Portugal (April 18th to April 28th 2005) by John and Pauline Moore
References;- A Birdwatcher’s Guide to Portugal and Madeira, Moore, Elias and Costa. Finding Birds in Southern Portugal, D.Gosney.
Arrived Casa Rosa 10.30am. Afternoon spent walking donkey track at rear of apartments. Many Sardinian Warblers, Bee-eaters flying around and nesting in nearby sand piles, House Martins, Swallows and House Sparrows.
Within 400 metres of apartments had our first sight of five Azure-winged Magpies in trees, followed by Woodchat Shrike and probable Little Owl being mobbed by Blackbirds. Many Bee-eaters flying around and inevitable Collared Doves.
Tuesday March 19th. Castro Marim.
Following Gosney’s guide we made our way to the top of a small hill a few hundred metres from the visitors’ centre, obviously built since Gosney’s guide was published. He had Little Bustard in the open flood plain that was laid out below us, but the only bird we could see to begin with was a male Stonechat looking very bright. However, Pauline had her ‘bins trained on an area of land just below the nest of a White Stork. Not very clear at first, but gradually showing themselves more often, we were delighted to have a view of two Little Bustards.
Deciding to follow the creek we descended to the plain, but the Bustards had disappeared. A Grey-headed Yellow Wagtail was showing well and we had a brief glimpse of a Dartford Warbler. There were several White Storks flying overhead and two nests that had been constructed on the poles especially built for this purpose.
Following the creek along there were further Grey-headed Yellow Wagtails and in a creek on the right hand side we saw Coot and Little Grebe. Two Spoonbills flew in and Bee-eaters were perched in the bushes a little further on.
Retracing our outward path we saw Mallard in another pool, lots of Avocet disturbed by two harriers, one of which was a Marsh Harrier, the other probably a Montague’s Harrier. On the flood plain where the Bustards had been, we saw two Whimbrel, which were quickly joined by another 23 flying in from near the motorway. A Green Sandpiper flew past and a Kestrel was hunting over the bushes.
Wanting to get a closer look at the Avocet, we made our way towards the huge pile of salt, situated on the far side of the creek. Two Kentish Plover showed themselves and as we were ploughing through the brush we had a view of a Spanish Sparrow. In the salt pans themselves were Mallard, Coot, Redshank, Dunlin and more Kentish Plover. Unfortunately the workman at the salt pan would not let us go any further, so we returned to the main road and made our way back towards Vila Real de San Antoniou but not before we saw a Southern Grey Shrike perched at the top of a bush.
Noticing a large pool on the right of the road we turned round and were able to park opposite the pool without too much trouble. Little Terns were flying overhead and feeding off the small fish in the pool. Mallard, Coot, Black-headed Gulls and Yellow-legged Gulls were all present.
Deciding to go into Castro Marim we saw a track leading to salt pans and pigeon lofts. Although not particularly inviting we decided to take a chance to see what there might be. In the first pan there were three Curlew Sandpipers, two in their brick red breeding plumage. These were accompanied by Dunlin.
Proceeding along the track we eventually reached the banks of a tributary of the Guardiana. Swallows and House Martins were in abundance and on the far bank was a Common Sandpiper later joined by a second. We decided it was time to return to Lagoau and our apartment.
Wednesday April 20th Ria Formosa, Alhao.
We decided to follow the nature trail recommended by the reserve authorities. In a scrubby area opposite the picnic area were three Cattle Egrets.
The next habitat was a pine copse where we saw a Woodchat Shrike, but apart from Greenfinch, nothing else.
Having looked into the visitor’s centre we continued along the track where a Cuckoo flew over our heads. Reaching a set of salt pans and a fish rearing area we had a view of Black-headed Gulls and Little Egrets plus a Grey Heron.
Further along the track was a very obliging Kentish Plover, providing good digiscoping opportunities and a group of gulls, mainly Black-headed but with one 2nd year Yellow-legged gull. Three Turnstones were also accompanying the group. Walking further along the track we saw quite a few Sardinian Warblers and also a Thekla Lark, often singing from the top of a bush.
Proceeding to the fresh Water Pool we had Little Grebe, Mallard and Gadwall. There was also a colony of nesting Little Egrets. Turning our binoculars to the furthest end of the pool we had our first sighting of a Purple Gallinule, easily recognised by its size, its large bright red beak and red legs. We were fortunate to see it for about 20 seconds before it disappeared into the reeds and did not reappear for us. Moorhen were present on the pool serving as an excellent contrast to the Purple Gallinule in size and colouring. Coot were ever present as usual.
Near the bird hospital we came across a White Stork that had ignored the special post for its nest, and instead had chosen to build in a more precarious position on top of a roof.
Coming to a clearing of beech trees surrounding an olive grove we were attracted by a new call. Careful investigation eventually revealed a Golden Oriole, which quickly flew away. A Cetti’s Warbler was calling and was eventually located before flying off.
Continuing towards the reception area we came across a group of Goldfinch but a couple of birds attracted our attention as they were obviously very different from the Goldfinches. Located in a bush at the side of the track we had good views of two Cirl Buntings and when we were having our lunch in the picnic area we saw a single Serin.
We decided to call it a day after some very good birds, including two lifers, and returned to our apartment.
Thursday April 21st. Ria Formosa (Quinta do Lago and Ludo Farm.)
Trying to follow Gosney’s directions per his book did not work out. Many roads and signs have been changed. Consequently when we finally found Amancil off the N2, we found that the first turning left before the traffic lights was now one way and we had to take a left turn after the lights.
We followed this road as instructed over the various roundabouts, none of which now seemed to be playing music!, into Ayrton Senna Avenue and eventually arrived at the lake side. This lake appeared quite deserted except for a few Coot and a solitary Black-winged Stilt.
Further along the track we found several small creeks that contained Grey Plover and Whimbrel. A Ringed Plover was feeding along one of the connecting streams. Dunlin were everywhere and in one pool we found Knot and many more Dunlin plus Ringed Plover. Flying into the nearby pine copse were several Azure-winged Magpies plus two Hoopoe. Perched on the fence we saw a Rock Sparrow, easily identified by its yellow chin. Further pools contained more Dunlin and several Ringed Plover.
Making our way to the beach we found Kentish Plover, Sanderling and Turnstone. Flying out at sea were several Lesser Black-backed Gulls plus some juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls.
We then tried to find Ludo Farm, but finished up behind the airport having also been unable to locate the Montenegro site suggested by Gosney. There were several interesting salt pans around here but only Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Kentish Plover were present.
Retracing our steps we eventually managed to locate Ludo Farm off the airport roundabout. Proceeding to the freshwater lake we saw our first Great Crested Grebes, plus Little Grebe, Mallard, Gadwall, Coot and Grey Heron. A raptor appeared over the lake and was identified as a Red Kite.
Following the track towards Ludo Farm we asked permission to follow the track to the right of the farm. This was given and along this track we had Bee-eater, Crested Lark, Blackbird and perched in a tree the Red Kite was giving us a very good view. We decided to leave the remainder of Ludo Farm for another day.
Friday April 22nd. Castro Verde.
We decided that as far as possible we would follow the Gosney Guide. However we managed to get ourselves lost on the way to Castro Verde, somehow getting off the N2 and finishing in Loule! Making our way east from Loule we eventually found the N2 once again and made our way to Castro Verde.
Many roads have changed since the Gosney guide was first published, but with a bit of good navigation we managed to find the track that he mentions is opposite to the sign for Aldeios dos Grandacos, good for Black-shouldered Kites. Prior to finding the track we had had sightings of two Kites from the main road. The track proved to be rather disappointing in that we did see two additional Kites but apart from that there were only several Woodchat Shrikes and two Jays. There were larks, almost certainly Crested and one Rock Sparrow.
Moving to the next habitat, down a track off the N123, we expected to possibly find Bustards, but we were disappointed. The reservoir, described by Gosney was only half full, and had few birds on it. Mallard flew away immediately, but the Black-winged Stilts were unperturbed as were the Stonechat and Ringed Plover. Walking round the edge I disturbed two Red-legged Partridge and quartering the far fields were a Black-shouldered Kite and a juvenile Montague’s Harrier. A Corn Bunting was singing from a post.
Returning to the main road we noticed a group of four soaring to gain height. We thought at first they were gulls but when we put the ‘bins on them they were obviously raptors! Closer inspection through the scope revealed three Booted Eagles and a second or third year Egyptian Vulture keeping them company, the latter easily identified through the distinctive shape of the tail – certainly not a Lammergeir!
Continuing along the N123 we stopped at a bridge recommended by Gosney and found Red-rumped Swallows, Rock Doves, Mallard, Moorhen and Bee-eaters. Whilst travelling along the N123 we constantly searched for Bustards but with no luck.
Making our way into Mertola we were hoping for Crag Martin and Lesser Kestrel, but we were disappointed as we only saw House Martins, and the castle was closed for renovations.
Saturday April 23rd Ludo Farm.
This was our second visit to the farm in order to look at those areas we had been unable to cover the first visit.
However, when we stopped at the fresh water pool, it was obvious that it needed careful scrutiny. Two pairs of Red-crested Pochards were present plus one Pochard. Flying over was a Red Kite, presumably the one we had seen on a previous visit. Apart from the Coots, Moorhen and Mallard it appeared that was all to be seen. Then we noticed two birds flitting in and out of the rushes on the far bank along with the Bee-eaters and the Little Terns. One, brightly coloured yellow with black head, the other brown. If we had been in Cyprus we would have said Black-headed Buntings, but here in Portugal we decided they had to be Cirl Buntings.
Looking into the creek opposite the pool we saw a Grey Heron but then noticed much closer a Purple Heron, which was quite well camouflaged by the background.
Having had lunch we decided to follow Gosney,s itinerary around the farm and the salt pans. This proved to be very disappointing, because, apart from a few Dunlin and the occasional Ringed Plover, they were devoid of birds. Sardinian Warblers and Yellow Wagtails were in the bushes at the sides of the pans.
Looking towards Praia de Faro, we saw another creek that held hundreds of birds, so we made our way towards it. There were two Avocet and two Black-winged Stilts in the stream leading to the creek. The creek itself held at least a thousand Coot but as far as we could see not a Knobbed Coot amongst them. Further out was a group of about fifty Greater Flamingoes. Resting on a spit was a Shelduck and wading on the far side of the creek were several Black-tailed Godwits.
Having scanned to make certain that was all there was to see, we made our way back to the car parked by the freshwater pool to have lunch. Whilst eating our sandwiches I noticed a Little Bittern fly into some rushes on the far edge of the pool. Patiently watching the rushes with our ‘bins we were rewarded with some brief glimpses of the bird as it made its way along the far bank.
Sunday April 24th. Castro Marim.
As we only had the afternoon available for birdwatching we decided it was best to re-visit Castro Marim again.
Driving along the track we came across some Black-winged Stilts, Avocets, Redshanks and a single Spotted Redshank.
Watching from the small hill on the left of the track, it was obvious that the wind was making birds scarce. However, there was a male Hen Harrier battling its way along the furthest creek and giving excellent views. Yellow Wagtails were all around us but apart from that there was a serious shortage of birds.
Further along the track, Pauline thought she had seen a Stone Curlew but was not certain about it. Suddenly two birds were disturbed and it was obvious that they were Stone Curlews and they continued to give us views as they settled a little distance away.
We followed the track for quite a way, but apart from Sardinian Warblers, Yellow Wagtails and Fantail Warblers, nothing else showed.
Retracing our steps the weather was a little cooler and this seemed to have stimulated the birds, in particular the larks. We were able to see both Short-toed Larks and Lesser Short-toed Larks as they scavenged along the path. Another bird caught our eye as it perched on a rock. It appeared more like a warbler with much thinner bill, but when it flew away it acted very much lark-like. With the bill shape and the very distinctive spotted breast we settled for a Wood Lark. Further along there was a Redshank accompanied by a Greenshank. At the end of the track was a Corn Bunting singing its head off.
As we left the reserve a Southern Grey Shrike was sitting on the top of a bush.
Monday April 25th Cape St.Vincent and Alvor Estuary.
After a fairly long drive to Cape St. Vincent, we joined the many German tourists who had arrived by coach. Apart from Yellow-legged Gulls, Jackdaws and Swifts, there was nothing else to see so we made our way to Forte de Beliche in the hope of seeing Choughs.
We were not disappointed as at least four appeared, followed by an Alpine Swift flying over. A Black Redstart perched conveniently on a bush giving good photographic opportunities plus a Corn Bunting, Stonechat and Sardinian Warbler.
Proceeding to the Alvor Estuary we had lunch and then followed the track from the Cruzhina Field Study Centre, as recommended by Gosney, to look for Waxbills near the fish tanks, but unfortunately the track ended in a dead end. However, we did have Azure-winged Magpies, Spotless Starlings, the inevitable Sardinian Warbler and countless Bee-eaters. Retracing our steps we found several Corn Buntings singing and a Hoopoe was foraging on the track in front of us.
We then drove to the car park at the end of the track. We were disappointed that the Quinta da Rocha was no longer accessible so decided to walk around the Western Marsh. In the estuary there was a group of Oystercatchers and a Black Tern flew over our heads. In the marsh four Greater Flamingoes were feeding and there were several small waders, Kentish Plover, Dunlin and (Greater Sand Plover?) shepherding two chicks. 25 Whimbrel flew in and a further flock of 15 were further round the marsh. In the bushes there were Stonechat, Corn Bunting and Sardinian warbler. Several Yellow Wagtails were seen as we went around the marsh.
Tuesday April 26th. Barancos environs.
This was hopefully going to be our raptor trip. Griffon Vultures, Black Vultures, Short-toed Eagles, Booted Eagles were amongst those hoped for. What a disappointment! A ring-tail Montagu’s Harrier and two Black-shouldered Kites were all we were to see.
Yet, it proved to be one of our best days of the trip. After a long drive up through the Guadiana valley we decided to have lunch at a bridge over the Ria Murtigao mainly because we could hear many birds calling and it was a little “oasis” in a fairly dry countryside. Flying over the road we saw a Kingfisher and Golden Oriole along with the usual Sardinian Warblers and Corn Buntings.
Making our way down a track to the river edge we found Linnets having a dip in the water, and careful scanning of the cliffs on the far side revealed a Spectacled Warbler foraging for food for its young ones that were probably in a nest in a bush close by as that is where it flew to and disappeared. There were two Red-rumped Swallows flying around accompanied by several Bee-eaters and a further Kingfisher flew from the river. A Turtle Dove could be heard calling and there were several calls that we were unable to identify.
Continuing to Safara we saw a ring-tail Montagu’s Harrier and Black-shouldered Kite. Arriving in Barancos, we took a right turning to Noudar Castle, as suggested by Moore, Elias and Costa in their book “Birdwatchers’ Guide to Portugal and Madeira”. Stopping at the Ria Murtega bridge, which leads to the track to the castle, we immediately had Red-rumped Swallows, a White Wagtail and Crag Martin. Looking upstream from the bridge there was a sighting of a possible Blue Rock Thrush and further scanning with the ‘bins revealed two birds taking a sand bath in a small clearing on the far side. Only Sparrows, I thought, until the sun suddenly caught one bird as it turned its head. Red bill on a Sparrow, can’t be, not here where all we were expecting were raptors. Putting the ‘scope on them was too late as they had gone. Waxbills, can’t be, no one has reported them from here as far as we were aware.
Suddenly the White Wagtail flushed out two birds that flew into a willow close by. Careful scanning with the
through the branches gave tantalising views of the bird which we were able to confirm did have a bright red bill the like of which I had only seen before on a Trumpeter Finch. Having found them we just as quickly lost them. Instead, our attention was taken by a Grey Wagtail that was taking insects over the water. Watching this we noticed three birds perched on reeds on the far side. At last we had clear prolonged views and were able to identify them as Waxbills. What a bonus after not finding them on the Alvor Estuary!
Continuing to the castle we had views of Woodchat and Great Grey Shrikes and although there were no raptors soaring in the sky the view from the castle was amazing.
Returning we decided to take the quick way back to Montcarapacho via Beja and the motorways to the A22 which still took just under three hours. A very long but worthwhile drive.
Wednesday April 27th.
An easy day at Casa Rosa by the side of the pool topping up the tan.
Thursday April 28th. Fuseta and Ludo Farm.
Having a whole day before flying back to Birmingham, we decided to look around Fuseta to begin with. Around the inlets were many Dunlin, two Whimbrel, Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, several Little Egrets and in the bushes, Greenfinches and Sardinian Warblers. Flying over the estuary were several Little Gulls.
Moving on to Ludo Farm we decided to stop opposite the pine trees at the entrance to have lunch. Whilst doing this several Azure-winged Magpies perched in the trees and even came down to the track to drink from puddles left by the lorry pumping out water to keep the dust down. There appeared to be quite a few small birds flitting around amongst the trees so we went down a small track to get a better view. Immediately, in front of us, we saw a brownish bird with a tail that was very upright – a Rufous Bush-chat. However, apart from Azure-winged Magpies and Blackbirds the others were quite elusive and did not give a clear view for identification.
Further down the track we looked into another grove of pine trees. Once again the Azure-winged Magpies were everywhere plus a Black Redstart, but Pauline called my attention to a bird she had seen which was acting very like a flycatcher. Eventually we got a good view and were fairly certain that it was a female Collared Flycatcher. A very dark bird with white throat and breast was seen as an Orphean Warbler. Goldfinch and Serin also showed themselves. Further out on the open ground were two Red-legged Partridges.
Driving on to the freshwater lake we saw a Grey Heron, Greenshank, Redshank and Dunlin in the pans to the left, and on the lake itself, there was a pair of Red-crested Pochard still present along with Coot, Mallard, Moorhen, Little Grebe and Great Crested Grebe.
A Little Bittern was seen twice flying into the rushes and the pair of Cirl Buntings were still present. Cetti’s Warbler was calling and also there was a Reed Warbler making a lot of noise, which eventually appeared. We had our first sighting of a Melodious Warbler in the rushes to our left. At least four Little Terns were constantly fishing in the lake and a Purple Heron flew across as did the Red Kite and White Stork.
Eventually it was time to return the car and check-in for our flight. Over the ten days we had seen 116 different species with two still to be identified. Of these 12 were lifers. A great introduction to Portugal and enough left to invite a further visit!
List of birds and where seen:- CM Castro Marim, RF Ria Formosa, QL Quinta da Lago, LF Ludo Farm, CV Castro Verde, OL Olhao, B Barancos, AE Alvor Estuary, Cvi Cape St. Vincent, F Fuseta, CR Castro Rosa.
Little Grebe – CM, RF, QL, LF, CV. Great Crested Grebe – LF. Great Cormorant – RF.
Grey Heron – CM, RF, QL, LF, CV. Purple Heron – LF. Little Egret – CM, OL, QL, LF.
Cattle Egret – RF, CV, CM. White Stork – OL, CM, RF, LF, CV,B. Spoonbill – CM.
Greater Flamingo – CM, LF,AE. Shelduck – LF. Gadwall – RF, LF.
Mallard – CM, RF, LF, CV, AE. Shoveler – CM. Red-crested Pochard – LF.
Pochard – LF. Little Bittern – LF. Black-shouldered Kite – CV, B.
Red Kite – LF. Egyptian Vulture – CV. Marsh Harrier – CM.
Hen Harrier – CM. Montagu’s Harrier – CV, B. Common Buzzard – LF.
Booted Eagle – CV. Kestrel – CM, CV, Cvi. Red-legged Partridge – CV, B, LF.
Purple Gallinule – OL. Moorhen – CM, RF, LF, CV. Coot – CM, RF, LF, QL, CV.
Little Bustard – CM. Oystercatcher – AE. Black-winged Stilt – CM, QL, LF, CV AE.
Avocet – CM, LF. Stone Curlew – CM. Grey Plover – QL, LF,F.
Ringed Plover – CM, RF, LF, QL, CV, F. Kentish Plover – CM, RF, LF, QL, F. Black-tailed Godwit – LF.
Whimbrel – CM, QL, AE F. Spotted Redshank – CM. Redshank – CM, RF, QL, LF AE.
Greenshank – CM, LF. Green Sandpiper – CM. Common Sandpiper – CM, LF.
Turnstone – QL, CM, OL. Red Knot – QL. Curlew Sandpiper – CM.
Dunlin – CM, RF, QL, LF, AE, F. Lesser Black-backed Gull – CM, RF, QL, LF. Caspian Gull – RF.
Yellow-legged Gull – QL, CM, Cvi. Black-headed Gull, CM, RF, QL. Mediterranean Gull – CM, RF.
Caspian Tern – LF. Little Tern – CM, LF, F. Black Tern – AE.
Rock Dove – CV. Wood Pigeon – B. Collared Dove – CR, RF, QL, CV, B.
Common Cuckoo – RF, CR. Alpine Swift – Cvi. Common Swift – CM, RF, QL, CV, B.
Pallid Swift – B. House Martin – CR, CM, RF, QL, LF, OL, B, AE. Kingfisher – B.
Bee-eater – CR, CM, QL, LF, CV, AE, B. Hoopoe – CM, CR, QL, CV, LF, AE, B. Green Woodpecker – B.
Greater Short-toed Lark – CM. Lesser Short-toed Lark – CM. Crested Lark – CM, LF, CV, AE, B.
Thekla Lark – CM, OL, QL, LF, B. Wood Lark – CM. Crag Martin – B.
Barn Swallow – CR, CM, RF, QL, LF, CV, Cvi, B. Red-rumped Swallow – CV, B. White Wagtail – B.
Yellow Wagtail – CM, RF, QL, LF, AE. Grey Wagtail – B. Rufous Bush-chat – LF.
Blackbird – CR, CM, RF, QL, LF, CV, OL, B, AE, Cvi, F. Zitting Cisticola – CM, RF, QL, LF, AE, B. Cetti’s Warbler – RF, QL, LF.
Reed Warbler – LF. Melodious Warbler – LF. Orphean Warbler – LF.
Sardinian Warbler – CM, RF, QL, LF, CV, OL,AE,F,CR. Spectacled Warbler – B. Dartford Warbler – CM.
Collared Flycatcher – LF. Black Redstart – Cvi, B, LF. Stonechat – CM, CV, LF, AE, B.
Great Tit – CV, LF, B. Golden Oriole – RF, B. Southern Grey Shrike – CM, CV, B.
Woodchat Shrike – CR, RF, QL, LF, CV, Cvi, B. Jay – CV. Azure-winged Magpie – CR, QL, LF,CV,AE, B.
Eurasian Magpie – CM, B. Red-billed Chough – Cvi. Jackdaw – CV, Cvi.
Carrion Crow – B. Raven – Cv. Spotless Starling – CM, CV, LF, AE, B.
Waxbill – B. Cirl Bunting – RF, LF. Corn Bunting – CM, CV, Cvi, AE, B.
Greenfinch – CR, CM, RF, QL, CV, F. Goldfinch – CM, QL, LF, CV, CR, Ae, B, F. Linnet – B.
Serin – RF, CR, LF. House Sparrow – CR, RF, CV, LF, CM, AE, B, F. Spanish Sparrow – CM, CV, B.
Rock Sparrow – QL, CV.
Heard – Red-necked Nightjar.
Possible sightings - Dupont’s Lark, Lesser Sandplover.