Friday, November 26, 2010

Resume of the past 7 days Tours

Looking out on the plain of the lower Alentejo - all turning green now.

So, what is there to tell about the recent Birding-Tours here in the Algarve and into the Alentejo ?
Well, a lot ! Bird life has been fabulous - plenty of birds and good species !

Yesterday, 25-11, during a Tour around Faro, both, Sacred Ibis (2 Ind.) and Glossy Ibis (1 Ind., very close views) could be observed, as well as Purple Swamphen and a late male Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus), Black-headed Weavers (Ploceus melanocephalus), Black-necked Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis), a couple of Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) and various wintering Duck-species in large numbers were present. We also watched a flock of close to 1000 Black-tailed Godwits (Limosa limosa) feeding in a drained salt pan together with Pied Avocets and many other wader species. Among the birds of prey, Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus), 8 Booted Eagles (Aquila pennata) and a Black-winged Kite (Elanus caeruleus) could be added to the day list.

On Tuesday, the 23rd, we did a two and a half hours pelagic boat-trip out to the sea from Fuzeta (east Algarve). Despite the rainy weather (the boat has a cabin fortunately) it has been a successful Trip. We saw at least 50 European-Storm Petrels (Hydrobates pelagicus), 2 Balearic Shearwaters (Puffinus mauretanicus) lots of Great Skuas (Stercorarius skua)- at least 15 Ind, sometimes 5 around the boat at the same time, roughly 250 Northern Gannets (Morus bassanus) including many adults now, including 1 bird almost colliding with the boat when we approached a trawler about 6 Miles out... A new species for the year-list but not completely surprising, was a single Atlantik Puffin (Fratercula arctica) diving and then taking off close to the boat. We also saw a distant school of Dolphins (probably Common-) which we did not approach, because we were just "chasing" the seabirds at this moment, plus an Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) next to the boat.

The day before, Monday, the 22nd of November, I went to the Baixo Alentejo with a party of people. We found all the main target-species during the morning, including several groups of Great Bustards (Otis tarda), a feeding flock of 70+ Little Bustards (tetrax tetrax), small groups of Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles orientalis) flying and a flock of around 100 Common Cranes (Grus grus). From a hillside, we spotted 14 Griffon Vultures soaring in a thermal at quite a distance - a rather late date for this species here. A single Black Vulture (Aegypius monachus) was with them and an adult Bonelli's Eagle (Aquila fasciata) also joined the soaring birds for a while.
Earlier in the morning, we had already watched a juvenile Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aquila adalberti) perched on a pile of stones, presumably his night-roost, with the telescope, as well as a Black-winged Kite (Elanus caeruleus) hovering next to the road.
On our way back, we stopped at a lagoon on the coast, where we had excellent views of Bluethroats (Lusciana svecica) and also saw various waders and other aquatic birds, including Glossy Ibis, as well as Caspian Tern (Sterna caspia) and Mediterranean Gull (Larus melanocephalus).

The Friday before (19th) I had been on a Alentejo-Tour already which has been just as good and also included all the main target species, with some slight differences. We did not get any Vultures, but observed two immature Spanish Imperial Eagles (Aquila adalberti) close together on the ground, where they were competing about a small carcase. One bird showing heavy moult in the primaries and the pale and streaked plumage on both indicated, that they were in their 2nd or 3rd year. Besides the numerous Red Kites (Milvus milvus) in the area, we also saw a juvenile Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) and observed a hunting Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) which caused quite a panic among the present Lapwings, Black-bellied Sandgrouses and Golden Plovers.

Recent sightings from the west-coast of Portugal suggest that we might get another good winter for North Atlantic Gulls and wintering Passerines here - Let's hope so !

Drake Teal (Anas crecca) almost in full breeding plumage. Faro, 23rd Nov 2010.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sacred Ibis

Photographed this Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus) in the Ria Formosa Natural Park near Faro-beach today.
Several sightings of at least 2 Individuals of this "Exotic" bird have been made in central-Algarve wetlands over the past weeks. The species, originally from Sub-Saharian Africa, has formed colonies in several European countries, which are based on Zoo-escapes. Neozoa are a global issue of our time and not a big deal in most cases, but this one is one of the few species with some "conflict potential", because it has been found to be able to do big harm to other nesting aquatic birds up to the complete elimination of whole seabird-colonies by killing the young and eating up the eggs. This excellent article here Yésou, P. & Clergeau, P. 2005 Sacred Ibis: a new invasive species in Europe. Birding World 18 (12): 517-526. is based on the experiences in France and gives all the details, including many photos and plates. Note the hint regarding the negative experiences with the species (on Page 525) which has lead to a "culling" project in France.
Regarding the situation in Portugal, it says on page 520: "(...) three Sacred Ibises found near Coimbra, Portugal, in early 1998 were thought possibly to have bred in the area, as the group increased to six by the end of the year; they disappeared thereafter (Gonçalo Elias pers. comm.)."
So, definitely a nice bird, should feel free to visit here all the time, but please don't nest here (or disappear thereafter !)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Soaring Raptors

Booted Eagle (Aquila pennata) pale Morph. Faro, Nov-2010. Photo: David Rayner. What a photo, David. Great details... Thanks a lot for sharing ! (click on the photo for magnification)

Griffon Vulture (Gyps vulvus) juvenile. Vilamoura, 03-Nov-2010. Photo: David Rayner. Impressive bird !

Friday, November 5, 2010

Griffons "en masse" and more...

Early yesterday morning I drove to the West-coast, to do some field-work for an impact-study near Aljezur. Around midday, I spent two hours at on raptor-watchpoint, where I had god views of an dark morph Booted Eagle (Aquila pennata) and a pair of Short-toed Eagles (Circaetus gallicus) circling above the farmland and the surrounding hills. Well a dozen Crag Martins (Ptyonoprogne rupestris) were catching insects in the air and the surrounding bushes were filled with European Robins. Around 2 o´clock, after I watched a thermal with 10 soaring White Storks, I saw this distant, huge thermal... and as suspected, they were Griffon Vultures (Gyps vulvus) and there were a lot. I then noticed more of these huge thermals further north, while in the south already birds began to glide straight in southern direction. In between the thermals, birds flew from one to the other and further below, single birds split from the large groups and seem to explore the hills on their own. All of them must have been terribly starving, because there is never enough food for this numbers of Vultures in our cleaned up environment. Feeding might just be enough to "keep" the majority of them "going". I counted/estimated a total of around 900 Ind. in at least 5 big groups which I could see simultaneously. Unfortunately the flocks were too far to discover other species in them, which normally is the case and both, the Eurasian Black Vulture (Aegypius monachus) and the African Rüppell's Vulture (Gyps rueppellii) follow the migrating Griffon Vulture-flocks.
Exhausted Vultures are collected every autumn along the Algarve and brought to the recovery-centre (RIAS) in Olhão, where they get help. If you are in South Portugal and find an injured or weakened Vulture or other bird or wild animal, you can bring it to this rehabilitation-center, the contact of RIAS is Tlm.: 927659313, e-mail: - you can visit their blog here: They are specialized in wild animals and sometimes local vets don´t know what to do in such a case... If you can not catch the animal yourself, you can call the police for the protection of the environment SEPNA (GNR) Portimão, or T.: 808 200 520 in urgent cases (also forest fire etc.) for the whole country (sos ambiente e território) – , which will do the job and deliver the animal. Many thanks to Thjis Valkenburg for sharing this information.

Looking east from Aljezur, towards the Monchique-mountains.

On Thursday I have been guiding a party of 3 people around Vilamoura, where, when we were still in the car and before we reached our actual first stop, one of them spotted a circling raptor nearby above a golf course. It was a single Griffon Vultures soaring at about 40m above the green ! The huge bird approached us (we had pulled in at the road side) and finally almost flew over, giving great views (I am looking forward to some photos ;-)
We found the Penduline Tits we were looking for, but they did not show themselves, calling nicely on 3 different spots, but we did not see a single one this day ! Watervowl was easier, and a (distant) White-headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephala) and at least two Ferruginous Ducks (Aythya nyroca) were good encounters. Other birds of prey included Booted Eagle (pale morph), Black-winged Kite (Elanus caeruleus) and a couple of Marsh Harriers. We finished the afternoon with observations of Bluethroats (Luscinia svecica) and waders near Faro.

White-headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephala) first winter. Vilamoura, 03-11-2010.

This morning I observed this juvenile Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) in Ria Formosa near Faro-beach, feeding on his catch.

Just recalling now, that a quick visit at Salgados-lagoon yesterday (04-11-2010) produced two late Whiskered Terns (Chlidonias hybridus) and at least five first winter Little Gulls (Larus minutus) among many other birds in the area.