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

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.