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Birding report for January 2013 by Paul Wilkins

Rock Bunting
Rock Bunting

Birding Report Eastern Algarve January 2013

During the summer of 2012 (if we actually had one) my wife Ann and I decided that some winter sun mixed with some birding would perhaps make up for the awful weather in England. Some research led to the Casa Rosa near Moncarapacho as meeting our requirements and with a flight on Easy Jet and a car booked from Faro for a month, our departure to Faro on the 5 January 2013 soon arrived.

Landing at Faro Airport a little early and to some welcome sunshine set the tone for a really good month. The journey to the Casa Rosa was easy, no motorway was used as I had decided to avoid these throughout the holiday and avoid any hassle in getting the necessary motorway permit from a post office.

Our hosts Jan and Kjersti were extremely welcoming and throughout our holiday only too pleased to answer our questions and suggest places of interest. The weather was mixed during our month at the Casa Rosa with two really wet days, 4 days where it rained at night and remained stubbornly cloudy, windy and cold during the day, this coincided with the large storm that was hitting the rest of Europe and depositing snow. The remaining days were mostly sunny if sometimes windy and on many days we were in T shits by mid day.

The Casa Rosa is ideally situated for many of the Eastern Algarve birding sites and the Casa Rosa itself provided 32 species of bird in the beautiful gardens and trees that surround the apartments. The warblers were represented by numerous Chiffchaffs, Black caps and Sardinian Warblers and this was to be repeated where ever we went on the Algarve. Every day breakfast was accompanied by the sound of Greater Spotted Woodpeckers and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers making holes in the trees outside our room. Black Redstart, Siskin, Hoopoes, Spotless Starling, Redwings and Azure Magpies were seen daily whilst Buzzards, a Booted Eagle and Kestrel passed over the property. Red Legged Partridge were in an Orchard at the rear of Casa Rosa and each night up to 20 Cattle Egrets roosted in the trees and Tawny Owls were heard all night long though never seen.

 

Male Lesse Spotted Woodpecker       

Male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

The location of The Casa Rosa made it less than 10 minutes to the coast that runs from Olhao to Fuzeta and proved to have some excellent birding locations where it became clear that most sites held similar core species of birds. Waders would be Dunlin, Sanderling, Common Sandpiper, Kentish, Ringed and Grey Plover, Redshank, Greenshank, Avocet, Black Tailed Godwit, Black Winged Stilt, Oyster Catcher, Turnstone, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Spoonbill, Flamingo, White Stork. On the greener edges and any fields there were Lapwing and Cattle Egrets.

Quinta de  Marim ;  The headquarters of the Ria Formosa Reserve, a entrance fee of 2 Euros 60c   (the only fee paying area we visited) per person was well worth it as the well laid out paths meant we easily took two hours to cover the woods, lagoons and bird hides. There were numerous Azure Magpies, and the usual three types of warblers everywhere and the Zitting Cisticola made its first appearance and proved to be almost as common as the Chiffchaffs. Short-toed tree creepers gave some good views whilst most other birds were waders, ducks and gulls on the lagoons and freshwater lake. The waders were difficult to photograph as the January sun always shines from the sea onto land and this cut out most possible areas and a main hide. Another hide however faced inland onto a fresh water lake and really good views of purple swamp hens were obtained.
 
After leaving the reserve entrance we turned immediately left and drove half a mile towards Olhao and stopped at a small set of salt pans that borders the western end of the reserve and has easy parking and access. The birds here proved extremely tolerant as the locals walked their dogs on the path between the pans. The bonus at this location is that you can get the sun behind you and in 10 minutes cover the salt pans. The usual waders and warblers provided excellent views and as at all the saltpans Kingfishers were busy.

Aldeia de Marim another set of salt pans and shore line that adjoins Quinta de Marim on its eastern side, held all the usual waders and warblers, also spotless starling, meadow pipits and Blue throat. A further 5 mins east is Fuzeta, a working harbour with salt pans to the east and west,  and  in front of the town a series of sand and mudflats that provide great access to waders at all stages of the tide.

The Eastern salt pans proved to be the best location in all weathers and can be approached from the town itself or as we found it best to drive about 1 mile east on the N125, turn right towards Arroteia De Baixo .Go under the railway bridge and half a mile later at the first crossroads turn right onto a good track for 100 yards and then park at the seaward side of the salt pans.A track leads all the way to the harbour and out to the eastern end of the harbour mouth. In the morning the sun is behind you. The pans hold all the waders, warblers, Stonechats, Reed bunting and on our numerous visits we had Stone-curlew (a flock of 30 plus),  Pintail, Mallard, Wigeon, Gadwal, Shelduck, Teal .Three Slender Bill Gull and really good views of male Bluethroats  made this a  great photographers spot. The harbour and track alongside were excellent for fishing Cormorants, and Sandwich Terns, and Crested Lark.

The Western pans are reached by walking along a very well maintained cycle and walking path that takes you all the way back to Aldeia Marim about 1 hour 45 mins away, this track gives poor views of the seaward salt pans due to the January sun but excellent views of the scrub that separates the path from the coastal railway. Additional birds on this path were, Dartford Warbler, Common Waxbill, Marsh Harrier. The main path gives access to dirt paths that run out through the pans and you can return to the start point at Fuezeta via this seaward path.. The sun is now behind you and the whole range of waders and ducks are visible, we found this location had a high number of ducks.

Other locations visited were;
Casto Marim Reserve.  40 minutes from Casa Rosa .We never saw the centre open (4 visits) and the water birds were usually distant. Large flocks of Godwits, Avocet, Flamingo, nesting White Stork. On the land side Golden Plover, Southern Great Grey Shrike, Red Legged Partridge, Marsh Harrier, Caspian Terns.

Monto Gordo  10 minutes from Castro Marim. A  good place to lunch or coffee. The well laid out paths and woods on the western side held flocks of Common Waxbill, the elusive Crested Tit, and the highest number of Short-toed Tree Creepers we found on the Algarve.

Tavira  20 minutes from Casa Rosa. An historical town with salt pans that are easy to drive onto and get close to the waders, Bluethroat and on 1 visit 7 Slender Billed Gulls.

Praia de Barril 20 minutes from Casa Rosa. A walkway over the RIa Formosa leads to a path that runs along a small gauge railway. Either takes you out to the shore (walking 15 minutes), a great beach where we saw Gannets and Sandwich Terns fishing. The scrub and conifers on route held Stonechats, Siskin and close views of Hare.

To the west of Casa Rosa there are very well documented locations at Faro  Airport, Ludo Farm, Quinta de Lago all of which we reached in under 40 minutes. We saw all the waders, ducks and warblers at these locations. At Ludo Farm an Osprey was covering the pans, and at the Quinto de Largo lake hide we saw 9 Purple Swamp Hens as well as really close views of Snipe, Shoveler, Gadwall. The golf course had flocks of Common Waxbill, almost tame Azure Magpies and Hoopoe with Crested tits in the conifers. In the morning the sun is behind so great viewing( the car park was free in January)
Further on another 15 mins west we visited the Parque Ambietal at Villamoura. The walk to the hide at the first lake gave us the usual hedge birds and grass birds, but only little grebes on the lake and Marsh harrier covering the fields. The 2nd lake had snipe and Purple Swamp Hen. We went back to the first lake and walked down a Bamboo track to get to the back of the lake, plenty of Common Waxbill and on the lake 5 Ferruginous Duck that were completely invisible to anybody from the hide.

Male Lesse Spotted Woodpecker       

 



During our month we made trips to the Campo Branco to see the plains birds. We travelled to Casto Verde via the N2 which took 1 hour 45 mins, the middle hour of which is on a good but very twisting road over the hills. On arrival we called in at the LPN’s Vale Goncalinho Centre of Education near Castro Verde to get extra information as to what was about. The staff  were brilliant and we saved time by following their advice. We walked a track from Entradas to a nearby river, getting views of Great Bustard, Southern Great Grey Shrike, Red kites, Buzzards, Little Owl, Kestrel, meadow pipits and Crested Lark, Green Sandpiper and numerous Lapwing. The centre recommended driving from Entradas to Sao Marcos da Atabeira on a brand new tarmac road. We had great views of Red Kite, a hunting male Hen Harrier, Spotless Starling, Southern Great Grey Shrike and a Black- Shouldered Kite that allowed us to see it devour its prey on a nearby telephone pole.  We saw a flock of 20 Great Bustards moving across a hill near Guerreiro, but alas no Little Bustards or Calandra Larks were seen.

A target bird of mine was the Rock Bunting and this was seen on two visits to the Montes da Foia at Monchique. It took 1 hour 50 min to get there from Casa Rosa and on the first visit the actual mountain was covered in thick mist. We had Rock Bunting and up to 8 Ring Ouzel right by our parked car, but due to about 15 yards of visibility no decent photographs. We returned ten days later to have perfect sunshine, and with nobody else at the site saw Rock Bunting, Water Pipit, Ring Ouzel, Craig Martin, Dartford Warbler, Fieldfare and a Peregrine.

Over the month I got some really great photographs of many of my target birds and 118 different species were recorded. The area no doubt has dramatic changes with the spring migration and a return trip in time to see this will be planned.
 Paul Wilkins

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17th - 21st January 2007.

This trip report covers four nights and days at the Casa Rosa in Portugal, which was a part of a seven day birding tour which also included 3 days in Donana.

The excellent photographs were taken by Mr. Ray Wilson and Mary Braddock.

My clients for this tour were Dave and Mary Braddock and Ray and Lyn Wilson, who are all members of the North-west Surrey RSPB group.

17th January.

Today, Dave, Mary, Ray and Lyn were joined by Rebecca, my wife, and we made our way to Portugal via some of the best birding areas to the west of the Doñana region. Our first stop was at the El Acebuche visitors centre, to try and get photos of the Iberian Magpies at the picnic area. On arrival, there was not a bird to be seen, but I began to scatter biscuit crumbs on the ground and within minutes there were over 40 Iberian and 5 Black-billed Magpies present, feeding within a few metres of us. A few Chaffinches and House Sparrows joined in the feeding and a pair of Great Tits were also seen.

Iberian Magpie

We then drove to the Laguna Primera de Palos, looking for ducks and other waterbirds. There were Gadwalls, Mallards, Teal, Shovelers, Common Pochards, Coots, Moorhens and Cormorants on the water whilst in the reeds we saw Little Egrets, Purple Swamp-hens, Grey Herons, 5 Squacco Herons and White Storks. Chiffchaffs, Zitting Cisticolas and a Kestrel rounded off the birds at this site.

The Estero Domingo Rubio was very quiet and we only managed to add Black-winged Stilts, Common Snipe and White Storks to the day list.

The tide was just receeding at La Rábida and we managed to find Whimbrels, Curlews, Common Sandpipers, Turnstones, Redshanks and Ringed Plovers feeding on the exposed mud banks.

Turnstone

After a meal at a local restaurant, we drove to the Odiel Marshes. Our first stop here was at two small lagoons at La Calatilla, where 3 Red-knobbed Coots were the main atracción, but there were also Dunlins, Greenshanks, Little Grebes and White Wagtails.

Further along the marshes we found Greater Flamingos, Spoonbills, Grey Plovers, Kentish Plovers, Sanderlings, Black-necked Grebes, Sandwich Terns and Audouin´s Gulls. The three other common gulls, the Yellow-legged, the Black-headed and the Lesser Blackback were also seen.

spoonbills

With no more time or daylight remaining, we crossed the Portuguese border and headed for our base for the next four nights, the Casa Rosa at Moncarapacho  . This is a wonderful location for birders who are visiting the Algarve, great self-catering apartments, great food, great birding and excellent hospitality from the owners.

18th January.

After an excellent evening meal the night before and a very filling breakfast we set off early in the morning for the river and marshes just along the eastern edge of Fuseta, only a 10 minute drive from the Casa Rosa. It was almost low-tide and there were a good number of waders and gulls feeding fairly close by. In 40 minutes, we saw Redshanks, Greenshanks, Ringed, Kentish and Grey Plovers, Dunlins, Sanderlings, Common Sandpipers, Turnstones, Black-headed and Yellow-legged Gulls, Sardinian Warblers, Black Redstarts, Robins, Chiffchaffs, Goldfinches, Stonechats and 2 Caspian Terns.

At 9am, we went to the Ría Formosa Natural Park. At the salinas and along the bank of the river there were Bar-tailed Godwits, Whimbrels, Curlews, Oystercatchers and all of the other waders previously mentioned. Several pairs of White Storks were on their nests and a small group of Common Waxbills were seen in the reed-beds of a small pond. Iberian Magpies were plentiful throughout the park, along with a few of the Black-billed Magpies.

There were many Crested Larks present and at the tidal lagoon beside the ancient tide-mill we added a group of 13 Black-tailed Godwits. From the roof of the mill, we saw 5 Mediterranean Gulls and a number of Sandwich Terns.

Crested Lark

From a bird hide overlooking a fresh water lagoon we saw Purple Swamp-hens, Grey Herons, Gadwalls, Shovelers, Wigeon, Little Egrets, Cattle Egrets, Little Grebes, Sardinian Warblers, Zitting Cisticolas, Serins and Greenfinches. A lone Griffon Vulture and two Buzzards circled lazily overhead.

After a great picnic lunch we headed back to Fuseta, this time visiting the old salinas to the east of the town. Here there were Greater Flamingos, Spoonbills, Black-winged Stilts, Black-tailed Godwits, Redshanks, Greenshanks, Common Sandpipers, Turnstones, Avocets, Pintails, Teal, Kentish Plovers, Little Stints, a Temminck´s Stint, Sanderlings, Dunlins, a Peregrine Falcon, Marsh Harriers and a Little Tern.

Sanderling

We returned to the Casa Rosa at 16.30hrs to try to find a Barn Owl. We failed with the Barn Owl, but had better luck with a Little Owl and a pair of Hoopoes.

19th January.

After an early breakfast, we sat on the terrace of the Casa Rosa, watching and photographing Blackcaps, Sardinian Warblers and Chiffchaffs feeding in the flowering Aloe Vera plants. A Hoopoe put in an appearance and was duly “snapped”.

Blackcap female          Blackcap male

We then set of for Quinta do Largo and the Lago de Sáo Laurenco. After parking the vehicle, we walked along the exposed mudflats of the Ría Formosa, dodging errant golf balls from the nearby fairways. On the mudflats there were both Black and Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlews, Whimbrels, Oystercatchers, Dunlins, Turnstones, Redshanks, Greenshanks and Kentish, Ringed and Grey Plovers. A mixed flock of gulls were resting on a muddy island and careful scanning revealed an Audouin´s Gulls and several Sandwich Terns. A Kingfisher flashed by and we were then treated to 10 minutes of a Caspian Tern fishing just 40 metres away.

The Lago de Sáo Laurenco was full of water and birds and we recorded a dozen or so Purple Swamp-hens, Little and Great Crested Grebes, Little Egrets, Wigeon, Pintails, Shovelers, Tufted Ducks and Common Pochards. Close scrutiny of the reeds revealed a good number of Common Snipe, whilst the stone pine forest produced Iberian Magpies, Hoopoes, Black Redstarts, Robins, Sardinian Warblers, Great and Blue Tits and Song Thrushes.

Swamp-hen

The afternoon involved driving to Cabo de Sáo Vicente, the most western point of mainland Europe, stopping for another of Hanny´s packed lunches on the way.

Just before reaching the cape, I spotted a Blue Rock Thrush perched on an electricity cable and this was eagerly photographed by Ray. On arrival at the cape there seemed to be very little bird activity, but a search of the cliffs and scrubland produced Southern Grey Shrikes, Black Redstarts, Sardinian and Dartford Warblers, Zitting Cisticolas, Song Thrushes, Crested Larks, more Blue Rock Thrushes and a few Thekla Larks. Offshore, several Northern Gannets were seen.

I Spotted a Black Redstart nearby and as I was trying to direct Ray to it, I became aware of a small group of birds feeding close by, in the shadows of the cliff face. It was bad light and my first tour was of Rock Pipits. As they moved around I then thought of Dunnocks. By now, both Ray and Rebecca were on to the birds and as one came in to the light I announced that they were Alpine Accentors. At this point, they all flew off, so we returned to join the other by the vehicle. As we approached, Dave signalled a small group of birds feeding no more than five metres away and whispered “Alpine Accentors”. The birds had flown straight to the car park and produced fantastic photo opportunities for the next 10 minute. Hopefully, Ray, Dave and Mary will be sending copies of their photos and I will be able to post a few at a later date.

Alpine Accentor

We ended the day at Pêra marshes, but we only had 15 minutes of daylight left, so couldn't appreciate the area properly. However, in the failing light we did manage to see Purple Swamp-hens, Greater Flamingos, Spoonbills, Black-winged Stilts, Sanderlings and several duck species.

20th January.

Our trip today involved driving up to the Alentejo region of Portugal in search of Bustards. We took the A-27/N-122 to Mértola and then turned off to the Pulo do Lobo. On the way we stopped several times to photograph Red-legged Partridges, Southern Grey Shrikes, Lapwings, Corn Buntings, Crested Larks and White Storks. Also seen were Crag Martins, Serins, Black Redstarts, Stonechats, Buzzards and a Little Owl. I had never visited the Pulo do Lobo before but had heard good reports about it. It is a spectacular site for scenery and it seems very promising, but we were obviously there at the wrong time of the year and were disappointed by the lack of birds. The only birds of note were a pair of Rock Buntings, but even these were seen only very briefly.

Returning to the main N-122, we now drove along the road to Castro Verde and after about 30 minutes of searching, Rebecca asked me to stop and look at some shapes in a field, wanting to know if they were just tree stumps or clumps of vegetation. They turned out to be 15 Great Bustards and for the next half-hour we had great views and were able to get photographs. Eventually, the birds decided to move off and we were treated to the sight of these magnificent birds flying along the ridge of a field, before disappearing.

great bustards portugal.

We continued along the road, almost to Castro Verde, seeing more White Storks, Lapwings, Cattle Egrets, partridges, shrikes, larks and Red Kites. With the sun getting coger in the sky, I decided to head back along the road, with the sunlight behind us, hopefully to give us a better chance of spotting any birds in the fields and on the plains. Half way along the road we pulled over and I spotted another group of Great Bustards, 14 this time and slightly further away, but showing well in the good light. In the same area, there were also 6 Red Kites, a couple of Buzzards, Ravens and two Carrion Crows.

21st January.

The last day of the tour and after an early breakfast we said farewell to Casa Rosa, and made our way to the saltmarshes behind Faro airport. Low tide enabled us to see many waders, including Ringed, Grey and Kentish Plovers, Red and Greenshanks, Black and Bar-tailed Godwits, Little and Cattle Egrets, White Storks, Turnstones, Whimbrels, Curlews, Common Sandpipers, Oystercatchers, Dunlins and Sanderlings. A Caspian Tern put in an appearance before Mary spotted two smaller terns flying over the marsh, which turned out to be Common Terns.

Cattle Egret

We had decided that the Pêra marshes held enough interest to be revisited, especially as we had had such a short time there in failing light on Friday. As soon as we parked beside the marsh, Dave was immediately on to a resting Caspian Tern, only 70 metres away. This was avidly photographed many times over a period of almost two hours. Other birds that were found included Avocets, Greater Flamingos, Golden Plovers plus the other 3 species seen earlier, Black-winged Stilts, Crested and Woodlarks, Black Redstarts, Meadow Pipits, Pintails, Gadwalls, Shovelers, Teal and a few Marsh Harriers.

As we were leaving Portugal, we stopped at the Sapal do Castro Marim nature reserve. Spoonbills were seen flying and feeding and a few Snipe were also seen, along with numerous other waders. A small flock of about 8 Stone Curlews were spotted on the drier areas of the marsh and a group of Red-crested Pochards brought the tour total up to 130 species seen.

It was now time to pack up the telescopes, binoculars and cameras, cross back into Spain and drive Dave, Mary, Ray and Lyn back to Sevilla airport to catch their flight back to the UK.

Allen's Gallinule

The highlights of the tour for me were the Allen´s Gallinule, seen so well at El Rocío on the 15th , the Alpine Accentors, showing even better on the 19th and the Great Bustards seen on the 20th.

John Butler - Donana Bird Tours. www.donanabirdtours.com  

 

greenshank.                 grey plover

 

Kentish Plover         whimbrel

red knobbed coot Algarve