Sunday, October 16, 2011

Travelling Coot

I've been catching up with reading blog posts this evening; one blog post from Kane Brides was particularly fascinating.

It's always interesting finding colour-ringed birds since there's a good chance they'll have some history to them and a good chance they'll be resighted again in the future.  Back at the end of 2010, I sent Kane a batch of Coot colour combinations Sands Lake on Merseyside.  Most of the birds had either been ringed there over the previous weeks, though some birds had moved 6 km down the coast from Southport Marina.  One of those birds was this one:

The above photo isn't mine, though, and it's not from Merseyside; it's Kane's and it's from Slimbridge WWT, Gloucestershire!  Quite a remarkable movement for a species that I think I've only ever seen fly properly twice in my life; even more so when you realise than in between times the bird has also been sighted in Stockport—but where did it breed, I wonder. Very nice too to follow the tracks of a bird I've personally seen; and amazing that a bird Kane ringed has gone and followed him down south.

Photo and map from Kane's blog.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Portugal - the final day

I'm back in the UK now after a wonderful time in Portugal; I can't praise the work of João and João highly enough, and also the excellent work being done by everyone else we met out there.

We finished the trip with excellent views of two Blue Rock Thrushes outside the hotel, along with Azure-winged Magpies, an adult male Black Redstart, Crag Martins, Red-rumped Swallows etc etc.  Then it was off to Lisbon airport to catch our flight home.

A few websites worth checking out:

Birds and Nature Tours – João Jara's guiding company.  João is possibly one of the nicest people you will ever have the pleasure of meeting, and a fantastic birder too having sat on e.g. the Portuguese rarities committee and the BirdLife Portugal board.  It's possible to organise specific trips for e.g. general birding, speciality species, photography etc.

Alentejo tourist information – Alentejo, the area in which most of our birding was done, proved fantastic for a wide variety of bird species, from bustards to White-rumped Swift.  The tourist information website gives details on visiting the area.

Mértola – The town in which we were based for the week.  An ideal place and stuffed full of history with several museums.

Algarve tourist information – Well known as a tourist destination but also an excellent area for birding.

Parque de Natureza de Noudar - Well equipped park, with bargain accommodation, on the Spanish border.

Reserva Natural do Sapal de Castro Marim – An excellent series of salt pans in the southeast corner of Portugal; the older nature reserve in the country and managed specifically for wildlife.

Castro Verde – An excellent area for steppe species.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Portugal - day 5

Today we headed northeast to Parque de Natureza de Noudar, near Barrancos on the Spanish border.  The park was fantastic; well equipped for visitors and also with accommodation for those who wanted to stay in the area for longer.  It was also, in my opinion, the most breathtaking location we've visited this week as far as scenery goes.

Highlights from the park were varied and included an Otter in the river that marks the border with Spain and hundreds (if not thousands) of Crimson Speckled moths.  The biggest surprise, however, came from the skies with an unexpected White-rumped Swift.

Also at least one Black Vulture.

Crag Martins were extremely common and we also caught up with species such as Rock Sparrow and Cirl Bunting.

Part of the park's "being well equipped for visitors" includes golf buggies, which visitors can take out for the day to explore the trails.  We couldn't resist.

(Almost) sunset on our final full day in Portugal:

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Portugal - day 4

It's been another long but highly enjoyable day. We headed south, to Algarve, where we started with a boat trip. Highlights included a wide range of wader species, a Slender-billed Gull, and a some Fiddler Crabs.

Next we visited some salt pans where we found a a Caspian Tern and a flock of Audouin's Gulls and more waders.

At a second site, we came across Booted Eagle, a juvenile Little Tern, a juvenile Common Tern and several more Caspian Terns.

At Quinta do Largo pool we got good views of Purple Swamp-hen and a juvenile Littler Bittern, plus Pochard, a male Tufted Duck, Red-crested Pochard, and plenty of Azure-winged Magpies.

We finished the day at a fantastic little reserve, Castro Marim—a series of working salt pans in the very southwest corner of Portugal—before heading back to Mértola for dinner with the mayor...

P.S. I will put together some sort of full trip report when I'm back and less in need of sleep. I'm really impressed with the birding out here, the hospitality, the food, and the place in general, and hopefully a full trip report with site details, contacts etc will prove useful for anyone else who might want to visit Portugal.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Portugal - day 3

This morning started much as yesterday did, less the Azure-winged Magpies and with the addition of a Little Owl and a Blue Rock Thrush.
Red-rumper over breakfast

Then we stepped things up a gear (ha) and headed for... the steppes.

Again, I'm keeping this brief since we're only just back at the hotel after our evening meal and I'm quite keen to get off to bed.

Despite the 34 °C temperatures, the birding has once again been fantastic.  We started with another Black Vulture, Calandra Larks and good numbers of Black-bellied Sandgrouse.

Soon we came across four eagles in the sky above us; two Bonelli's and two Spanish Imperial!

Spanish Imperials make Bonelli's look like tiddlers...

Then we had excellent views of Great Bustard.
This is uncropped:
Damn autofocus!

And here's what (predictably) happened next:

Thankfully these birds were slightly more co-operartive, though they were more distant (this photo has been cropped):

Two Hen Harriers and some Little Bustards were soon added to the day list.

Here are the two species in the same photograph. You might have to trust me on the Little Bustard part:

Good numbers of Red Kite were seen over the day, after a bit of searching we managed to find a late Lesser Kestrel, and we finished the day with absolutely stunning views of an immature Spanish Imperial Eagle perched on the ground.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Portugal - day 2

Another brief update after a full day in the field.

We've just got back from a fantastic meal of traditional local food in a local restaurant—typical of all our meals so far on this trip.

A bit of pre-breakfast birding-from-the-balcony produced Azure-winged Magpie, Sardinian Warbler, irbii Long-tailed Tit, and Crag Martins and Red-rumped Swallows mixed in amongst the House Martins.

Highlights from today have been eight Great Bustards (all females), a Black Vulture along with 20 or so Griffon Vultures, immature Bonelli's Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, plenty of Thekla Larks, a Garganey, several Dartford Warblers, Blue Rock Thrush, lots of Iberian Grey Shrikes, and probably other things that I've forgotten to mention.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Portugal - day 1

from Mértola Municipality, Portugal
So, here I am in Portugal.  I'll keep this brief since it's been a long day and my bed is calling.  I left a grey and drizzly Heathrow this morning along with Alan Tilmouth and two hours later I was in hot and sunny Lisbon.  We were met at the airport by João and José from the Mértola tourist board and ace birder João Jara from Birds & Nature then, along with Jan Södersved from Finnish birding magazine Linnut, we headed off to the Tagus Estuary to start as we meant to go on—birding.

We got off to an excellent start with massive numbers of White Storks, Spoonbills, Glossy Ibis and Greater Flamingos.

Also in the area were flocks of various waders, at least five Great White Egrets, and two Black-shouldered Kites.

After a spot of lunch, we headed to some small salt pans adjacent to the estuary; here we found large numbers of Kentish Plover, our first Black Redstart of the trip, and at least one Little Stint.

Nearby, at a fantastic private spot, we found three Ospreys, more Black-shouldered Kites (they soon went from  "wow look, Black-shouldered Kite" to "oh, it's only another Black-shouldered Kite"), a Peregrine, our first Spotless Starlings, and a small flock of Azure-winged Magpies feeding on what looked like an old bee's nest.

Next up, João J. took us to a spot on the edge of some farmland that turned out to be a veritable category C lister's wet dream.  In one ditch we had Black-headed Weavers (two males and a handful of female/juveniles), four Yellow-crowned Bishops (a moulting male and three female/juveniles), and more waxbills than you could ever have wished for.  Plus Great White Egret, Squacco Heron, Kingfisher, and more Black-shouldered Kites thrown in for those who like their birds a tad less... aviary.

Cat C overload

Weaver, Bishop & Waxbill - trusted solicitors since 1832

Then, a mere 90 minutes later we'd gone from coastal salt pans and feral finches to bustard county.  Admittedly it was after sunset and there wasn't any point in stopping—we're saving it for another day—but we did pick out some roadside Southern Grey Shrikes and more Azure-winged Magpies as we made our way to Mértola town, which is where we'll be based for this week.

So far, I'm extremely impressed with the birding that Portugal has got to offer—hopefully that will continue through the week!

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Back to Acton

This morning dawned bright but horrendously windy on Holy Island. Pre-breakfast sightings included (the) Yellow-browed Warbler in the back garden again and (the) male Great Spotted Woodpecker in the front garden.

A pre-lunch wander added Brambling to our trip list and a Yellow-browed Warbler was calling from the far end of the village; also this, which amused my simple little brain:

Then it was back on the train and down to sunny (or uncomfortably warm, at least) London.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Working away

We've swapped Acton for Holy Island this week. Highlight so far has been a Yellow-browed Warbler and a (potentially rarer on a local level) Great Spotted Woodpecker in the garden, and a female Hen Harrier hunting over nearby fields.
I didn't manage a picture of the warbler, largely because I haven't got a proper camera with me, but I did get this awful quality sound recording on my phone: YbW by Stephen Menzie