Monday, June 15, 2020

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Earlier this month, I did the first tours after the "lock down" here in the Algarve. The wetlands around Faro (Ria Formosa Natural Park mainly) and to the Baixo Alentejo "cereal steppes", with a Dutch birder and WP-lister. Among the main target species was the Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea), a mega-rarity (first for continental Europe) from the south-eastern US, that had been discovered in the marina of Faro on the morning of the 19th of May, where it was feeding on green crabs Carcinus maenas (e-bird checklist). The species is mostly nocturnal and crespuscular (hence the name!) and during the day, it was roosting nearby, perched in trees of a town square next to the marina. It was last seen about 3 kms further east, in a tidal channel next to some sewage works on June, 7th (for now). I had already seen and photographed it on the day of its discovery and we managed to get good and close views of the bird foraging and roosting on the morning of the first tour. I include here some photos I took during the tour, as well as the list of total of WP-records and some general Info on the species. By the way, this bird has likely crossed the Atlantik "ship assisted", as has been proved in similar cases before and is not identical with an adult of the same species observed on Horta, Azores, in early April this year (e-bird checklist) as plumage details reveal (advance of yellow crown coloration, lenght of crown- and back feathers of the nuptial plumage...). Some general Info on the species is here.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) feeding in a tidal channel just west of Faro, Park Natural da Ria Formosa, Algarve, Portugal on June, 7th, 2020. (All photos: GS. click to enlarge image).

Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) feeding in a tidal channel just west of Faro, Park Natural da Ria Formosa, Algarve, Portugal on June, 7th, 2020. (All photos: GS. click to enlarge image).

Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) in a tidal channel just west of Faro, Park Natural da Ria Formosa, Algarve, Portugal on June, 7th, 2020. (All photos: GS. click to enlarge image).

Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) in a tidal channel just west of Faro, Park Natural da Ria Formosa, Algarve, Portugal on June, 7th, 2020. (All photos: GS. click to enlarge image)

Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) just west of Faro, Park Natural da Ria Formosa, Algarve, Portugal on June, 7th, 2020. (All photos: GS. click to enlarge image)

Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) just west of Faro, Park Natural da Ria Formosa, Algarve, Portugal on June, 7th, 2020. (All photos: GS. click to enlarge image)

Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) just west of Faro, Park Natural da Ria Formosa, Algarve, Portugal on June, 7th, 2020. (All photos: GS. click to enlarge image)

Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) just west of Faro, Park Natural da Ria Formosa, Algarve, Portugal on June, 7th, 2020. (All photos: GS. click to enlarge image)

Summer is also season for pelagic boat-trips here in the Algarve. Please check my website for further Info here www.birdwatching-algarve.com

Some more photos taken here in the Algarve over the past weeks:
(to be continued)









Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Yellow-browed Warbler and other rare autumn vagrants

Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus) "Mata de Liceu", Faro (town). November, 6th 2018. Photo: GS. 

During October and November each year, Yellow-browed Warblers (Phylloscopus inornatus) appear in the Algarve and in increasing numbers over the past five years. These tiny Siberian vagrants go often undetected, especially when they are silent. This Ind. here however was very vocal (as they often are) and I found it accidently when walking a dog in a park ("Mata de Liceu") in the middle of Faro (!) yesterday afternoon, 06-Nov-2018. It seemed to live in- and around a single, massive Cork Oak, but showed in an Araucaria tree, for the photos I include here. It may overwinter at this spot, as another one did last winter, only a couple of hundred meters away. Listen to their diagnostic two syllable calls here: xeno-canto. An overview of the development of records of this species in Portugal over the past three decades is here on Aves de Portugal.


Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus) "Mata de Liceu", Faro (town). November, 6th 2018. Photo: GS.
Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus) near Alportel, central-Algarve, November, 2nd 2018. Photo: GS.
This particular spot "works" for the third consecutive year for me now.

A similar, but yet smaller and rarer autumn leave Warbler is the Pallas's Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus proregulus) distinguished by a yellowish central crown stripe and yellowish/light greenish rump. This species has only three records for Portugal so far, including a bird that was seen from the 27th to the 31st of December 2017 and found by a visiting Swedish birder at "Fonte Benémola", a valley in the lime stone belt (Barrocal) of the Algarve, not far from Loulé, with a high diversity of plants and birds found along a stream with a dense river gallery. The finder detected the hovering bird, showing its characteristic light colored rump patch. I have been there to "twitch" the bird - not an easy task, since it was silent and using quite a big area along the valley. At the end of the day however, it always showed near a little dam in the river for some moments, allowing some quick photos and observations in the fading light of a winter day... what a fascinating little visitor. An interesting and useful autumn leaf Warbler photo ID-Guide is here on Bird Guides.


Pallas's Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus proregulus) Fonte Benémola (Loulé). December, 31st 2017. This and the following photos: GS.

Pallas's Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus proregulus) Fonte Benémola (Loulé). December, 31st 2017.

Pallas's Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus proregulus) Fonte Benémola (Loulé). December, 31st 2017.

Pallas's Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus proregulus) Fonte Benémola (Loulé). December, 31st 2017.
Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio) is also extremely rare in the Algarve, but there is a breeding population in the north of Portugal (Gerês) and I have observed them there, only a couple of hundred km away. Why is it hardly ever seen in the Algarve, despite beeing a Trans-Sahara migrant, wintering in Southern Africa? Researchers found out, that the entire European population migrates around the eastern Mediterranean and only then southwards, meaning for the populations in Western Europe (including north Portugal) to migrate eastwards, instead of southwards! The scientific paper with these findings is here: Article
So I was quite exited, when I found a juvenile of this species a couple of weeks ago near a beach (Praia de Loulé Velho) between "Vale do Garrão" and Quarteira ! I took several "phonescoped" videos with the Iphone through the brilliant Swarovski ATX-85-telescope, using also the Swarovski adapter. Here you can watch two of them: Red-backed Shrike (1) and Red-backed Shrike (2)
The second, shorter video, shows the plain reddish-brown (slightly barred) upperparts and the non-graduated tail, when paused at the right moment, thus excluding other vagrant Shrike species, among them Brown Shrike (Lanius cristatus). To distinguish it from the here common Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator) have a look here: pdf. A very good article on the Id-problematic of Red-backed-, Isabelline- and Brown Shrikes is here on Dutch Birding.


Green Heron (Butorides virescens) at Lagoa de São Lourenço (Quinta do Lago, Loulé) on October, 24th 2018. This bird is the 1st for continental Portugal. Photo:GS.
One of the "highlights" of this rarities-season in the Algarve so far, has been the finding of a Green Heron (Butorides viriscens) at the golf-course lake of Quinta do Lago around the 20th of October. The small Heron had been seen by several people, but misidentified as a Little Bittern (!) at first and so the news about the "Mega" arrived at the local birding comunity with a delay. This North American bird must have been "carried over" by one of the severe Atlantic storms in October and its still at the location today. Meanwhile a second Ind. has been found near Lisbon. Most fascinating for me was witnissing this birds clever "fishing-skills". It at first catches an insect (wasp, dragonfly) only to then place it deliberately on the surface of the water right in front of itself and waites patiently for a fish to appear and take the bait. Then it strikes... interesting question how a behavior like this becomes genetically fixed (as it surely is on this species, just like a spider "knows" how to web...).
A Red-knobbed Coot (Fulica cristata), also called Crested Coot :) was on the same lake.


A Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatillis) is for the third consecutive winter now at a place between Faro and Olhão
 (Parque Natural da Ria Formosa). Photo:GS.


While Grey-and Red-necked Phalaropes are already very scarce, but are still seen anually in the Algarve, the North American Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) is truely rare. One bird in winter plumage has been found now in a rice field near the town of Lagoa some days ago and was still there today. It can be distinguished from its relatives by the longer bill and neck, as well as yellowish legs and the lack of a wing bar, among others.
These rice fields are extremely bird rich as they offer a lot of food for the birds. Crustaceans, like the invasive Louisiana Crayfish (Procambarus clarkii) for example. Hence the Phalarope shared the site with 1000+ Glossy Ibis (!), flocks of White Storks, Greater Flamingos and Eurasian Spoonbills, Lots of Black-winged Stilts, Black-tailed Godwits, Ruff, Common Snipe, Green Sandpiper, Water Pipit etc. I include here some pictures and two videos from yesterday. This is an exiting time here in the Algarve!

Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) in winter plumage near Lagoa, Algarve. Nov., 6th 2018. Photo: GS.

Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) in winter plumage near Lagoa, Algarve. Nov., 6th 2018. Photo: GS.

Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) in winter plumage near Lagoa, Algarve. Nov., 6th 2018. Photo: GS.

Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) in winter plumage near Lagoa, Algarve. Nov., 6th 2018. Photo: GS.

Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) in winter plumage near Lagoa, Algarve. Nov., 6th 2018. Photo: GS.

Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) in winter plumage near Lagoa, Algarve. Nov., 6th 2018. Photo: GS.

Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) in winter plumage near Lagoa, Algarve. Nov., 6th 2018. Photo: GS.

Two videos of the Wilson's Phalarope are here: Wilsons's Phalarope (1) and Wilsons's Phalarope (2)
Updates and locations of rare birds found in the Algarve, are shared on the public facebook-group: Rare Birds Algarve.



Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Spanish Imperial Eagle








This and all above photos: Spanish Imperial Eagle / Águia-Imperial Iberica / Spanischer Kaiseradler (Aquila adalberti) adult. Baixo Alentejo-region, South Portugal, 23-May-2018. Photo: Georg Schreier. [All images can be clicked to enlarge].

There are these moments in your life as a naturalist or birdwatcher, that you will never forget. Often unexpected, you suddenly become a witness of Nature's great beauty and impressive force and you can only go like: "Wow!" . Watching a full adult Spanish Imperial Eagle flying towards you and then passing us by at a distance of less than 50 meters absolutely falls into this category. A moment like this you can not plan, but since there are now 15 breeding pairs of this species in south and east Portugal again, it is a species we see with regularity and it can be a target species for a day tour to the interior south Portugal, even though it s still hard to guarantee observations and one should not expect to see it as close as this. The Iberian Imperial Eagle (as it should actually be rightfully called) nested in 2003 for the first time in Portugal again, after for decades no breeding record had been obtained. Most pairs choose to settle in large private hunting estates, as these properties are closed to the public and a high population of prey (most importantly rabbits) exists. Population pressure from the increasing population of neighbouring Spain, based on a successful conservation program there, surely played an important role in its return to Portugal as a breeding species. The young Portuguese conservation program "Life Imperial" still faces a lot of difficulties, but the increase to the now 15 pairs in 2017 and 2018 makes it already a success story.
Useful and interesting information on the species and its conservation in Portugal (also in English) can be found here: http://lifeimperial.lpn.pt/en
I wrote a six pages article for the April 2018 - edition of Germany's leading bird magazine "Der Falke" on the bird life of Portugal's Baixo Alentejo-region, highlighting also the return of Iberias "King of birds" to Portugal as a breeding bird: https://www.falke-journal.de/der-falke-42018/

A young immature (2nd calender year) Sp. Imperial Eagle (Aquila dalberti) soaring together with a young
Eurasian Black Vulture (Aegipius monachus) also 2nd c.y., in the "steppe" region of south Portugal,
19-April-2018. Photo: Georg Schreier.

Yesterday, 18.06.2018, I saw a Little Swift (Apus affinis) near Cape S. Vincent, the Algarve's western cape ! It was feeding in an area, where also a good gathering of the local breeding Pallid Swifts (Apus pallidus) and Alpine Swifts (T. melba) took place. This species nests in Morocco and there are some small colonies near the Strait of Gibraltar in Spain (Chipiona-harbor, f. i.) but not in Portugal, as far as known and is a rare vagrant with less than one observation per year. Over the last week alone however, five observations in different locations in the west Algarve (including also Foia/Monchique and the Alvor estuary had been made, three of which by a single observer, suggesting that we have an influx of this species in the Algarve right now. I tried my luck yesterday and managed to find one! For me a new bird for Portugal and species number 334 for the Algarve-region. Ironically I only recently watched this species in South Morocco, during a great 8-days birding trip in late March/ early April this year, into the high Atlas mountains and the Sahara desert. If you plan on this (and I can only say its worth while) you should contact http://www.gayuin.com/ who organized an unforgettable and very successful day trip for the desert specialities for us from Merzouga. I took tons of photos and might post some of them here on this blog later. 

Little Swift (Apus affinis) is not easy to photograph in flight .... note the square cut off tail and the white rump-patch visible on the flanks. Marrakesh, Morocco, 31st of March 2018. Photo: Georg Schreier.

Regarding rarities in the Algarve, there is a good network of observers here and we exchange information. I created a facebook-page for this purpose only, which you can join here when looked into your own facebook account: Rare Birds Algarve
A good number of rarities I found myself this last winter and spring, including a Sociable Lapwing at Lagoa dos Salgados in November (later seen by many as it stood there till March) a 1st winter Caspian Gull, Lesser Yellowlegs, two different Pectoral Sandpipers, another (now anual) Yellow-browed Warbler and a Spotted Sandpiper in March at the Ria Formosa in Olhão, which stood there until early May, when it was in full breeding plumage. Quite a looker! See for yourself ...

Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius), Olhão, 23-April-2018. A very rare vagrant from North America... Photo: GS.

Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius), Olhão, 23-April-2018. Photo: Georg Schreier.

Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius), Olhão, 23-April-2018. Photo: Georg Schreier.

Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius), Olhão, 23-April-2018. Photo: Georg Schreier.


Finally - I highly recommend you join a Pelagic boat-trip to see Shearwaters, Skuas, Storm Petrels and others (often also Dolphins) off the Algarve coast ! Its one of the best things to do during the hot summer months... 
All information is on my website here: http://www.birdwatching-algarve.com/pelagic-boat-trips.html
The next scheduled trips are for July, 12th;  July, 21st (Saturday) and July, 31st so far (Fuzeta), other dates on request !
Some more trip reports of pelagics are here on this blog: here, here, here and here.
Hoping to see you soon !


Great Shearwater (Ardenna gravis) off Fuzeta, Algarve, 26-September-2017. Photo: Georg Schreier