Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Italian Man Orchid / Wavy-leaved Monkey Orchid (Orchis italica)

I had met Philip Precey from wildlife travel/UK in the Spanish Extremadura some weeks ago - an excellent naturalist with a wide ranging knowledge. He said he would be planing to visit the Algarve, for birds but also flowers and other wildlife. So, when he came last Friday, we started near the airport with a brief birding trip at around 11 a.m. after he landed. We had excellent views of Little Bittern, 2 to 3 males and one female, among others. One male was singing when we arrived at the place. After a quick but relaxed lunch break we headed north into the "Barrocal" - the limestone-belt between the coast and the Serra, for orchids and other plants. We found seven or eight different Orchid species at least that afternoon. When checking for one Id, I found this very nice homepage in the internet, about "European Orchids and their hybrids" (D/Eng.) - its very useful.

Barrocal-area near Salir, Central Algarve.

Woodcock-Orchid (Ophrys scolopax ssp.)

Yellow Bee Orchid (Ophrys lutea)

Orchis morio ???

Sawfly-Orchid (Ophrys tendredinifera)

...and back to the birds:

Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) female.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spring-migration continues

I have been guiding a Tour in the eastern Algarve yesterday - Castro Marim and then up the Guadiana-River. The countryside is marvellous and it seems, nature is almost exploding now. Unfortunately I could not take any pictures, because after getting a new camera-battery, my charger refuses to work ...

Anyway, the trip produced a bunch of "new" birds for this year - among them, Collared Pratincoles (expected), Nightingale, Iberian Chiffchaff, Common Quail (many), a male Garganey and a Great-spotted Cuckoo (2nd Cy, a rather late date). We saw all 5 European Swallow/Martin-species during the trip, had excellent views of male and female Montagu's Harriers, saw and heard Lesser short-toed Lark displaying, had great views of Stone-Curlews (they were also very vocal), saw big flocks of Bee-eaters (50+) and Swifts, flocks of male Yellow-Wagtails (mainly flava, few iberiae) and a lot of Woodchat-Shrikes and some Southern Grey Shrikes. 10+ Caspian Terns, some Audouins Gulls, Greater Flamingos, a flock of 50+ Shelduck, Purple Gallinule, Water Rail, Spoonbills and many waders, including some Curlew Sandpipers (first ones now moulting into breeding plumage) and a couple of Little Ringed Plovers at their presumed nest site, which were nice to see, too. I have been fascinated by a group of Willow Warblers (5 to 10 birds) in an wild Olive-tree, constantly calling and moving around inside the tree - there was a Little Owl roosting in that tree and they had find it. We observed the scene at close ranges in the telescope - the owl looking on us and the Willow's jumping around it...

Here are the additional arrival dates:

Garganey (Anas querquedula) -24-03-2010- Castro Marim - 1 male.
Common Quail (Cot. coturnix) -24-03-2010- C. M.(council)- several.
Collared Pratincole (Glareola pratincola) -24-03-2010- C. M. - 5 Ind.
Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) -20-03-2010- Faro (Gambelas)- 1 Ind. (grey morph) displaying. 23-03-2010 - Olhão - 1 Ind. 24-03-2010 - Castro M. (council) - 1 Ind.
Nightingale (Lus. megarhynchos) -24-03-2010- C. M.(council) - 1 Ind.
Subalpine Warbler (S. cantillans)-24-03-2010- C. M.(council)- 2 Ind.
Willow Warbler (Phy. trochilus) -24-03-2010- C. M.(council) - 5+ Ind.
Iberian Chiffchaff (P. ibericus) -24-03-2010- C. M.(council) - 2 Ind.

On Monday morning (22-03) I went into Ludo, near Faro for a bit more then half an hour in the morning. First Pallid Swifts, an Osprey, 2 Booted Eagles (both, dark and pale morph) and a couple of Marsh Harrier's at their previous years nest-site in a reed-bed were well worth the visit. Confusingly both of the apparently nesting Marsh Harriers do have female plumage,... a lesbian couple ? Possibly, since there are confirmed "gay" penguins existing in a German zoo...)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Bee-eaters are back !

Spring is here now. Since the rain stopped about 10 days ago, it has been getting warmer continuously. The south-easterly has brought in several birds back from Africa over the past days and particularly today - when I saw (or heard) my first Bee-eaters, Reed Warblers, Yellow Wagtails and a female Montagu's Harrier of the year. The dates:

Black Kite (Milvus migrans) 15-03-2010 - Faro - 1 Ind. around a previous years nesting site.

Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus) - 19-03-2010 - Faro - 1 female Ind. soaring in a thermal together with White Storks.

Common Swift
(Apus apus) - 18-03-2010 - Faro - 4 Ind. above a salt pan.

(European) Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) - 19-03-2010 - Faro (Gambelas) - 1+ Ind. heard in the early afternoon.

Sand Martin
(Riparia riparia) - 15-03-2010 - Loulé - 1 Ind. at a Golf-course reservoir.

Red-rumped Swallow (Hirundo daurica) - 13-03-2010 - Faro (Gambelas) - 1 couple around their previous years nesting-site.(Besides some wintering-records)

(Iberian) Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava iberiae) - 19-03-2010 - Faro - several Ind. heard in different locations, only males seen (next to the airport, for instance).

(European) Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) - 19-03-2009 - Faro - 2 Ind. singing in a reed bed.

Next week I am going to do some field-trips to the eastern Algarve and hopefully "get" the first Collared Partincoles, Spectacled Warblers and perhaps Short-toed Larks and early Slender-billed Gulls there... but let's see. A trip into the Serra should produce Subalpine Warbler and Iberian Chiffchaff by now already.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Woodchat-Shrikes arrival

This male and female Woodchat-Shrikes Lanius senator were my first ones for this year, on a fence, just behind the house. I was kind of surprised - been reminded, that spring is coming - what ever the weather may look like (no further comment regarding this issue...)

Its normal, that first records of trans-Sahara migrants are made here in the Algarve, but this (06-03) is still quite an early date. Medium of first spring-records of the species in the Algarve between 2004 and 2009 has been the 14th of March (Source: SPEA/"Chegadas"-Project, Coordinator: Henk Feith). Some "odd" winter-records stand out - like this past winter, when one has been found around Christmas at the western Algarve coast, for instance. I also reported a male from the 28-12-2001 (already a while ago...) onwards, from Ludo, Faro here which has been an extreme early arrival in my opinion, rather than a wintering bird. Males of course do show up first usually. In 2009 I saw my first Woodchat-Shrike (male) on the 2nd of March near Salir, Central Algarve.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The National Park of Monfragüe and the Spanish Extremadura

Blue Rock-Thrush Monticola solitarius at the watch point "Salto del Gitano"

On Sunday evening I returned from a 5-days Fam-Trip to Central Spain. I participated on behalf of birdingtours (D) who had been invited to this event, scheduled simultaneously with the annual Bird fair (FIO) in the National Park of Monfragüe.

During the 3-days program we have been visiting the Sierra de Gata in the north-west of Extremadura, then Monfragüe (Cáceres-province) - a peace of "birdwatchers heaven" and one of the best locations to observe large birds of prey in Europe - and finally the Sierra de Hornachos and the plain of Campiña Sur in the south.

Despite the bad weather and the relative short time we were effectively birding, we saw a lot of birds. Up to 25 Eurasian Black Vultures at their breeding site in Serra de Gata were soaring together and we also observed a couple on their nest in the crown of a Pine-tree at a mountain slope. Some 300 pairs are breeding in the region.
I had two observations of Golden Eagle and two of a couple of Bonelli's Eagle - the latter one when "testing" the big 15x56 Swarovski-Binoculars right above the Fair-ground (!), where they were joining some Griffon Vultures circling in a thermal.
Spectacular also the watch point "Salto del Gitano", where we arrived first thing in the morning, when the whole scenery was still "mysty" (first 3 photos). Someone pointed out 2 Otters, which were fishing and playing together in the Tejo (Tajo) below us. The 100+ Griffons roosting all over the cliff eventually began to soar after a while and where impressive - some birds were incubating already and a couple right in front of us had occupied a Black-Storks nest (photo). When we Tour-operators (or represents) had to attend (local) businesses from almost everywhere in Spain (lots of great offers really ! Rural Houses where the Lammergeier flys by daily...)the others (Press people) were brought to a second watch point, where they saw adult Spanish/Iberian Imperial Eagle, Egyptian Vulture and Black Stork... other than that, we came across Black-winged, Red- and Black-Kites, Short/toed Eagle, Hen Harrier, Merlin (the latter 2 hunting together), hundreds of Common Cranes, a few Great Bustards and 2 Stone Curlews.

Though I have not seen any bird species I could not see in Southern Portugal, it is easier here to get good views of raptors at their breeding sites, because of the high populations and the abundance of cliff faces which make it easier to observe. The landscapes and also the culture (Mérida is said to have been the biggest city of the Roman Empire within the Iberian peninsula) and gastronomy are all making it well worth visiting the region.

Thanks to our excellent Bird-Guides Godfried Schreur (NL) at the right, Martin Kelsey (GB) next to the telescope, as well as Karissa Winters (US) in the middle and Yadira Chaparro (E) from the regional Tourism board Turextremadura , this has been a great trip. Martin Kelsey runs his own country side Hotel in the area and I can highly recommend his services - the link is here. Godfried's e-mail is: godfried.schreur@gmail.com
I'd like to come again ! But I was keen to check the coast for Gulls when I came home, as well... !