Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Yellow-browed Warbler and other rare autumn vagrants

Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus) "Mata de Liceu", Faro (town). November, 6th 2018. Photo: GS. 

During October and November each year, Yellow-browed Warblers (Phylloscopus inornatus) appear in the Algarve and in increasing numbers over the past five years. These tiny Siberian vagrants go often undetected, especially when they are silent. This Ind. here however was very vocal (as they often are) and I found it accidently when walking a dog in a park ("Mata de Liceu") in the middle of Faro (!) yesterday afternoon, 06-Nov-2018. It seemed to live in- and around a single, massive Cork Oak, but showed in an Araucaria tree, for the photos I include here. It may overwinter at this spot, as another one did last winter, only a couple of hundred meters away. Listen to their diagnostic two syllable calls here: xeno-canto. An overview of the development of records of this species in Portugal over the past three decades is here on Aves de Portugal.

Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus) "Mata de Liceu", Faro (town). November, 6th 2018. Photo: GS.
Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus) near Alportel, central-Algarve, November, 2nd 2018. Photo: GS.
This particular spot "works" for the third consecutive year for me now.

A similar, but yet smaller and rarer autumn leave Warbler is the Pallas's Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus proregulus) distinguished by a yellowish central crown stripe and yellowish/light greenish rump. This species has only three records for Portugal so far, including a bird that was seen from the 27th to the 31st of December 2017 and found by a visiting Swedish birder at "Fonte Benémola", a valley in the lime stone belt (Barrocal) of the Algarve, not far from Loulé, with a high diversity of plants and birds found along a stream with a dense river gallery. The finder detected the hovering bird, showing its characteristic light colored rump patch. I have been there to "twitch" the bird - not an easy task, since it was silent and using quite a big area along the valley. At the end of the day however, it always showed near a little dam in the river for some moments, allowing some quick photos and observations in the fading light of a winter day... what a fascinating little visitor. An interesting and useful autumn leaf Warbler photo ID-Guide is here on Bird Guides.

Pallas's Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus proregulus) Fonte Benémola (Loulé). December, 31st 2017. This and the following photos: GS.

Pallas's Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus proregulus) Fonte Benémola (Loulé). December, 31st 2017.

Pallas's Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus proregulus) Fonte Benémola (Loulé). December, 31st 2017.

Pallas's Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus proregulus) Fonte Benémola (Loulé). December, 31st 2017.
Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio) is also extremely rare in the Algarve, but there is a breeding population in the north of Portugal (Gerês) and I have observed them there, only a couple of hundred km away. Why is it hardly ever seen in the Algarve, despite beeing a Trans-Sahara migrant, wintering in Southern Africa? Researchers found out, that the entire European population migrates around the eastern Mediterranean and only then southwards, meaning for the populations in Western Europe (including north Portugal) to migrate eastwards, instead of southwards! The scientific paper with these findings is here: Article
So I was quite exited, when I found a juvenile of this species a couple of weeks ago near a beach (Praia de Loulé Velho) between "Vale do Garrão" and Quarteira ! I took several "phonescoped" videos with the Iphone through the brilliant Swarovski ATX-85-telescope, using also the Swarovski adapter. Here you can watch two of them: Red-backed Shrike (1) and Red-backed Shrike (2)
The second, shorter video, shows the plain reddish-brown (slightly barred) upperparts and the non-graduated tail, when paused at the right moment, thus excluding other vagrant Shrike species, among them Brown Shrike (Lanius cristatus). To distinguish it from the here common Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator) have a look here: pdf. A very good article on the Id-problematic of Red-backed-, Isabelline- and Brown Shrikes is here on Dutch Birding.

Green Heron (Butorides virescens) at Lagoa de São Lourenço (Quinta do Lago, Loulé) on October, 24th 2018. This bird is the 1st for continental Portugal. Photo:GS.
One of the "highlights" of this rarities-season in the Algarve so far, has been the finding of a Green Heron (Butorides viriscens) at the golf-course lake of Quinta do Lago around the 20th of October. The small Heron had been seen by several people, but misidentified as a Little Bittern (!) at first and so the news about the "Mega" arrived at the local birding comunity with a delay. This North American bird must have been "carried over" by one of the severe Atlantic storms in October and its still at the location today. Meanwhile a second Ind. has been found near Lisbon. Most fascinating for me was witnissing this birds clever "fishing-skills". It at first catches an insect (wasp, dragonfly) only to then place it deliberately on the surface of the water right in front of itself and waites patiently for a fish to appear and take the bait. Then it strikes... interesting question how a behavior like this becomes genetically fixed (as it surely is on this species, just like a spider "knows" how to web...).
A Red-knobbed Coot (Fulica cristata), also called Crested Coot :) was on the same lake.

A Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatillis) is for the third consecutive winter now at a place between Faro and Olhão
 (Parque Natural da Ria Formosa). Photo:GS.

While Grey-and Red-necked Phalaropes are already very scarce, but are still seen anually in the Algarve, the North American Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) is truely rare. One bird in winter plumage has been found now in a rice field near the town of Lagoa some days ago and was still there today. It can be distinguished from its relatives by the longer bill and neck, as well as yellowish legs and the lack of a wing bar, among others.
These rice fields are extremely bird rich as they offer a lot of food for the birds. Crustaceans, like the invasive Louisiana Crayfish (Procambarus clarkii) for example. Hence the Phalarope shared the site with 1000+ Glossy Ibis (!), flocks of White Storks, Greater Flamingos and Eurasian Spoonbills, Lots of Black-winged Stilts, Black-tailed Godwits, Ruff, Common Snipe, Green Sandpiper, Water Pipit etc. I include here some pictures and two videos from yesterday. This is an exiting time here in the Algarve!

Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) in winter plumage near Lagoa, Algarve. Nov., 6th 2018. Photo: GS.

Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) in winter plumage near Lagoa, Algarve. Nov., 6th 2018. Photo: GS.

Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) in winter plumage near Lagoa, Algarve. Nov., 6th 2018. Photo: GS.

Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) in winter plumage near Lagoa, Algarve. Nov., 6th 2018. Photo: GS.

Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) in winter plumage near Lagoa, Algarve. Nov., 6th 2018. Photo: GS.

Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) in winter plumage near Lagoa, Algarve. Nov., 6th 2018. Photo: GS.

Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) in winter plumage near Lagoa, Algarve. Nov., 6th 2018. Photo: GS.

Two videos of the Wilson's Phalarope are here: Wilsons's Phalarope (1) and Wilsons's Phalarope (2)
Updates and locations of rare birds found in the Algarve, are shared on the public facebook-group: Rare Birds Algarve.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Spanish Imperial Eagle

This and all above photos: Spanish Imperial Eagle / Águia-Imperial Iberica / Spanischer Kaiseradler (Aquila adalberti) adult. Baixo Alentejo-region, South Portugal, 23-May-2018. Photo: Georg Schreier. [All images can be clicked to enlarge].

There are these moments in your life as a naturalist or birdwatcher, that you will never forget. Often unexpected, you suddenly become a witness of Nature's great beauty and impressive force and you can only go like: "Wow!" . Watching a full adult Spanish Imperial Eagle flying towards you and then passing us by at a distance of less than 50 meters absolutely falls into this category. A moment like this you can not plan, but since there are now 15 breeding pairs of this species in south and east Portugal again, it is a species we see with regularity and it can be a target species for a day tour to the interior south Portugal, even though it s still hard to guarantee observations and one should not expect to see it as close as this. The Iberian Imperial Eagle (as it should actually be rightfully called) nested in 2003 for the first time in Portugal again, after for decades no breeding record had been obtained. Most pairs choose to settle in large private hunting estates, as these properties are closed to the public and a high population of prey (most importantly rabbits) exists. Population pressure from the increasing population of neighbouring Spain, based on a successful conservation program there, surely played an important role in its return to Portugal as a breeding species. The young Portuguese conservation program "Life Imperial" still faces a lot of difficulties, but the increase to the now 15 pairs in 2017 and 2018 makes it already a success story.
Useful and interesting information on the species and its conservation in Portugal (also in English) can be found here:
I wrote a six pages article for the April 2018 - edition of Germany's leading bird magazine "Der Falke" on the bird life of Portugal's Baixo Alentejo-region, highlighting also the return of Iberias "King of birds" to Portugal as a breeding bird:

A young immature (2nd calender year) Sp. Imperial Eagle (Aquila dalberti) soaring together with a young
Eurasian Black Vulture (Aegipius monachus) also 2nd c.y., in the "steppe" region of south Portugal,
19-April-2018. Photo: Georg Schreier.

Yesterday, 18.06.2018, I saw a Little Swift (Apus affinis) near Cape S. Vincent, the Algarve's western cape ! It was feeding in an area, where also a good gathering of the local breeding Pallid Swifts (Apus pallidus) and Alpine Swifts (T. melba) took place. This species nests in Morocco and there are some small colonies near the Strait of Gibraltar in Spain (Chipiona-harbor, f. i.) but not in Portugal, as far as known and is a rare vagrant with less than one observation per year. Over the last week alone however, five observations in different locations in the west Algarve (including also Foia/Monchique and the Alvor estuary had been made, three of which by a single observer, suggesting that we have an influx of this species in the Algarve right now. I tried my luck yesterday and managed to find one! For me a new bird for Portugal and species number 334 for the Algarve-region. Ironically I only recently watched this species in South Morocco, during a great 8-days birding trip in late March/ early April this year, into the high Atlas mountains and the Sahara desert. If you plan on this (and I can only say its worth while) you should contact who organized an unforgettable and very successful day trip for the desert specialities for us from Merzouga. I took tons of photos and might post some of them here on this blog later. 

Little Swift (Apus affinis) is not easy to photograph in flight .... note the square cut off tail and the white rump-patch visible on the flanks. Marrakesh, Morocco, 31st of March 2018. Photo: Georg Schreier.

Regarding rarities in the Algarve, there is a good network of observers here and we exchange information. I created a facebook-page for this purpose only, which you can join here when looked into your own facebook account: Rare Birds Algarve
A good number of rarities I found myself this last winter and spring, including a Sociable Lapwing at Lagoa dos Salgados in November (later seen by many as it stood there till March) a 1st winter Caspian Gull, Lesser Yellowlegs, two different Pectoral Sandpipers, another (now anual) Yellow-browed Warbler and a Spotted Sandpiper in March at the Ria Formosa in Olhão, which stood there until early May, when it was in full breeding plumage. Quite a looker! See for yourself ...

Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius), Olhão, 23-April-2018. A very rare vagrant from North America... Photo: GS.

Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius), Olhão, 23-April-2018. Photo: Georg Schreier.

Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius), Olhão, 23-April-2018. Photo: Georg Schreier.

Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius), Olhão, 23-April-2018. Photo: Georg Schreier.

Finally - I highly recommend you join a Pelagic boat-trip to see Shearwaters, Skuas, Storm Petrels and others (often also Dolphins) off the Algarve coast ! Its one of the best things to do during the hot summer months... 
All information is on my website here:
The next scheduled trips are for July, 12th;  July, 21st (Saturday) and July, 31st so far (Fuzeta), other dates on request !
Some more trip reports of pelagics are here on this blog: here, here, here and here.
Hoping to see you soon !

Great Shearwater (Ardenna gravis) off Fuzeta, Algarve, 26-September-2017. Photo: Georg Schreier

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Spring birds

European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster). Algarve, April 2017. Photo: GS.

European Bee-eater is definitely one of the most emblematic bird species for spring in south Portugal. The first birds of this trans-Sahara migrant arrive during the second half of March at the Algarve coast, with most nest sites being occupied during April. Their wonderful flight calls are often the first sign of their arrival (usually a flock).

Male Western Black-eared Wheatear (Oenanthe hispanica). The species occurs around the Mediterranean, in a western (incl. the Iberian Peninsula) and an estern form, described as either distinct species or subspecies, depending on the systematic you choose to follow... what a beauty. Algarve, April 2017. Photo: GS.

The Black-eared Wheatear inhabits hot and arid areas with sparse vegetation and some rocks or barren ground, mainly found in the the higher altitudes of Serra do Caldeirão and along the Guadiana valley as well as further inland, in the open plains of the Baixo Alentejo. During spring migration however, in April or early May, they can show up everywhere along the Algarve coast, even in the dunes or on a golf course, if wind conditions are favourable.

Another male Western Black-eared Wheatear (Oenanthe hispanica). This species occurs in two different color morphs - a pale throated one (this photo) and one with a dark throat (the photo above). Algarve, April 2017. Photo: GS.

Subalpine Warbler (Sylvia cantillans). This male was found next to the sea and most probably flew in directly from north Africa during the previous night. Algarve, March 2017. Photo: GS.
 Subalpine Warblers are fairly common breeders in the hills of the Algarvian Serras, where they coexist with Dartford Warblers (Sylvia undata) and the widespread Sardinian Warblers (Sylvia melanocephala) in the same areas and sometimes the same habitat, with the latter two represents of the Sylvia-genus being residents. To make things a bit complicated, also for the Subalpine Warbler a "split" has been suggested, read this if you like. The first Subalpine W. arrive as early as late February or early March, depending on weather conditions.

Subalpine Warbler (Sylvia cantillans). Same Ind. as above. Algarve, March 2017. Photo: GS. 

Western Orphean Warbler (Sylvia hortensis) is a rather scarce breeder in the Algarve and not always easy to see. This adult male sings from his perch on top of a Holm Oak Tree (Quercus ilex) in a valley in the foothills of Serra do Caldeirão. Their short phrases of loud and full tones resemble rather a Thrush-species than a Warbler of this size. The white Iris on the male is diagnostic for this species. Serra do Caldeirão, 26-April-2017. Photo: GS.

Adult male Eurasian Golden Oriole (Oriolus orioulus). The Portuguese name for this species is "Papa-figos", meaning "Fig-eater" and it is something they actually do in late summer. This one here however is interested in the ripe fruits of the "Nêspera" (Loquat) in my front garden. I took this photo out of the kitchen window one morning. 07-May-2016.

The Great Spotted Cuckoo (Clamator glandarius) is an early messenger of spring and during February the first ones arrive (occasionally even in January). Baixo Alentejo-region, 14-April-2016. Photo: GS.

Also back quite early: The Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator). In the first half of March the first ones arrive usually here.

The Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris) inhabits open, arid landscapes with short and sparse vegetation.

Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris) the same Ind. as above. Sagres-area, 22-April-2017.

(Greater) Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla) shares the habitat with Tawny Pipit. One of 7 Lark-species breeding in south Portugal and the only one not wintering here. In March and April migratory flocks of the species may be encountered in dry salt marsh or barren farm land in the Algarve, the majority of birds nests further inland.

A male Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) seeking shelter on top of the sea cliffs of the west Algarve after a long flight over the sea in late March 2017.