Little and Cattle Egrets, Bee eater, Black winged Stilts, Common Sandpiper, Little Owl, Hoopoe, Crested & Short toed Lark, Woodchat Shrike, Serin, Corn Bunting, and heard Quail as well. We had driven around for nearly two hours when we heard our first R.N.Nightjar and the description in Birds of Europe by Lars Jonsson is perfect. Ku TOCK-Ku TOCK, just like a double hit on a hollow tree. They were fairly distant at first and it was hard to locate them. We drove along the road until we came across a field of orange trees and then we saw them. three off them fluttered by all too briefly. They were lifers but I wasn't satisfied with seeing them like that, I wanted more. Would you believe it, as we drove into the apartment car park another one flew over us. Now that is what you call a garden tick .
Torrential rain was the order of the day today. It rained so hard and long that it was pointless even venturing out of the apartment. Around 1pm barbara suggested that instead of leaving going to the Donana region of Spain at the back end of the holiday we might as well set of now and have our couple of days at this point of the holiday. the weather reports had looked much better over there with seemingly settled conditions for the next few days. It didn't take long to pack the necessary clothes and equipment and we were soon off on our way. Inky Black skies, thunder and lightning and torrential rain was to be the conditions we had to battle through virtually the entire journey. It was still raing when we reached Donana fairly late on the evening but thankfully we found a a room over a bar in Villamanrique that could put us up for two nights.
May 7th & 8th
These two days were spent in the Donana region and we started at the village of El Rocio. It is a fantastic village in its own right and all the roads are sand roads with tethers for horses, just like a Spanish cowboy town. Below is a photo of the El Rocio white Church and also the Palace in the woods.
There is a hide on the side of a lake (now burned down) with huge numbers of birds in attendance. Also there is a large reserve with hides and a visitors centre you can walk around on the other side of the road (La Rocina). You can also drive past the visitor centre, here, towards the palace where there are woodland walks.
We saw a Griffon Vulture here. Further down the road, towards Matalascana's on the coast, is another reserve on the right, El Acebuche. We didn't get much chance to look around here as the heavens opened up big time and it would have been senseless to try. It looked a useful place though. We stayed in Villamanrique for a night and the road between El Rocio and Villamanrique was full of Black Kite at first which then made way for Booted Eagle in numbers."
"From here there is another place to visit and that is the Jose Antonio Valverde visitors centre but I warn you that you are not allowed to view the reserve from outside the visitors centre. There is a huge plate glass window to view from which hinders distant and side on views. Nevertheless Marbled duck are here and quite a few other birds and the birds en-route are numerous. There is no way I can explain the route as we had trouble finding it but one piece of info that may help is to find your way to the Hato Ranon airport. The centre isn't too far from there. There are other places as well but you would never fit them in a day. At El Rocio is an Imperial Eagle site but you would need a 4x4 to reach it or try for a fair walk instead."
Birds seen at the principle sites:
* El Rocio (Doñana national parque)
Azure-winged Magpie 10+
Bar-tailed Godwit 1
Black Kite 50+
Black Tern 3
Black-headed Gull 50+
Black-tailed Godwit 5
Black-winged Stilt 150+
Booted Eagle 20+
Cattle Egret 100+
Cetti's Warbler heard
Common Buzzard 1
Common Kestrel 1
Common Sandpiper 1
Common Swift 100+
Corn Bunting 50+
Crested Lark 50+
European Bee-eater 200+
Fan-tailed Warbler 10+
Great Grey Shrike 2
Great Tit 2
Greater Flamingo 1000+
Grey Heron 20+
Griffon Vulture 1
House Martin 50+
House Sparrow 100+
Kentish Plover 2
Little Egret 10+
Little Grebe 3
Little Owl 1
Little Tern 2
Long-tailed Tit 20+
Purple Gallinule 10+
Purple Heron 2
Red Kite 2
Sardinian Warbler 2
Spotless Starling 2
Squacco Heron 10+
Stone Curlew 1
Thekla Lark 10+
Whiskered Tern 20+
White Stork 100+
Wood Pigeon 10+
Woodchat Shrike 20+
* Jose Antonio Valverde centre
Azure-winged Magpie 10+
Booted Eagle 10+
Great Reed Warbler 1
Greater Flamingo 200+
Grey Plover 30+
Little Grebe 10+
Marbled Duck 2
Purple Gallinule 10+
Red Kite 3
Red-crested Pochard 10+
Sedge Warbler 1
* Villamanrique area
Booted Eagle 2
Great Grey Shrike 1
Spectacled Warbler 1
Stone Curlew 1
Woodchat Shrike 2
Black Kite 20+
Black-winged Stilt 50+
Collared Pratincole 30+
Common Redshank 5
European Bee-eater 200+
Grey Heron 20+
Marsh Harrier 3
Olivaceous Warbler 1
Purple Heron 20+
Red-rumped Swallow 5
Short-toed Eagle 2
Squacco Heron 1
White Stork 20+
May 9th and back at the apartment in Portugal.
Today took it fairly easy. A short walk near to the apartments revealed one surprise bird in the reeds to the side of the house when a Purple Gallinule came into view. It was decided to visit a couple of places near to Silves that we had been to in 1995. I had done my first fishing there and found this lovely hidden stretch of reed fringed river. The air was full of Nightingale and Cetti's song. Serin flew everywhere and Swallow and House martin were picking up the mud from the edge of a pool at the side of the road. A Yellow Wagtail made an appearance amongst the Swallow. We never got to see any of the Nightingale or Cetti's as they stayed well hidden. We carried on to the Barragem de Arade. This was a reservoir I had fished as well. At the Barragem the first birds seen were A.W.Magpie and Hoopoe. 2 Collared Doves dropped onto a wire and a Woodchat Shrike and a Little Owl were found as well. Walking along the dam wall we peered over the water. A little bird flew down onto some bushes growing on the sloping dam face and stopped on the top part in the open. It was an Olivaceous Warbler, a bird we had first seen in Spain. Nothing else seemed to be flying about so we returned back towards home. Crossing the small stream, we had stopped at before, we saw a bird fly into a bush. Stopping the car and peering between the bushes that lined the river we saw a Nightingale. A Cetti's started singing close by us and this one was cooperative as it came right out into the open before disappearing quickly back into the undergrowth. We returned to the apartment.
A few hours later, after a refreshing swim and a relaxation period on the sun beds we went for a drive close to the apartments in the hope of seeing more Red necked Nightjars. It was an extremely productive hour, although only Barbara got to see a Red necked Nightjar due to me looking the wrong way. Little Owl, Kestrel, Common Sandpiper, Reed Warbler, Moorhen, Purple Heron, Corn Bunting, Crested Lark, Hoopoe, Cattle Egret plus a surprise three birds. Alpine Swift flew straight over our heads and on a tree was a bird that gave us plenty of time to ID it. It was a Short toed Lark but in the background was a sound I had never heard before. It was a pretty song and it seemed to be repeated further to our left. We walked through the field and came upon two birds in different trees. The one bird took off and in what appeared to be a circular flight and the other one was calling. We got to give those birds an excellent look over as they were there for the rest of the holiday and in the end we worked them out to be Lesser Short toed Lark.
A leisurely drive to find a beach was on the cards. It was somewhere near to Sagres and it was just a question of remembering the way. I had done some fishing here as well and, if our memory's served us well, had plenty of birds. It wasn't too difficult to find but the surprise was just how much it had changed. Before there were dirt roads now they were Tarmac. Before, virtually no one was there but now the place was alive with Campervans and cars. We decided not to stay but not before we did a bit of scouting for birds. That scouting produced some good birds. Little Owl, Kestrel, Woodchat Shrike, Stonechat, Sardinian Warbler, Red rumped Swallow, and a a Blue Rock Thrush on a wire. Out on the sea another year tick flew by when a Shag flew across the bay and also a few Yellow legged gulls showed. On the way out of there we were surprised to find a gorgeous male Black Redstart on a rock.
It was decided to go back to the apartment for another swim and relaxation but take in Alvor estuary on the way. Another excellent decision by us. Out over the wetlands there could be seen Whimbrel, Grey Plover, Kentish Plover, Dunlin, plus Curlew Sandpiper, Bee Eater, Sardinian Warbler and Serin plus two very surprising Oystercatchers out on the sands. As we walked along a path to view the waders a song that I have heard only once in my life suddenly sprung up around the reserve. I had only ever heard it at Swanton Novers in Norfolk. A concerto of "Wet my lips" sprang up. You guessed it, Quail were around, but seeing one was another matter. There seemed to be quite a few out there and one even started calling what seemed like almost under my feet. We were walking on a raised path and as I moved closer to see if I could see it it came out and flew to the other side of the field. A surprise lifer!
A day at the Rio Formosa reserve was on the cards for today. This is an excellent reserve right at the edge of Quinta do Lago,one of the best golf courses on the Algarve. It stretches almost to Faro airport and an impressive array of birds can be had here but this day was not a birding day due to torrential rain. We managed to see a few birds this day including Short-toed Treecreeper, Waxbill, Woodchat Shrike, Azure-winged magpie, Serin & Chiffchaff.
Later, towards dusk, the rain had stopped so we went back to the Red-necked Nightjar site and positioned ourselves at the junction of two tracks by the river and turned the engine off and waited. Almost with perfect timing the Ku Tocks started at 21:00 and within seconds one flew down onto the ground right in front of us. I put the lights on and it didn't flinch. It stayed put for at least 5 minutes and gave us superb views before flying off. We moved up the track and saw another one fly by and then there was another on the track in our headlights plus another one further up the track. Another one flew over us as we moved towards the end of the track and onto the road. As we moved onto the road we could see two small orange dots in the road, just like single orange cats eyes. As we drove closer we could see two more Nightjars in the lights. This was beyond our wildest dreams. So many Nightjars in one go and nearly all of them static in our headlights. It was indeed the magic moment of the holiday.
I really thought that this was one bird that we may have struggled with but once we found the right spot (within half a mile of our apartment) and the right time to go there it became fairly easy.
Today turned out to be almost unreal. A dream day from almost the moment daylight appeared. Barbara decided that what I wanted to do today was possibly too much for her as the weather report was for a clear sunny and very hot day. My itinerary was first to Mertola, where we had some fantastic times fishing in 95. Mertola is a hillside town overlooking the spectacular river Guadiana. The views around here are breathtaking and on one of the small rivers flowing into it, the river Oeiras, were supposedly Crag Martin, Blue Rock Thrushes and Rock Bunting. The rest of my itinerary was to hopefully include the road to the Pulo do lobo Gorge, where Egyptian Vulture and Black Storks could be found, and the road to Serpa where Black shouldered Kite are possible plus many other birds I would love to see.
Starting out before 05:00am saw me reach the Portuguese/ Spanish border as dawn was breaking. Driving up the N122 towards Mertola and the scenery was stunning with the sun slowly rising above the pine clad hills to the east of me. I passed Barragem Beliche and couldn't believe how large it had become. I had fished this in 1995 but they had increased its size and it went as far as the eyes could see and was now level with the road for some way. My intention was to reach Mertola by about 07:00 but at about 06:30 I reached a new bridge over, what I think was, the Ribera de Foupana. The river on one side presented a large shingle beach and on the other a bush lined bank. Even at this time you could hear Nightingale and Cetti's galore and Red rumped Swallows were present in large numbers. I stopped to look over the bridge and saw a few A.W.Magpie and then quite a few Turtle Doves. A bird caught my eye as it flew into the reeds and as I put my bins on it realised that it was my first, and only, Great spotted Woodpecker of the holiday. Bee Eaters and a few Great Tits were in evidence but then two bird appeared.
My first thought were Crag martins but on closer inspection they certainly were not. No speckled tail, also the tail was forked. No speckling under the chin, the whole Jizz of the birds shouted Rock Martin. I watched them for fully over an hour and nothing that I saw convinced me that they were another Martin. I had been listening for most of that time to an amazing sounding bird song. One I had never heard before. It was absolutely beautiful but I could not locate where it was coming from and reluctantly had to call time on my search.
I was well pleased with that but it was now after 07:30 and I was late already and my itinerary was quite large. A few miles up the road and another bridge was crossed, this time over the Ribera do Vascao. Straight away I saw my first Crag martin as they were flying around the bridge in great numbers. Stopping about 100 yards from the bridge and I walked back onto the bridge. On the way to the bridge I spotted a few Spotless Starlings in the trees and on the wires. Red rumped Swallow as well as other Swallows plus a few Swifts were flying over, under and around the bridge. I was looking down towards the water when a black bird dropped onto one of the rocks below me, and I decided to give it a quick, cursory, look and found myself looking at a black bird with a black beak and a white rump with white edging partly on its tail. It was a totally amazing and unexpected lifer in the shape of a Black Wheatear.
The song that I had heard at the earlier bridge started up and it seemed to come from by my car. I also heard a Cuckoo calling nearby but never saw it. I walked quickly back to the car and looked up towards the trees on the hills above me. This sound echoed all around these hills then I saw what was making it. It was a Golden Oriole and it looked fantastic as it took off and flew past me, the sunlight picking out the direct contrast of that magnificent yellow and black. 4 more Golden Oriole flew by and more could be heard. These were the only Golden Orioles that I saw this holiday but I came across that sound a few times on this trip. Listening to my CD of sounds just doesn't do this song justice. It has to be heard to be appreciated. It was now about 08:30 and I was losing time rapidly already and drove on coming across yet again another bridge. This time the river was fairly dried up but I did see my one, and only, Wren of the holiday. Sifting through the rocks in the water was a snake that seems to have been a Viperine if I remember the colours and markings correctly. More G.Orioles could be heard but not seen. I reached Mertola at 09:30, only 2 and a half hours late.
The 1st port of call was the River Oeiras. I found Crag martin and other usual birds there quite easy but never found any Blue rock Thrush or Rock Bunting. Going to the other side of Mertola there is a track that goes past a local school. I know of this track through a fishing video I have of Portugal and used it to great advantage in 1995. It is a great place to be. The Guadiana is quite narrow here and the water is forced through a narrow gap that is in between a weir type sill. I fished here in 95 and it really was a great place to be. Today I saw a Kingfisher hovering over the water in front of me as well as Nightingale in the bushes and a few Spotless Starlings on the wires. I also watched in amazement a huge fish in one of the shallow back water pools as it thrashed about, its huge tail protruding right out of the water. It was now just after 10:00 and my next on the itinerary was the road to Pulo do lobo gorge. Birds seen along this route were, Stonechat, Woodchat and Great grey Shrike, Corn Bunting, Hoopoe, Kestrel, Fan tailed warbler, Linnet, Goldfinch, Pigeon, Turtle Dove, Blackbird and more Golden Orioles heard, but not seen.
Now for the special birds. Just before the first village, name not known, I saw the first of many Stork nests. Whilst looking at these nests I became aware of a few more Storks coming in and a lot of bill clapping was going on as their mates on the nests called them in. Whilst watching them 2 birds flew out of a small wood, and at first I thought that they were A.W.Magpie again but their flight was different. I managed to get my scope on one of them and one of my target birds of the holiday was found. 2 Great spotted Cuckoo were flying across the field in front of me and they disappeared into one of the trees in the distance. A song was heard behind me and I turned in time to see a Black eared Wheatear land on a wire. In the same field but dropping down onto the ground was another cracker. It was a Rufous bush chat. This was becoming unreal. So many good birds within a short space of time. Then a Calandra Lark dropped into the field at my side followed by a Short toed Eagle flying overhead. I felt as If I was dreaming all this. A Red legged Partridge shot across the road in front of me and about a 100 yards down the road 2 Short toed larks dropped onto a wire.
I stayed there for ages watching all this as it was sheer magic but time was pressing and I moved on. I drove through a village called Amendoeira and here the tarmac turned to a stone riddled track that, thankfully, didn't deteriorate as I went further onwards. After a few more miles driving I came to a part where the hills began to get a bit barer and there was a small wood to my right with a raptor flying over it. My first thought was Buzzard but it was coming closer to me so I stopped my car and set my scope up. First thing I noticed was that its tail seemed large in proportion to its body. It was gliding and yet its wings seemed to point forward creating a W type shape, with its head as part of the W. It seemed to be bigger than a Buzzard and its flight was different. It had a white underbody that was slightly speckled. The underwing had a u shaped black bar formed going across both wings with what appeared to be black eye patches at the ends of this U. The rest of the wing was a greyish/white with dark back edges in both wing and tail. Its fingers were dark also. I remember all this because I watched this bird for almost 30 minutes and in the end was totally satisfied that I had found a lifer in the shape of a Bonelli's Eagle. Brilliant, this was indeed a fantastic days birding.
The bird eventually went on its way and I carried on towards the gorge. Just before it you drive over a cattle grid and into the most magnificent wooded area. It seemed to contain all sorts of varying trees and the birds sound was phenomenal. One bird was singing its heart out on the very topmost of a tree and I managed to gingerly walk behind a few trees until I was relatively close enough to see that it was a Woodlark. I didn't recognise the song as I have never heard it before but these Woodlarks are real songbirds and it is a lovely sound, especially when you are miles from anywhere, and all you have is the sound of birds and a bit of wind flowing through the trees. Golden Oriole were heard, but not seen, all over this wood and a Green Woodpecker called out. The gorge was magnificent and hundreds of Crag martins were flying all around it. Unfortunately there were no other birds to be seen. No Egyptian Vulture, no Black Stork and, unfortunately, the birding went rapidly down hill from here on as almost all the birds seemed to disappear, possibly for a Siesta. One surprise, on the way back, was coming across a pair of Montagu's harrier.
Today also started and ended brilliantly. The morning was to visit the Cruzinha reserve in Alvor run by A.Rocha to watch them ringing birds. As soon as we arrived a lifer was being released. It was a Melodious Warbler. Serin and Melodious Warbler were caught quite often. The chap who ran the ringing team pointed them out in the trees for us and soon they became quite evident once you knew where to look. Great Tit, Greenfinch, Chaffinch and Goldfinch were the birds being rung and all too soon it was over. Barbara and I moved onto the reserve proper. Birds seen were Cattle Egret, little Owl, Turtle Dove, Yellow wagtail, B.W.Stilt, Grey Plover, Kentish Plover, Dunlin, Sanderling, Redshank, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Knot, Fan tailed Warbler and a Quail was heard. It was quite vocal with its rendition of "wet my lips".
As I scanned the grass I noticed what I first thought was a small log, only it seemed to move slightly. I put the scope on full magnification and to my astonishment I had found a R.N.Nightjar in daylight. You could just make out the small hook in the top of its beak. It stayed totally motionless and after 10 minutes we decided to leave it and carry on back to the apartment. We decided to go the the nightjar site nearby in daylight, and whilst driving around there I found a new track that was partly hidden by a bush and driving through it I found that it went to a hidden river and straight away I found my first Sedge warbler of the holiday. We watched a Kestrel hovering over us and noticed what we thought was another one further over. It didn't look right and we both watched it as it settled an some reeds. It was joined by another and to our amazement they were a pair of Cuckoos. They entertained us for about 10 minutes before disappearing towards Amercao de Pera, a resort close to these fields.
It was decided to finish with the active birding from now on and relax on the beach near to us. Bins and telescope were taken of course, just in case. Trying to relax was almost impossible as 4 Little Stints landed in front of us at the seas edge followed by a couple of Kentish Plover. A Little Tern also flew, and dived, at the waters edge. Barbara was looking out to sea and noticed a bird diving and thought it was a gannet. For the next few hours a procession of Gannets went by, some diving, some just passing through. In the end over a 100 gannets must have passed us. In the middle of all this was the other possible major sighting a Black browed Albatross.
The night turned out to a memorable one too as we came across 8 Red necked Nightjars, 4 of them in our headlights.
It was decided to start back onto the beach. Little Stint, Kentish Plover and Turnstone were first seen then B.W.Stilt followed by large numbers of Gannets, B.H.Gulls and Yellow legged Gulls. Nothing else new was seen and after about two hours here Barbara announced that she was bored. We decided that as it was so hot then perhaps a trip up to Monchique and beyond would be an ideal way to possibly cool off. Beyond Monchique, at Foia, is the highest part of the Algarve at 902metres (approx 3,000 feet.) Some excellent birds seen here in one of the most beautiful valleys I have seen. Woodlark (below), Swallow, Red rumped Swallow, Corn Bunting, Goldfinch, Fan tailed Warbler, Common Buzzard, our first Sparrowhawk of the holiday and Olivaceous Warbler.
Halfway down this Pine clad mountain we came across varying types of trees and a bird that I am still convinced that I know what it is but the location/country tells me different. At first I thought I was looking at another Melodious warbler but having listened to what the ringer had to say, about these birds, and looking at them from a very close up view, this bird looked different. For instance the underbody was much lighter than the Melodious warblers we had seen and this bird had a slight white supercillium. The bird was less than 6 feet from us so I could not reach for the camera as it would have more than likely flown off. The Melodious warbler apparently takes over from the Icterine Warbler in south Western Europe but I swear that this was an Icterine warbler. All the Icterine's I have seen, and I have seen quite a few, all seem to have a slightly pointed crown and this bird was no exception. Everything about the bird screamed Icterine warbler but everything written about the bird tells me that it doesn't occur in Portugal, although the habitat was right for it. What do you think ??.
Just then a faint sound emanated from the tops of the trees above us. I couldn't see it at first so I started to climb up the hill side for a better view. I found it on one of the pine trees. It was on an extended branch not far away. It had a very light underbody with a a greyish brown upper body with greenish wings. It had a fairly weak call sounding like pwee-pwee. It gave me some excellent views, albeit from different trees at a time. It kept me on the move until I could establish what it was. It was a year tick in the shape of a Bonelli's warbler. That was the end of a smashing afternoon in some pretty surroundings with also some incredible views from the summit of Foia. You could see all the way to the sea, some 20 miles away. You could also see as far as the eyes would allow you to the north, south, east and west as it was the highest vantage point you could get. The day ended in a fiasco but that has been written about in my One last incident mailing.
The holiday was over. The last birds seen from the apartment were Pochard, Little Grebe, B.W.Stilt, Black & Bar tailed Godwit, Common Sandpiper, Swallow, Linnet, B.H.Gull, Moorhen, Coot, Cattle Egret, Mallard and Sparrow. We had to return the car to Auto jardim right by the side of the airport. Right by the airport there is an extension to the Ria Formosa reserve called Ludo farm and we decided to finish our holiday off there. By the time we had arrived there we only had 45 minutes to enjoy it. Last birds seen on our holiday were all here, apart from the Swifts and Swallows at the airport. Birds seen at Ludo farm were Dunlin, Ruff, Kentish Plover, Common Sandpiper, Redshank, B.W.Stilt, Stork, House Martin, Turtle Dove, Bee Eater, Yellow wagtail, Goldfinch, Little Tern, Grey Heron and Little Stint.
At the end of the holiday we had seen 140 species. Of those there were 15 lifers and 54 year birds, a 50% success rate on birds. An excellent birding holiday but being honest both Barbara and I still prefer the Greek Isles and I think that we will stay with those islands for the time being. There's not so much driving on those islands as there is on the mainland and not so many places to visit either. We did over 2,700 kilometres in the two weeks we had been here. That works out close to 1,700 miles.
Portugal list (May '99)
Rufous Bush Robin
Blue Rock Thrush
Great Reed Warbler
Black browed Albatross
Great Spotted Cuckoo
Lesser Short-toed Lark
Great Crested Grebe
Red crested Pochard
Little Ringed Plover
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Great Grey Shrike
Back to the Trip Reports