Thursday, May 13, 2021

The colours of spring

Red-legged Partridge / Rothuhn (Alectoris rufa), locally know as "Perdiz", is a common sighting on the field tracks in the region and also one of its main game birds.



The Baixo Alentejo region in Portugals interior south is characterized by a mix of grass- and pasture land, wide open cereal steppes and scatered Holm Oak Trees. In mid winter and spring it turns into a "sea of flowers" and is home to several endangered grassland bird species... and frankly a paradise for birdwatchers!


A male Lesser Kestrel / Rötelfalke / Penereiro-das-torres (Falco naumanni) about to land near a wooden nest box in a small town at the Guadiana-river, Alentejo, Portugal, 27-April-2021. Traditionally mainly nesting in colonies in abandoned farm buildings in the region, the breeding success and population size of the species could be increased by providing nest boxes and later also special designed, artificial buildings, by the Portuguese NGO "LPN" and the Guadiana Natural Park authorities.

These photos were taken during my Guided birding & Bird photography-tours in the Baixo Alentejo-region of south Portugal in April & May 2021. All photos: © Georg Schreier.

A different male of the same species with it's prey - a large Centipede, probably Megarian Banded Centepede (Scolopendra cingulata) to feed the incubating female or already the young chicks in the nestbox. The species arrives usually in the first half of February from its wintering grounds in sub-saharian Africa.


The same Ind. as above.


Landing approach - stooping down with "landing flaps" up (actually these feathers are called "Alula"). Watching Lesser Kestrels, you can not help to get the impression that they, like other bird of prey species, pretty much enjoy flying and dominating the air space around their nests.
 
A male showing some of the "key features" of the species compared to Common Kestrel: The greater secondary coverts forming a grey band along the upper wing, seperating the reddish-brown mantle (lacks black spots! Mantle spotted on Common Kestrel) and lesser upperwing coverts, from the blackish-brown wing feathers (remiges). The head appears uniformly bluish-grey, lacking almost completely the dark moustache that Common Kestrel shows running down in front of the eye along the cheeks. Bill base is pale and claws are whitish (not visible on the photo, but a good feature to distinguish the females of both species in the scope when perched). Frequently heard call, especially during the display flights of the male, is a harsh, two- or three syllable "Chè-Chè", example: Here

Calandra Lark (Melanocorypha calandra) is locally common in dry grassland, but only to be found in the central areas of the regions "pseudosteppe", where its song is ever present in spring, continuous and full of imitations of local bird species. Its Europe's biggest Lark-species and rather timid.




European Roller / Blauracke (Coracias garrulus)



Gull-billed Terns / Lachseeschwalben (Gelochelidon nilotica)

European Bee-eater / Bienenfresser (Merops apiaster)



Great Spotted Cuckoo (Clamator glandarius)

Spanish Sparrow / Weidensperling (Passer hispaniolensis)

Little Bustard / Zwergtrappe (Tetrax tetrax) male. A now critically endangered species also in Portugal, where the current intensification of agriculture has lead to massive habitat losses and population decline.

Spanish Eagle / Spanischer Kaiseradler (Aquila adalberti


Monday, September 21, 2020

Lesser Grey Shrike

One year ago yesterday, I found the first Lesser Grey Shrike (Lanius minor) for Portugal, at the cape-area near Sagres (Vila do Bispo), next to a farm known as "Vale Santo". The record has been accepted by the Portuguese Rarities Committee (CPR).

Lesser Grey Shrike / Picanço-pequeno / Schwarzstirnwürger (Lanius minor) 1st winter. Vale Santo (Vila do Bispo), Algarve, 20-Sept-2019. All photos: GS. The same Ind. in the pictures below.


Immature birds (here: 1st W) and some adults in winter plumage (mostly females) lack the black forehead, otherwise diagnostic for this species. Tricky and then easily dismissed as "just" another Iberian Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis) when not paying full attention... 


Note the extremely long primary projection of this long distant migrant and compare with the short winged L. meridionalis here. Obvious also the reduced amount of white on tertial tips (almost absent) and greater coverts and the absence of white tipped mantle feathers (compare L. meridionalis).


Lesser Grey Shrike showing rather squarish wing panel (formed by the white primary bases) reaching the second primary (P2) = the edge of the wing (P1 is very short and almost invisible). Wing formular different from L. meridionalis (P2 and P3 significantly shorter on the latter species and the primary patch does not reach the edge of the wing). Tail shorter on L. minor. Compare these features  here.



Bill shape roundish - shorter and higher in profile than in L. meridionalis and the "Grey Shrikes" of the L. exubitor-complex. Bill base colour greyish, black confined mostly to lower mandible and the bill tip. Finally, the bird also lacks the fine white line seperating the bill and the black eye mask from the grey forehead, as in L. meridionalis. The different "jizz" (overall impression), reduced overall size and different color tones, including the salmon color on chest and belly, as well as different tones of grey (the bird appeared "whiter" when seen stooping down on an insect and in flight) caught my initial attention.

Why is this species so rare in Portugal? Lesser Grey Shrike was very close to extinction in Iberia, with the only remaining breeding population in Catalonia, eastern Spain, reduced to one (!) pair in 2011-2013. A successful conservation program (more info: Trenca) was started and saved the species from extinction in Spain. The program now includes captitive breeding. Released birds are (color-) ringed and some are tagged with a small transmitter to learn more about their migrations and the wintering areas. The Sagres-bird was not ringed. This- and the fact that a heavy storm, with extreme easterly winds in the central- and western Mediterranean, took place just a few days before, supports the hypothesis that this bird had been "blown off course" and carried away during its (at first) normally eastbound migration, somewhere in the central- or eastern Mediterranean, finally making "land fall" shortly behind the Cape of São Vicente, north of Sagres, where it was seen for two days only by a few observers.

In the photo below: Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus), juvenile. Seen about 20 mins before (!) and only c. 200 m away from the above "shrike encounter". Also a rarity in Portugal, even though observations here, like everywhere else in western Europe, have increased in the last decade or so and the species nowadays even nests in the Netherlands, Spain and a few other European countries, where it used to be a rare vagrant not long ago (further Info is here).






Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Dragonflies in the Algarve

This summer, I went somewhat deeper into exploring the dragonflies of the Algarve. Portugal is home to close to 70 species, the majority of which can be found here in the south. This includes several species restricted to Iberia- and a few areas around the Mediterranean. Namely dragonflies of African origin have begun colonising southern Europe in the last years and decades - some, like the Broad Scarlet (Crocothemis erythraea) have long reached central Europe. Violet Dropwing (Trithemis annulata) is already among the commenest dragonflies here and is found in rocky pools or river sections (most rivers and streams dry out at least partly here in summer) in hot areas with less vegetation. It shares habitat with its sibling species, the Orange-winged Dropwing (Trithemis kirbyi) first recorded in Portugal only in 2016 (link) so one of the most recent additions to Portugals Odonata -Fauna. I was surprised finding it at more than half a dozen different- and new locations in the central- and eastern Algarve over the past two month! So spreading rapidly, it seems. Another speciality we have here in the Algarve is the Ringed Cascader (Zygonyx torridus) known to occur in Portugal only at one single spot in the west Algarve, were we found it easy to see but difficult to photograph. I include here a number of photos taken during the past weeks. The camera I used is a small travel zoom camera from Panasonic with Leica optics: Panasonic DMC-TZ70 in macro mode. Birds are still my specialty but I like not to be ignorant of the many aspects of wildlife we encounter when being in the field.

Orange-winged Dropwing (Trithemis kirbyi) mature male. Alcoutim, 31-July-2020. All photos: Georg Schreier.


Orange-winged Dropwing (Trithemis kirbyi) mature male. Serra de Tavira, 21-Aug-2020. 


Violet Dropwing (Trithemis annulata) mature male. Serra de Tavira, 21-Aug-2020 .


Violet Dropwing (Trithemis annulata) mature male. Serra de Tavira, 21-Aug-2020 .


Violet Dropwing (Trithemis annulata) female. Alcoutim, 31-July-2020 .


Long Skimmer (Orthetrum trinacria) mature male. Alcoutim, 31-July-2020.


Epaulet Skimmer (Orthetrum chrysostigma) male. São Brâs de Alportel, 21-June-2020.
Ringed Cascader (Zygonyx torridus) west Algarve, 08-Aug-2020.


Ringed Cascader (Zygonyx torridus) copulation. Western Algarve, 08-Aug-2020.


Large Pincertail (Onychogomphus uncatus) female. São Brâs de Alportel, 14-July-2020.


Small Pincertail (Onychogomphus forcipatus) male. São Brâs de Alportel, 14-July-2020.


Lesser Emperor (Anax parthenope) Quinta do Lago (Loulé), 19-July-2020


Blue Emperor (Anax imperator) ovipositing. Serra do Caldeirão, 21-Aug-2020.


Copper Demoiselle (Calopteryx haemorrhoidalis) female. Loulé, 25-August-2020. A few streams in the limestone belt (Barrocal) of the Algarve have running spring water throughout the year.




Copper Demoiselle (Calopteryx haemorrhoidalis) male. Near Loulé, 25-August-2020. 


[Post edit:] Today (Aug., 27th) on the bordwalk back from Faro-beach, we noticed several large brown dragonflies hovering above the dunes and salt marsh (c. 20 Ind. in total) and I managed to get this record shot of one Ind. perched: Vagrant Emperor (Anax ephippiger) female. Amazing! This was a migratory event and they were apparently heading north!









[Post edit] Northern Banded Groundling (Brachythemis impartita) female perching on the golf green. The darker male in the photo above. Quinta do Lago (Loulé), 06-Sept-2020.

[Post edit] Black Percher (Diplacodes lefebvrii) male. Serra do Caldeirão, 29-Aug-2020.


Red-veined Darter (Sympetrum fonscolombii) mature male. Foia / Monchique, 08-August-2020. A dragonfly known to every birdwatcher here. At the cape area of Sagres, it can be extremely numerous during autumn (bird) migration, sometimes reaching hundred thousands (!) of Ind./day in the area, on northbound migration.





Sunday, August 16, 2020

Pelagic boat trips


Cory's Shearwater (Calonectris borealis) and Sooty Shearwater (Ardenna grisea) taking off. About 2 miles off Ilha da Culatra, Algarve, 22-July-2020. All photos: Georg Schreier.
Cory's Shearwater (Calonectris borealis) and Sooty Shearwater (Ardenna grisea) taking off.
About 2 miles off Ilha da Culatra, Algarve. 22-July-2020. All photos: Georg Schreier.

One of the best nature activities to do in the hot season here, is going out on a refreshing boat trip, exploring the coastal waters of the Algarve for pelagic sea birds. An activity, which I am doing here in the "Sotavento" (Algarve's sandy eastern half) with a boat tour operator from Fuseta for more than 10 years now. Between June and October, we can see up to six Shearwater-species, at least two species of Storm Petrels (Wilson's- and European-) and various other pelagic sea birds, including Skuas (mostly Great-, but also Pomarine- and Arctic-) Nothern Gannets, Terns and Gulls, including Audouin's and Slender-billed Gulls on a regular basis. Also Dolphins (mostly Bottlenosed- and Common-) are often encountered during these short trips (duration: 2,5 hs) when we go out in a spacy glass fiber boat for up to 6 miles. Each trip is different and what we see depends a lot on season, as well as on weather- and wind conditions. I include here photos from the two last trips (Aug. 12th and July, 22nd this year). Minimum number we require to go out are 4 people. We don't do "chumming", but look for areas with feeding activity or for roosts. We are going to do one trip each week till early September (Sept. 2nd.) for now. For further Info and reservations visit: http://www.birdwatching-algarve.com/pelagic-boat-trips.html

A nice "grouping" of Shearwaters: Balearic Shearwater (Puffinus mauretanicus) on the left. Two Great Shearwaters (Ardenna gravis) to the right of it. A Sooty Shearwater (Ardenna grisea) in the center back. With three Cory's Shearwaters completing the mix... off Fuseta, Algarve, 22-July-2020.


Wilson's Storm Petrel (Oceanites oceanicus) in fresh plumage, passing close by the boat. Amazing, these little sea birds breed around the Antarctic and spend the south winter in our area. About 5 miles off Fuseta, 12-Aug-2020. The birds in the following three photos are of the same species.




The Storm Petrels were feeding around a floating and deteriorating carcass of a Dolphin, we encountered a few miles off shore. Also a small Shark (possibly Blue-) was taking bites...


European Storm Petrel (Hydrobates pelagicus) showing active wing moult, growing inner primaries. 12-Aug-2020.


Pomarine Skua (Stercorarius pomarinus) light morph, 2nd summer type, roosting with Cory's Shearwaters. Off Fuseta, 22-July-2020. The next two pictures showing the same bird.




Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus) taking off. 22-July-2020. One of the rarer species here in summer.


Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) with a calf. 22-July-2020. In June we were lucky enough to see Risso's Dolphins (Grampus griseus) during a trip off Fuseta: Here is a short video:  https://youtu.be/cTqI1DlffEs  [post edit: two videos of Common Dolphins I made during a trip on 21-Aug-2020 are here and here ]

Next trips are scheduled for Sept., 17th and Sept. 29th, 2020.