Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Spring birds

European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster). Algarve, April 2017. Photo: GS.

European Bee-eater is definitely one of the most emblematic bird species for spring in south Portugal. The first birds of this trans-Sahara migrant arrive during the second half of March at the Algarve coast, with most nest sites being occupied during April. Their wonderful flight calls are often the first sign of their arrival (usually a flock).


Male Western Black-eared Wheatear (Oenanthe hispanica). The species occurs around the Mediterranean, in a western (incl. the Iberian Peninsula) and an estern form, described as either distinct species or subspecies, depending on the systematic you choose to follow... what a beauty. Algarve, April 2017. Photo: GS.

The Black-eared Wheatear inhabits hot and arid areas with sparse vegetation and some rocks or barren ground, mainly found in the the higher altitudes of Serra do Caldeirão and along the Guadiana valley as well as further inland, in the open plains of the Baixo Alentejo. During spring migration however, in April or early May, they can show up everywhere along the Algarve coast, even in the dunes or on a golf course, if wind conditions are favourable.


Another male Western Black-eared Wheatear (Oenanthe hispanica). This species occurs in two different color morphs - a pale throated one (this photo) and one with a dark throat (the photo above). Algarve, April 2017. Photo: GS.

Subalpine Warbler (Sylvia cantillans). This male was found next to the sea and most probably flew in directly from north Africa during the previous night. Algarve, March 2017. Photo: GS.
 Subalpine Warblers are fairly common breeders in the hills of the Algarvian Serras, where they coexist with Dartford Warblers (Sylvia undata) and the widespread Sardinian Warblers (Sylvia melanocephala) in the same areas and sometimes the same habitat, with the latter two represents of the Sylvia-genus being residents. To make things a bit complicated, also for the Subalpine Warbler a "split" has been suggested, read this if you like. The first Subalpine W. arrive as early as late February or early March, depending on weather conditions.



Subalpine Warbler (Sylvia cantillans). Same Ind. as above. Algarve, March 2017. Photo: GS. 


Western Orphean Warbler (Sylvia hortensis) is a rather scarce breeder in the Algarve and not always easy to see. This adult male sings from his perch on top of a Holm Oak Tree (Quercus ilex) in a valley in the foothills of Serra do Caldeirão. Their short phrases of loud and full tones resemble rather a Thrush-species than a Warbler of this size. The white Iris on the male is diagnostic for this species. Serra do Caldeirão, 26-April-2017. Photo: GS.


Adult male Eurasian Golden Oriole (Oriolus orioulus). The Portuguese name for this species is "Papa-figos", meaning "Fig-eater" and it is something they actually do in late summer. This one here however is interested in the ripe fruits of the "Nêspera" (Loquat) in my front garden. I took this photo out of the kitchen window one morning. 07-May-2016.


The Great Spotted Cuckoo (Clamator glandarius) is an early messenger of spring and during February the first ones arrive (occasionally even in January). Baixo Alentejo-region, 14-April-2016. Photo: GS.


Also back quite early: The Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator). In the first half of March the first ones arrive usually here.

The Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris) inhabits open, arid landscapes with short and sparse vegetation.

Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris) the same Ind. as above. Sagres-area, 22-April-2017.


(Greater) Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla) shares the habitat with Tawny Pipit. One of 7 Lark-species breeding in south Portugal and the only one not wintering here. In March and April migratory flocks of the species may be encountered in dry salt marsh or barren farm land in the Algarve, the majority of birds nests further inland.


A male Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) seeking shelter on top of the sea cliffs of the west Algarve after a long flight over the sea in late March 2017.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Raptor migration in the Algarve

Booted Eagle (Aquila pennata) pale morph juvenile, Cabranosa, Sagres, 13-Sept-2017. © Georg Schreier.

Booted Eagle (Aquila pennata) pale morph juvenile, Cabranosa, Sagres, 29-Sept-2017. © Georg Schreier.

Booted Eagle (Aquila pennata) pale morph juvenile, Cabranosa, Sagres, 29-Sept-2017. © Georg Schreier.
 At the end of the summer, migratory birds of all kind leave their breeding grounds, driven by the urge to migrate southwards, to their wintering areas in Africa. Among them are thousands of birds of prey that pass through the "bottleneck" of the Strait of Gibraltar, where crossing the ocean is less exhausting and dangerous. Juveniles, on migration for their first time and not having learned the best route yet, often get "trapped" in the Sagres-Peninsula in the western Algarve, continental Europe's south-western tip, where their southbound journey is blocked by the Atlantic Ocean. Most birds of prey and other soaring birds, such as Storks, depend on thermals as they are incapable of performing active flight over long distances. Over the ocean, where no thermals form, they are in danger to get so exhausted that they plunge into the sea and die, so they instinctively don't pick this way. After being trapped in the hinterland of the cape-area of Sagres, sometimes for days or weeks, they eventually take the only way out - eastwards. By following the coastline, they finally reach the Tarifa-area in Andalusia, Spain, where Marokko is visible across the only 14 km narrow Strait of Gibraltar. Surveys related to the windfarms between the Monchique mountains and the cape of Sagres and São Vicente have counted 3000-4000 birds of prey and Black Storks passing through the region each autumn, peaking between mid September and mid October usually, depending on species. Far over 90% are juveniles. On a good day, 15 or more species of birds of prey can be observed from the watchpoint "Cabranosa" in the area. The following pictures are taken over the past month.

Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) juvenile, Cabranosa, Sagres, 13-Sept-2017. © Georg Schreier.

European Honey Buzzard (Pernis apivorus) dark morph juvenile, Cabranosa, Sagres, 25-Sept-2017. © Georg Schreier.

European Honey Buzzard (Pernis apivorus) juvenile, Cabranosa, Sagres, 29-Sept-2017. © Georg Schreier.

European Honey Buzzard (Pernis apivorus) juvenile, Cabranosa, Sagres, 29-Sept-2017. © Georg Schreier.

European Honey Buzzard (Pernis apivorus) very dark juvenile, Cabranosa, Sagres, 13-Sept-2017. © Georg Schreier.

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) adult female, Cabranosa, Sagres, 16-Sept-2017. © Georg Schreier.

Eleanora's Falcon (Falco eleanorae) 2nd cy pale morph, Cabranosa, Sagres, 16-Sept-2017. © Georg Schreier.

Eleanora's Falcon (Falco eleanorae) 2nd cy pale morph, Cabranosa, Sagres, 16-Sept-2017. © Georg Schreier.

Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus) juvenile, Vale Santo, Sagres, 04-Sept-2017. © Georg Schreier.

Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus) juvenile, Vale Santo, Sagres, 04-Sept-2017. © Georg Schreier.

Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus) juvenile, Vale Santo, Sagres, 04-Sept-2017. © Georg Schreier.

Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus) juvenile dark morph, Vale Santo, Sagres, 13-Sept-2017. © Georg Schreier.

Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus) juvenile dark morph, Vale Santo, Sagres, 13-Sept-2017. © Georg Schreier.

Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus) juvenile dark morph, Vale Santo, Sagres, 13-Sept-2017. © Georg Schreier.

Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) juvenile, Cabranosa, Sagres, 25-Sept-2017. © Georg Schreier.

Eurasian Griffon Vulture (Gyps vulvus) immature, Mértola (Alentejo), 13-Sept-2017. © Georg Schreier.
Black Stork (Ciconia nigra) juvenile, Cabranosa, Sagres, 25-Sept-2017. © Georg Schreier.

Lesser-spotted Eagle (Clanga pomarina) juvenile, Cabranosa, Sagres, 29-Sept-2017. © Georg Schreier.

Lesser-spotted Eagle (Clanga pomarina) juvenile, Cabranosa, Sagres, 29-Sept-2017. © Georg Schreier.

Lesser-spotted Eagle (Clanga pomarina) juvenile, Cabranosa, Sagres, 29-Sept-2017. © Georg Schreier.

Lesser-spotted Eagle (Clanga pomarina) juvenile, Cabranosa, Sagres, 29-Sept-2017. © Georg Schreier.

Lesser-spotted Eagle (Clanga pomarina) juvenile, Cabranosa, Sagres, 29-Sept-2017. © Georg Schreier.

Lesser-spotted Eagle (Clanga pomarina) juvenile, Cabranosa, Sagres, 29-Sept-2017. © Georg Schreier.

Not only raptors migrate and stop over here:
Eurasian Dotterel (Charadrius morinellus) juvenile, Vale Santos, Sagres, 04-Sept-2017. © Georg Schreier.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Rufous Bush Robin & White-rumped Swift

White-rumped Swift (Apus caffer), Mértola-area (Baixo-Alentejo) 13-June-2017. All photos: Georg Schreier.

Summer has arrived here in South Portugal, providing the weather conditions for two species that do like it "hot": The White-rumped Swift and the Rufous Bush Robin, a.k.a.: (Western) Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin.
While widespread over equatorial Africa, the White-rumped Swift (WRS) in Europe is confined to areas in the south of the Iberian Peninsula, where it is rather rare, showing a slighly positive trend though since its colonisation beginning in the 1960s at the Strait of Gibraltar. In Portugal it is found in the arid and hot south-east and east of the country only. From the east Algarve hinterland (Serra do Caldeirão), along the Guadiana river-valley and its affluents inland, to areas around Mértola, Beja and Moura (Alentejo) with the Tejo-valley, near Castelo Branco marking the northern limit of its breeding territory in the country (corresponding to the northern limit of the distribution in Spain). Nest sites are often road bridges along small secondary roads over a river bed. Here the species takes over a nest of the common Red-rumped Swallows (Cecropis daurica) around mid May. Most of the few known breeding sites are occupied year after year. Recently, new nest sites have been discovered. The first breeding record for Portugal dates from 1995. Out of the usual breeding range in the country was a pair nesting in Monchique-area (West-Algarve) a few years ago. It correspondes with observations of the species made near Cape S. Vincent in late August. The total breeding population for the country might be in the order of 10-20 pairs, however, exact numbers do not exist. After the young have fletched, the birds beginn to disperse. I remember having observed WRS's in August on a regular basis feeding above a small reservoir in Alcoutim-county (east-Algarve), before a nearby (c. 10kms) nest site had been discovered. My latest observation date for the species are two Ind. seen over the salt pans of Castro Marim-reserve on the 15th of September, on the way to their wintering grounds in sub-saharan Africa.





White-rumped Swift (Apus caffer), Mértola-area (Baixo-Alentejo) 13-June-2017. All photos: Georg Schreier.


Rufous Bush Robin (Cercotrichas galactotes). Castro Verde-area, 13-June-2017. All photos: Georg Schreier.



Most birds are less active around mid day- the Rufous Bush Robin however, sings throughout the hottest hours. Again, confined to Portugal's south east and arriving hardly any earlier than the first half of May, it breeds in small numbers along streams in the "pseudo-steppes"of the Baixo-Alentejo plains and the region around the Guadiana-river valley, as well as in the eastern Serra do Caldeirão (Algarve). Territorys occasionally found further west in the Algarve, in the surroundings of Lagoa do Salgados (Silves) and near Paderne, for instance, are thought to be caused by birds forced away from their usual breeding grounds at the Alqueva-reservoir, where the species has lost lots of habitat, when Europe's biggest reservoir was built (around the year 2000). Rocky river beds, in hot and dry areas, best with some cliff faces and the pink-flowering Oleander-bushes (Nerium oleander), are good areas to look for this species. Fruit orchards and gardens also make part of its habitat, essential is the access to water. The birds of South Iberia differ from those found in south-eastern Europe (Greece and Turkey, mainly). The latter, usually treated as a subspecies ("syriacus"), shows a greyish color tone over the head, neck, mantle, back and in the wing, while "our" western birds (subspecies "galactotes") are more uniformly rufous- or buff-orange colored. The species is rarely seen on migration, but there are records from the Cape-area near Sagres (September) and ringing-records made near Faro-airport, for instance. Impressive is the territorial display, shown in the pictures below, including fanning the magnificent tail and dropping the wings.

These two were the main target species for yesterday's day tour and we got really good views (and photos) of both. Other species seen during the day-tour included: Spanish Imperial Eagles (two immatures), Black- and Griffon Vultures, Short-toed Eagle, Montagu's Harrier, Lesser Kestrel, Collared Pratincole, Golden Oriole, Great Spotted Cuckoo (juv.), Woodchat- and Southern Grey Shrikes, Great Bustards and back at the coast- Little Bittern (feeding fledged juveniles), Purple Swamphen, Black-crowned Night Heron, Black-headed Weaver, Azur-winged Magpie, Hoppoe, Wryneck, Audouin's Gulls and many more.