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Birding the Algarve August 2007

While staying at

Casa Rosa

By Tony Duckett

                                               Sunrise from Casa Rosa

Sally and I were going back to Casa Rosa for our fourth visit. This is not really a birding holiday, but a chance to recharge our batteries with some solar energy. We were going for a ten day break departing on the 20th August from Heathrow Airport, on the first flight out going via Lisbon as this brought the cost down a little bit. We were slightly worried that a protest against the expansion of the airport may have delayed us, those fears were unfounded as it was too early for the protesters to be up and about, though the number of police on standby was quite impressive. Our flight departed a little bit late, but not enough for us to miss our connection or so we thought. Unbeknown to us there had been a baggage handlers strike at the weekend that was causing disruption in Portugal. As we approached Lisbon the plane slowed to what seemed like walking pace, we then became concerned that we would not make our connection, you have guessed it we missed it. We then had to wait until late afternoon for the next flight to Faro which departed slightly late, and with what felt like a learner pilot, as we swerved across the runway. We landed at Faro with a thud, know need to queue to go through customs we waited for our luggage and we waited and waited it wasn’t here. After queuing to report it, there was know need to rant and rave, it wouldn’t get our luggage here any sooner. We thought we wait for the next flight in case it was on there, right again, not on there either. As I had missed picking up the hire car, it had been arranged for it to be brought here tomorrow morning. The next day we took possession of the hire car and drove back to the airport to see if our luggage had arrived. It hadn’t but the amount of lost luggage had reduced quiet considerably. It was then off to Jumbos (shopping mall in Faro) to by a few essentials, and some food and wine. The rest of the day was spent relaxing by the pool, over our evening meal news came that our bags would be dropped off later, it arrived around mid-night.

Now our holiday could begin, birds seen around Casa Rosa on my morning walk 23rd were Black Kite, 40 Azure-winged Magpie, Golden Oriole, Hoopoe, Red rumped Swallows, Pallid Swifts, Melodious Warbler, Serin and Waxbills. After breakfast Sally and I drove to the nature reserve by Olhao for a gentle stroll. It is such a nice reserve and only 1.5 euros per person, so cheaper than any car park.

There were 12 species of waders on the lagoon, with one Caspian Tern. Unfortunately the little café was closed, so we could not quench our thirst on what was another hot day on the Algarve. The afternoon was spent back by the pool, Sally relaxing and me up keeping an eye open for birds. The highlight being a Black Kite and later the Red-necked Nightjar did a low fly by, it is so much larger than the Common Nightjar.

Up before dawn 24th I decided to go to the Fuzeta salt pans, which turned out to be very dry. It meant following various paths between the pans to find the ones with water and waders. 25 Stone Curlews took off from a gravely area, there never easy to approach. There were 5 Greater Flamingo’s, 2 Little Stints, 6 Curlew Sandpipers and a few other waders. In the little stream 2 Water Rails skulked and a juvenile Night Heron fished under a bush.

                                                                                 

Night Heron                                                                                                                                 Water Rail

Later that morning we went for a stroll around Olhao, looking in the markets and exploring the narrow streets and alley ways. Then we sat watching the various boats coming and going, as well as Sandwich and Little Terns, an adult Mediterranean Gull also flew along the water front. When we returned to Casa Rosa, the air was full of the sounds of the Bee-eaters, but locating them in the bright blue sky was a challenge.

The next morning 25th I drove down to the fish farm at Liveramenta, I was surprised to find a cycle path had been constructed here, giving you the chance to explore a large area of the coast. There were good numbers of Curlew Sandpipers plus the usual waders, a couple of Flamingos, Hoopoe’s, and four Waxbills, it is also a really good location for Zitting Zisticolar. After breakfast we had walk in Moncarapacho before heading north out of the town, taking the left turn at the Suflor sign and up to the aerials to admire views of the Algarve. I was out of luck with regarding my target bird Blue Rock Thrush, though there were Melodious Warblers and a Northern Wheatear. During the afternoon back poolside, Sally lapped up the rays while I tried to keep out of the sun. The resident birds showed up as the afternoon sun began to cool, the highlight being one of my favourite raptors Short-toed Eagle that drifted over and settled on its preferred pylon. Last year I tried to capture this bird on my memory card by rushing down the donkey track, for the bird to fly off just as I focused on him.

                                                                      Short-toed Eagle

This time I had a different strategy I jumped into the hire car with a slightly damp swimming costume and headed towards Moncarapacho. Once on the main road I looked for the first right turn, this brought me reasonably close to my target. Being on the road the bird wasn’t bothered by me and just sat majestically on its perch, allowing me to get some reasonable photos without becoming out of breathe. The evening’s weather forecast had said that heavy thunderstorms were falling in western Spain and traveling in our general direction. As we sat eating another delicious meal on the terrace, thunder cloud was moving east to west out over the sea. Hanny and Roger thought it would probably miss us, or if we were unlucky we might have a few showers. Flashes of lightening could be seen in the distance as we retired to our beds. We were awoken at 3.00am by the loudest and most spectacular storm that Sally and I have ever witnessed. The rain eventually eased off mid morning, though a few showers returned in the afternoon. By then we had ventured out and had a nice drive up the valley that leads north from Tariva. The only birds of note were a juvenile Montagu’s Harrier, Common Redstart and several Kingfishers chasing each other back and forth along the river. If it had not been so wet this drive could well have produced some good birds.

The 26th started overcast before eventually the sun returned. My early morning drive took me to Quinta Marim, a site I had never visited before; here you can walk along the edge of the salt marsh, over small sand dunes and by some salt pans. There were the usual species of birds, with a couple of beautiful Southern Grey Shrikes feeding close to the car. After breakfast we headed east to the golf complex at Quinta Largo, for a stroll around its boundary. We did think about going to the beach, here it is easily accessible and you can leave your car under the shades in the car park, which is reasonably priced if you are going to stay for a while. Again it is quite a nice place to walk, through a range of habitats: estuary, scrub, fresh water lake, woodland and salt pans. This site has also produced Purple Gallinule on each of the four occasions that I have visited. A word of advice, just keep an eye out for wayward golf balls as the standard of some of the golfers is not up to par, in fact it is well below par. As we approached the lake I told Sally that there is a bird that I had targeted as the one that I wanted to go back to the UK having seen, Little Bittern, as this is a regular site for this species. We stopped under a tree next to the hide, to get out of the shade, within a minute I had picked one up flying over the lake, it settled on some tall reeds before clambering down and out of site. We moved on along the track and through the trees, a flock of Azure-winged Magpies were feeding at one stage all around us. As we headed out onto the salt pans Cettis Warbler sang from the scrub, 55 Flamingos were sifting through the waters, with Spoonbills alongside. We bumped into a flock of Long-tailed tits that had two Short-toed Treecreepers with them. On the way back past the lake another two new species for my Algarve list showed themselves Glossy Ibis and Red-crested Pochard.

                                                                                 Glossy Ibis

On the 27th it was back to dawn to dusk sunshine, with the breeze continuing from the north-east. This is a good direction for bringing birds that are migrating south through Western Europe cross into the Algarve. That morning down at Fuzeta I thought that I would try and sneak up on the Stone Curlews and take some photos, but they were much to alert and approaching them was impossible. I tried to walk along the edge of the pans but these were quite slippery and I had not brought my Wellington boots, strangely enough. I did manage some flight shots. The other birds were less nervous and I managed to get fairly close to the Greater Flamingos.

                                                                                     Stone Curlew

On the 28th down by the fish farm at Liveramenta there were plenty of waders feeding out on the mud. The small pool at the eastern end of the farm was full of water, preventing the waders from feeding there. The only new bird for the holiday and for the Algarve was a distant Greater Whitethroat. We spent that morning at the shops before returning in the afternoon to relax by the pool. As normal I soon became restless, and had a wander around the grounds. The north east breeze appeared to be working; there were several Melodious Warblers, 2 Garden Warblers, and 1 female Blue Rock Thrush flew over as did a juvenile Montagu’s Harrier. In the trees behind Casa Rosa at least 62 Azure-winged Magpies and 28 Spotless Starlings fed.

Down at Fuzeta on 29th it appeared that most of the waders had gone as there were now only small pools of water in the pans. When we visited the Rio Formosa Nature Reserve later that morning it was the same there. The only waders on the two lagoons were 1White Stork and 1 Common Sandpiper. The other waders, and there were thousands were out on the mud busily feeding. They were accompanied by Spoonbills, Grey Herons and Egrets. That afternoon back at Casa Rosa there was more evidence that migrating passerines from the north were beginning to move through. There were 4 Melodious and 1 Icterine Warbler, Pied Flycatcher and Common Kestrel. The star bird though was a beautiful Bonelli’s Warbler, this was a lifer (never seen before) for me. A very good afternoon was nearly matched in the evening, as we were getting ready to go down for another delicious meal. My attention was drawn to the window by the sound of Bee-eaters, a flock of 40 were feeding over they valley. Then they were suddenly joined by hundreds of House Martins, Pallid and Common Swift. It was quite a spectacle as they twisted and turned. Then through my binoculars a larger brown bird with a white belly zoomed through, it was an Alpine Swift. The martins did not like his presence and kept harassing him, they slowly moved off towards the coast as the aromas from downstairs called me. After another delicious offering from Roger and the ever caring Hanny asking if things were fine, our final evening ended with a fly by or a wave good-bye from the Red-necked Nightjar.

                                                         Bonelli’s Warbler

The final mornings walk around the grounds before heading off to the airport reminded me of the birds that I had probably missed back in Regents Park (my local patch); 3 Pied Flycatchers, 2 Spotted Flycatchers, 4 Willow Warblers the 110th species for the holiday, 2 Garden Warblers and 1 Common Whitethroat. The pair of Golden Orioles also flew past. Down by the well 2 Little Owls sat out in the open, 3 Hoopoes showed really well, these birds are less approachable once there young have fledged. We thanked Hanny and Roger for yet another very enjoyable stay and made our way to the airport hoping the return journey went without a hitch. Thankfully there were no more horrors and we were home by 6.30pm.

Anyone visiting London checkout www.regentsparkbirds.co.uk

Some of the birding memories

Greater Flamingos

Black Winged Stilt

Sanderling

Spotted Redshank.

Zitting Zisticolar

Bonelli's Warbler

Melodious Warbler

Sardinian Warbler

Long-tailed Tit

Southern Grey Shrike

Dragon Flie

Praying Mantis