Monday, July 11, 2016

Kelp Gull in the Algarve today

Kelp Gull (Larus domincanus) is a southern hemisphere gull and breeds during the north winter, coastal mostly, in Southern Africa, South America, Antarctica, South Australia and New Zealand. It is a very rare vagrant to the Western Palearctic (Morocco mainly).
This bird here was found by Thijs Falkenburg on July, 5th in Olhão ("Quinta do Marim"). It belongs to the subspecies L.d. vetula ("Cape Gull") which breeds in Southern Africa. Cape Gulls are the largest among this species and they are particularly long-legged like this bird. Also the olive-green tinge to the leggs is typical, the crown is flat and the bill is heavy with a deep gonys angle, all together being jizz-wise much closer to a Greater black-backed Gull (Larus marinus) than to the also very dark-backed nominate form of Lesser-black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus fuscus), especially when dealing with an adult male, like in this case. An (older) article on Kelp Gull ID is here.
A curiosity is, that Thijs also found the first Kelp Gull for the Algarve (on 14-Aug-2013) only a few kms further west, at sewage works (ETAR) between Faro and Olhão (possibly the same bird?). Now this time this Kelp Gull showed up right at his work place, the recovery centre for injured birds and other wildlife (RIAS) in "Quinta do Marim", Olhão, sitting upon the cages containing chicks of Yellow-legged Gulls (Larus michahellis) and showing up there daily since about one week now. This is where I took these photos this morning (11-July-2016). So far this bird is the 5th record for Portugal.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Pelagic off Olhão

(all photos are clickable to enhance)
Yesterday morning, 5th of July, we went out on a boat with Passeios Ria Formosa (Fuzeta), this time departing from next to the Real Marina Hotel in Olhão and headed for the waters off Culatra Island. There was an overcast in the beginning, therefore not a hot morning, calm sea and hardly any noticeable wind. The light improved along the trip. Despite not getting any fishing vessel within reachable distance, it turned out to be a very successful trip.

Great Shearwater (Ardenna gravis) with Cory's Shearwaters (Calonectris borealis) off Culatra Island, 05-Jul-2016.

For more than one hour we were basically surrounded by a huge pod of over 100 Short-beaked Common Dolphins (Delphinus delphis) and also well over 100 Cory's Shearwaters (Calonectris borealis) among which we coud also identify and photograph at least three Scopoli's Shearwaters (Calonectris diomedea) a species (or still a subspecies, depending on systematic - but have a look here). There are only a hand full of records of this taxon in the Algarve so far anyhow and as far as I know none of them documented by photos. On the other hand, Scopoli's mainly breeds in the Mediterranean and winters in the South Atlantic, so occurance in Algarvian waters during non-breeding season at least makes sense. Identification in the field is often not straight forward (good views or better, photos of the underwing neccessary) and therefore the few Scopoli's among the majority of Cory's go easily unidentified.

Scopoli's Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea) off Culatra Island (Olhão) 05-Jul-2016. Note 
the white extending into the wing tip (web of primaries).

After searching for quite a while, we also spotted two Sooty Shearwaters (Ardenna griseus) and finally a single Great Shearwater (Ardenna gravis) - both giving great and close views and this is only the very beginning of the season for both species.

Great Shearwater (Ardenna gravis) with Cory's Shearwater (Calonectris borealis) in the background.
Off Culatra Island, 05-Jul-2016.

Cory's Shearwater (Calonectris borealis). Off Culatra Island, 05-Jul-2016.

We also encountered Storm Petrels, among them Wilson's SP and European SP - perhaps three or four Ind. of each species, but did not get the best views, because without the birds foraging (next to a fishing boat pulling in the net, for instance) but only travelling, even photographing them is not an easy task. However, we managed at least record shots and thought to have found also one "Band-rumped Storm Petrel". The now potentially 4 species in this species-complex (compare Robb et al., 2008) were previously all lumped as Madeiran Storm Petrel (Oceanodroma castro or Hydrobates castro). Systematic here is not uniform and field-ID within the "Band-rumped SP -complex" is very difficult if not impossible, but have a look  here). Interesting is that also the recently published "Atlas of Marine birds in Portugal" (in Portuguese) shows the occurence of this species in Algarvian waters.
However, after reviewing the ID and getting expert opinions, it turned out to be "just" a Wilson's SP flying with feet retracted and therefore completely lacking feet projection over the tail, one of the most usefull fetaures to ID Wilson's in the field. The Storm Petrel in question also shows a too short arm and too weak bill to be a possible "Band-rumped". We will keep looking....

Wilson's Storm Petrel (Oceanites oceanicus) off Culatra Island (Olhão) 05-Jul-2016.

The following five photos show a potential "Band-rumped Storm Petrel" we saw during the trip. But for the reasons explained above, it turned out to be another Wilson's Storm Petrel in the end.

Expert opinion on the above Storm Petrel by Bob Flood is here:

In my opinion, this is a Wilson's Storm-petrel. It has a small squarish head and slim bill (Band-rumped has bulkier head and deeper bill, even the smaller forms). The arms are short and broad, hands medium length, and wing tips pointed (Band-rumps have medium-length arms, long hands, while some forms do have fairly pointed wing tips). The leading edge of the wing is moderately angular, but the trailing edge is fairly straight in most shots (typically angular in Band-rumps). I don't think the tail is really forked; this may be an impression given by a toe projection. It has a long caudal projection (rear carriage behind wing, longer than Band-rumps). The head, body and tail are fairly sleek (unlike Band-rumps). The white 'rump patch' folds over to the underside and joins the thigh patches (depth greater than N Atlantic Band-rumps). The upperwing ulnar bars are variable in intensity in Wilson's and we see quite a few with dullish bars, as this bird (affected by wear and bleaching). Second-year and older Wilson's start moult by early June, but juveniles do not start the complete preformative moult until at least mid July, most later, so presumably this is a juvenile (plumage looks pretty fresh). By the way, it always helps if you describe flight behaviour, because this can be very important in storm-petrel ID.
Hope this is of use.

Robert L. Flood DSc, PhD, BSc (1st Hons)
Twitter: @Scillypelagics

Naturally we saw many Northern Gannets and also had one immature Pomarine Skua (Stercorarius pomarinus) flying over.

New dates for Pelagics have been scheduled on my website here. Available dates are: July, 22nd; August, 2nd; August 12th; August 25th; September 6th; September 30th; October, 13th. We can organize a pelagic at any time between June and October/November when the participation of min. 4 people is assured.

 Pomarine Skua (Stercorarius pomarinus) pale morph juvenile flying over. C. 3 miles off Culatra Island, 5th of July 2016.

Fresh juvenile Audouin's Gull (Ichthyaetus audouinii) in Ria Formosa, next to Olhão on the way back in. In the background: Caspian Tern, Sandwich Terns and an adult Yellow-legged Gull. July, 5th, 2016.

Fresh juvenile Audouin's Gull (Ichthyaetus audouinii) in Ria Formosa, next to Olhão on the way back in. In the background: Caspian Tern, Sandwich Terns and an adult Yellow-legged Gull. July, 5th, 2016.

And the Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia) turned out to be color-ringed. Red: FY2. Still looking for the program...

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater in the Algarve

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater / Abelharuco-persa / Blauwangenspint (Merops persicus) in Fuzeta-saltpans (Algarve)
on April 18th, 2016. Foto: Georg Schreier.  This is only the 2nd record for Portugal.

It was Monday, late afternoon, when I sat in a bird hide near Faro for some "easy birding" in my own pace, to relax after an eight days group-journey I had been guiding. The phone rang and my friend João Tiago Tavares brought me the news, that a Blue-cheeked Bee-eater had just been found by João Ferreira (whom I do not know) west of Fuzeta, near the saltpans. After making shure I got the directions to the exact location, I was on my way. Shortly after I parked my car near the spot, other observers familiar to me arrived. We spread out over the area - a mix of arid farmland and gardens, abandoned fruit orchards and a small sand pit with two- or three nest tunnels of European Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) which were feeding in the area and perched occasionally on the telegraph wires. But no sign of the bird. Soon it was clear to me, that the Bee-eaters present were only the local breeding birds and "our" bird must have been with Bee-eaters still on migration and therefore already passed on. I informed the others, that I would go and try my luck on the other (east) side of the village, where I was going to look out for flocks of Bee-eaters in the salt pans. After a little search there, I found a gathering of about 15 Ind. on the east side of the saltpans, close to Arroteia de Baixo, feeding and perching on wires. I approached the area on foot and finally - was that Bee-eater catching the insect just now and perching on the wire not greener than the others?? A look in the Bins confirmed - Yes, here it was! Quickly taking a few photos ( I was perhaps still 100m away) and calling the others. Still on the phone, the entire flock got up in the air and came my way. The marvellous "Green" Bee-eater with them flying by now in about half of the distance, showing its red underwing and the extremely long tail skimmers. Me, still on the phone, missing the third hand to get the flight shot and having to let the bird pass by and moving on...
The following search for the flock that have seemed to move on eastwards, following the coast line and stopping over in suitable habitat from time to time, for feeding, did not produce any result.
So I remained the one lucky guy, who was able to get a photo of this bird and the only one, who saw it after the finder.
Earlier that day, Western Orphean Warbler (Sylvia hortensis) and Melodious Warbler (Hippolais polyglotta) both near my home near São Brâs de Alportel, had been new birds for this year for me. The rather wet and windy April so far had not been great for spring migrants and birds arrived rather late. But some strong southwesterlies were responsible for bringing this "green jewel" into these parts, overshooting on its spring migration to its northernmost breeding grounds in Marokko supposedly. A good candidate for the bird of the year!

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater / Abelharuco-persa / Blauwangenspint (Merops persicus) in Fuzeta-saltpans (Algarve) 
on April 18th, 2016. Foto: Georg Schreier.  This is only the 2nd record for Portugal. One of only a few record shots I managed to take out of some distance, before the flock (of European Bee-eaters) moved on further east and disappeared with this bird. 
European Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) at the same site. The "carrier species".

Summer is almost here now and in June, the season for Pelagic Boat-trips will start. I have a number of trips scheduled already and first people have booked. Please send me an e-mail to reserve your seat(s). All the necessary Info is on my website here:

Monday, March 28, 2016

Spring migrants keep arriving

Great Spotted Cuckoo (Clamator glandarius) near Lagoa dos Salgados (Silves) on 19-03-2016. The species arrives as early as mid February in South Portugal, but adults already head back to Africa during May. Since their favourite host species is the Common Magpie (Pica pica) the distribution of the two species pretty much merges in the Algarve and the Baixo Alentejo-region. The species is very vocal and often can be detected by their giggling calls.

Adult male Spectecled Warbler (Sylvia conspicillata) near Sagres (Vila do Bispo) on 26-03-2016. This small Sylvian Warbler, somewhat resembling a miniature Common Whitethroat, is only locally distributed along the Algarve coast, basically in the extreme west- and east of the region. It favours very low shrub and open countryside, such as dry salt marsh or the Garigue of the hinterland of the Cape of Sagres and São Vicente. 

Male Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) over its breeding territory in a reed bed in Portimão-area on 26-03-2016.

Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus (2nd calender year) near Vilamoura (Parque Ambiental) on March 7th, 2016. The species is a wintering bird in the area and prefers open country side like marhes, fields or steppe land.

Male Great Bustards (Otis tarda) in the "pseudosteppe" of the Baixo Alentejo-region in Castro Verde-area. I took this photo out of the car during a tour in the region on March 9th, 2016.

Regarding rarities over the past weeks in the Algarve, this first winter Bonaparte's Gull (Croicocephalus philadelphia) I found at Lagoa dos Salgados (Silves) on March 19th, 2016 has been one of the most interesting birds. Might be overlooked among Black-headed Gulls, but note the more delicate and blackish bill and grey head- and necksides, as well as light pinkish legs on this digiscoping shot I took on a second visit at the site on March, 26th.
Other rarities included an adult male Citrine Wagtail, also near Lagoa dos Salgados. Unfortunately the information about the presence of this very rare vagrant to Portugal (3 records so far) had been passed on after days only and the bird was gone before it was made public...  the male Bufflehead is still present at "Altura-reservoir" (near Monte Gordo) as today.

First winter Bonaparte's Gull (Croicocephalus philadelphia) at Lagoa dos Salgados (Silves), March 19th, 2016 (left) in comparison to Black-headed Gull (also late first winter) on the right. Compare upperwing-pattern - note the evenly fine and well defined trailing edge of the wing on the Bonaparte's Gull on the left. [You can always click the photos to blow them up a bit].

Another record shot of the same bird as above -first winter Bonaparte's Gull (Croicocephalus philadelphia) in flight (the bird below) - note the all white underwing with dark trailing edge and compare to the underwing (primaries) of a Black-headed Gull Croicocephalus ridibundus. Feeding action of Bonaparte's Gull also resembling a Marsh Tern Sp. / Little Gullat times. (Video: click here ).

One more rare visitor from North America present at Lagoa dos Salgados the same day as the above Gull and also self-found a couple of days before - Ring-necked Duck (Athya collaris) adult male, with Common Pochard. (March, 19th, 2016).

Friday, February 12, 2016

Scotish Osprey, Short-eared Owl and Snow Finch

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) in Ria Formosa Natural Park, near Faro-airport, 22-Jan-2016. I had a close
 encounter with this bird just before sunset...

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) near Faro-airport, 22-Jan-2016. The same Ind. as above. 
I also observed this species in Tavira-area and others were found at Ria de Alvor. This wintering birds 
arrived rather late in the winter though this year, due to relatively mild temperatures in the north.

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) looking down on me, yesterday, 11-Feb-2016 in "Ludo" (Faro). This bird
has been ringed as a juvenile in South Scotland. Information I received from the ringer: "CK4 was 
ringed in the tweed valley (Scottish borders) from a brood of 2 chicks on 26/06/2012 
BTO number 1445932."

Osprey - Another Ind. (2nd calender year) without a ring, was accompanying the above bird.
Counts in the last two winters showed that about 10 Ind, of this species winter in the areas of the
Ria Formosa Natural Park between Tavira and Quinta do Lago. 11-Feb-2016.

Female Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus) near Aljezur, 01-Feb-2016. This species is mainly found in the western Algarve,
 at the west coast and around Monchique.

This White-winged Snowfich (Montifingrilla nivalis) is the first documented record of this species in Portugal
 since 2005. It has been found near Praia de Armoreira, Aljezur on 31-Jan-2016 by Nuno Dosantos and was
still at the same location today. It breeds in the high mountain ranges of the Alps and the Pyrenees.
I took this foto on February, 1st. For me this is my 322nd bird species seen in the Algarve.

A feeding flock of Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) at a rice paddy between Lagoa and Silves.
The numbers of this fascinating bird species have increased over the last decade - here as
in all western Europe (you can click the image to zoom in).

Friday, January 8, 2016

Happy new year 2016 !

... and peace and health to all of you.

I include here a couple of photos - all taken on a tour during the week before Christmas 2015 - most photos showing typical species found up in the Baixo Alentejo plains.

Regarding rarities - I "co-found" a first winter Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus) on December, 18th in Sagres harbor and another one near Portimão, in the small harbor-bay of Ferragudo on December, 27th. Both birds practically still in juvenile plumage. There was (and probably still is today) also a Rock Pipit (Anthus petrosus) and an unusual obliging Shag. A Richard's Pipit (Anthus richardi) was on December, 19th in the fields west of Lagoa dos Salgados (Silves) where I found wintering birds in years before. a pair of Ring-necked Ducks (Aythya collaris) has been on a sewage work near Vilamoura for a couple of weeks in December, but seems to have gone now. A female or first winter Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola), another vagrant Duck species from North America has been found by June Taylor and Peter Dedicoat at a small lake near Aldeia Nova (Monte Gordo) in the pine forest of "Mata Nacional" on January, 3rd 2016. I relocated the (very nervous) bird the next morning on the nearby tank (east) of Altura. Curently it seems to frequently exchange places between this two sites. Also rather unusual - a Great (White) Egret in Ludo still on January, 1st.

To be continued...