Friday, January 29, 2010

Sociable Lapwing

This Sociable Lapwing (Vanellus gregarius) winters in the Alentejo-plains (Mertola-area) together with many thousand of Lapwings and Golden Plovers since December now and was still there today. Is it in adult winter- or in first winter plumage ?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hoppoe & friends

This Hoppoe (Upupa epops) was preening his entire plumage on his post in the afternoon sun today.

His friend Azur-winged Magpie (Cyanopica cyana cooki) was roosting in a nearby Pine-tree.

Spotless Starlings (Sturnus unicolor) were singing and Barn Swallows are arriving since about mid month...

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Ferruginous Ducks and -hybrids

Earlier this week, I went to Vilamoura, in the Central Algarve, to the main observatory near the ETAR (sewerage-work) in the "Parque Ambiental". After parking the car, I flushed a Squacco Heron out of the ditch right next to the path. Penduline Tits were present and I could see one bird well. Marsh Harrier, Common Waxbill and calling Cetti's Warblers were other typical and expectable birds along the way my. After reaching the hide at the small lake, surounded by reeds, at first, only Common Coots, Great Cormorants, Little Grebes and some Mallard seem to be present - only a few birds in total, wich is nothing unusal there. The Marsh Harrier showed up from time to time, a Kingfisher crossed the lake and then, a first Ferruginous Duck (Aythya nyroca) swam out of the cover and was just visible beyond the small reedbed in front of me. A first winter male, in my opinion, still without the white eye of the adult. At least the bird looked "normal" for the species to me. I observed the bird for about 15 Min., during his diving-action at the edge of the reeds, where it probably fed on the common (introduced) freshwater Crayfish-species Prokambarus clarkii wich is also one of the favourits of the local Otters (lutra lutra) wich show up occasionaly in the Marinas of Vilamoura nad Faro, by the way.
Then a second bird- and a few Min. later, a third bird showed up. These two birds, were both a product of Hybridisation with Common Pochard (Aythya ferina).
At my previous visit, in early December 2009, there were 2 "normal" adult males present, plus one bird, wich could have been the second of the Hybrids shown further down. So, 2 of, at least 5 different "Ferruginous Ducks" observed at the location this winter, were Hybrids. I have seen and photographed this type of Hybrids at Lagoa dos Salgados, about 15kms further west, in earlier years already, wich is the only site, were the species is known to have bred with succsess in recent years.

Ferruginous Duck (Aythya nyroca). A "normal" first winter -male. Note the colour-tone, hardly contrasting between flanks and breast. Head- and bill-proportions and the bright white and clear defined undertail-patch. Vilamoura, 14-01-2010.

Hybrid of Ferruginous Duck and Common Pochard (Aythya nyroca x ferina) an adult male. Note the greyish flanks, yellowish eye, colour-tone on head and breast and the head and bill-shape. The confusion species Aythya americana has a different, more roundish head-profile and different markings on the bill. the following two photos are showing the same Individual. Vilamoura, 14-01-2010.

The following two photos show the third Individual present that day, also a Hybrid obviously, of the same species, apparently. A first winter or a female Individual ?

Hybrid of Ferruginous Duck and Common Pochard (Aythya nyroca x ferina). Vilamoura, 14-01-2010.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Black-winged Kites and Booted Eagles

Yesterday, the weather conditions seemed to be right to check a nearby wetland- and farm-area for wintering birds of prey. It is particularly interesting for Booted Eagles (Aquila pennata) and Black-winged Kites (Elanus caeruleus). Total count was 6 Ind. pale-morph Booted Eagles (this has been the minimum count, avoiding possible double counts). I saw up to 4 of them soaring together and two birds gave very close views. Black-shouldered- or Black-winged Kites were at least 3 Ind., plus possible two more in the far distance. Other birds of prey I observed during my one hours stay, were Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) - 3 Ind., calling and showing display flights, 2 juvenile or female Marsh Harriers (Circus aeruginosus) and an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus).

When I arrived at my observation-point, which overlooks most of the area, I was already welcomed by a continuously calling Booted Eagle, perched somewhere in the Eucalyptus in front of me. I soon found the bird with the scope, a pale morph - juvenile, with broad, pale margins to the tail feathers...still calling long rows of "gji gji gji" or "jik jik jik", it approached another Booted in the same group of trees. It then occurred to me, that this calls I hear so frequently are begging-calls of the juveniles/first winter birds, still following their parents and begging them for food (no wonder they were hungry after all that heavy rain...)also here in their wintering grounds.
I observed the same on Terns - wintering Sandwich Terns (Sterna sandvincensis) and Caspian Terns (Sterna caspia) are both followed by the juveniles when scanning the channels of Ria Formosa for food and I several times saw the young ones being fed with fishes on the water, when the adult was successful. The young ones also call a lot while following the adults... So "childhood" extends into the winter and the following year in many cases apparently.... have to check what literature says regarding this matter...

Other than the birds of prey, there where about 150 White Storks in the area, about a third of them local breeders, already around their nests. The others later circled up and disappeared in northern direction, most probably "having lunch" at a rubbish dip in Serra de Caldeirão...Before the left I cold read one ring code which I will send to see where the bird comes from.
Birds heard or seen from my watch point where Cetti's Warbler, Common Waxbill, Penduline Tit, Iberian Green Woodpecker, Sardinian Warbler, Spottless Starling, Azure-winged Magpie, Hoppoe and a few others. Also Mediterranean Tree-Frogs are calling now, that everything is green and there is water almost "everywhere".

First Swallows are arriving already. Single Barn Swallows(males usually) can be seen in their breeding areas already, I did so yesterday in two locations. Its hard to say if this Ind. have been staying here during the winter or are coming back from Africa already. There are definitely small winter flocks, especially in- or near the wetlands with reed beds, which are giving food and shelter / night-roost.
Yesterday, I observed at least 3 Crag Martins, 2 House Martins, 1 Red-rumped Swallow and 1 Barn Swallow from my vantage-point while looking for the raptors.

Well, this little census was my "duty" but I was curious if the cold in Central and Western Europe had pushed down some Gulls from the North Atlantic to the Algarve already, so I went to check one of my favourite spots for Gulls in the Central Algarve.
No, not yet, was the result. But a juvenile Razorbill (Alca torda) was still in the little fishing harbour of Quarteira. Majority of small Gulls in the area were Mediterranean Gulls (Larus melanocephalus)- about 150 at least I would say, which is a good number for the winter. Most Gulls were feeding at the breakwaters. Among the few Gulls roosting at the beach; I found one adult Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus) with a colour-ring (photo). The bird had heavy problems with this ring and could not use the leg. It seems this occasional happens. Other Gulls where just of the common species. But I found a Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) - a scarce winter-visitor to the Algarve, coming from the British Isles. Additionally information about the sub-species of White Wagtails you can find here.

Adult Lesser Black-backed Gull. Quarteira, 11.01.2010.

Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) Quarteira, 11.01.2010.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Years Day

A very happy, healthy, successful and what-ever-you-might-wish-for-yourself - Year 2010 to everybody !!!

This Squacco Heron (Ardea ralloides) gave very good views at the Golf course of "Quinta do Lago" today.

Sitting in the afternoon sun, it catched very small fishes at the surface from time to time...

The Squacco Heron is not known to nest in the Algarve, though this has been reported accidently. It is a rather scarce visitor to the Algarve, most birds might be coming from the nearby Doñana-National Park in Andalusia/Spain, where it nests with regularity but is also one of the rarer Heron-species and far from being common.

It has been raining a lot here the last, say 2 weeks... and today has been the first day with good conditions to go out and watch some birds. But luckyly now everything outside turns green finaly - the land needed the rain and this winter had been very dry before. Its interesting to notice, how the nature "awakes" here just after the rain, since water is the limiting factor for vegetation here and not the cold as it is in the northern countries. Cetti's Warblers have been very active today. I have missed there calls when I was in the areas (wetlands with bushes usually) where they usually occur and are very abundant. Also, a pair of Great Crested Grebes started to show there mating behaviour today.
Besides the more regular birds at the Golf course Lake (Purple Gallinule, Glossy Ibis, Iberian Magpie, Hoppoe, Common Waxbill, Duck Species, Med Gulls etc...) some Swallows and Martins were catching insects above the Lake. About 10 or so Craig Martins, one House Martin and 6 Barn Swallows were there at least. An Alpine Swift had been seen there in December by another birder but I could not see it today. However, wintering flocks of Swallows and Martins have become almost a regular thing here, too. Craig Martin is the most abundant, especially in the western Algarve.
In the Saltpans, a bit further back, I observed about 100 Black-winged Stilts quite close together, wich is a good concentration for the mid winter, when the numbers of this species are lowest.
When leaving the area, around sunset, an adult Osprey gave good views, flying low above a channel filled with Ducks and Coots. Further beyond, a Black-winged Kite hovered nearby, above a swampy area, being the last bird I noticed on my afternoon's birding-trip at, what happened to become my homepatch for already some years now.

"Ludo" near Faro.