Tuesday 31 May 2022

Southern Portugal - Part 3

Once more we were out the door by 6:30am. First stop was a return to the previous day's location where we had Montagu's Harrier. That morning there were five birds but they'd moved several fields away so views weren't as good. However, the morning air was filled with the sound of singing Calandra Larks.



Calandra Lark

Plus we were treated to this flight displaying Little Bustard.

Little Bustard

Its easy to forget and take for granted how many great species we were seeing on a very regular basis. Woodchat Shrikes, Zitting Cisticolas, Sardinian and Cetti's Warblers were common and practically every piece of water had at least one Black-winged Stilt on it. Corn Buntings and Crested Larks were abundant (Thekla are present too and apparently both apperance and song overlap so even experienced local birders struggle to seperate them, however we both agreed that most of what we saw were probably Crested and not Thekla Larks, but what do we know!). White Storks were well established and many nests had little Storks present. Plus, and I didn't know this before, Spanish Sparrows create colonies within White Stork nests.

Corn Bunting

White Stork

Spanish Sparrow at White Stork nest
Crested Lark

 We made a second stop at the raptor watch-point Senhora do Aracelis where we had better views of the male Western Black-eared Wheatear from the previous day.

Western Black-eared Wheatear

And a Golden Oriole sang from the surrounding Eucalyptus trees.


With the daytime temperature in the high thirties, we returned to the cottage where I hit the wall and slept for several hours. Whilst I slept, Nick did the dirty dishes (thanks) and soon enough we were back out birding again although it was still hot. We stopped along a track off the N123 to Monte da Apariça. where the land owner has installed nest boxes on the power line pylons for Rollers. 

European Roller

European Roller

Plus there were two Hoopoes, one of whom obliged for a brief photo.


A spot outside Mertola for Iberian Green Woodpecker was unsuccessful insofar as we didn't see or hear that species there but Nick did find a Western Orphean Warbler (which was new for the site going by eBird). Plus, a purring Turtle Dove on the wires was nice.

Turtle Dove, Mertola

We made a quick stop in Mertola so I could run to the pharmacy to get cream for my insanely itchy mosquito bites. I shopped while Nick apologised to the local Polizei for my bad driving and even worse parking - sorry Nick!

Our final stop of the day was an abandoned Copper mine - the Sao Domingo mine where we would have the best chance of seeing White-rumped Swift. This was a bizzare and surreal location. I could try to describe it but I think the photos do a better job. Despite the environmental impact mining has clearly had, nature was starting to re-establish itself and we had great birds there. Two White-rumped Swifts, 2-3 Black-eared Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Crag and House Martins, European Bee-eaters, Red-rumped Swallows and Common Swifts. 

                                                                Sao Domingo Mine
White-rumped Swift

If it wasn't getting so late I'd have happily stayed here an hour longer, but we were hungry and wanted to stop off at a restaurant that had been recommended to us earlier in the trip. They couldn't understand us and we couldn't read the Portugese menu but they took one look at us and figured 'Steak and chips' for these lads. And that's what we got, along with local cheese, sausage and bread. Perfect!

We managed to share one beer between us before crashing into our beds shortly before midnight!

Monday 30 May 2022

Southern Portugal - Part 2

Despite a broken nights sleep, I had set the alarm for 6am and we were up and on the road by 6.30am. We stopped briefly when Nick picked up a Great Spotted Cuckoo perched on the telegraph wires above a small olive grove. From there we pressed on to a spot we had for Great and Little Bustard, both of which we managed to see, albeit distantly. Two more lifers!

As the morning warmed up we headed for a small hill between Castro Verde and Mertola called Senhora de Aracelis. This afforded us nice views of the plains and as the air warmed up we hoped to pick up some soaring raptors lifting on thermals. The track up to this hill passed through open country side where we had plenty of Crested Lark, Corn Buntings and 'rubicola' Stonechats. We also had a female Western Black -eared Wheatear which was a long awaited lifer for me (although I still really wanted to come across a male bird) and a smart male Golden Oriole. 

View over the plains from Senhora de Aracelis

The chapel at Senhora de Aracelis

This powerful looking Short-toed Eagle watched over us as we drove up the hill to the small chapel.

Short-toed Eagle, Senhora do Aracelis

We picked up Booted and Bonelli's Eagles plus several distant Griffon Vultures and a Black (Cinereous) Vulture but no sign of either Golden Eagle or Spanish Imperial Eagle.

Black Vulture

Griffon Vulture

With not many raptors to keep us entertained (for what reasons we were not sure) we decided to move on. We followed a dirt track near Alvares that took us past a small reservoir where we had a single Gull-billed Tern and this Collared Pratincole that was taking no nonsense from a rodwy bunch of Little Ringed Plovers.

Little Ringed Plover & Collared Pratincole

Collared Pratincole

Our next stop was at the Information Centre for Ligue por Protection de Nature (LPN) near Entradas. We took a few wrongs tracks before finally reaching the Information Centre but at least this smart Bee-eater was a nice diversion whilst we figured out the map.

European Bee-eater

Not to mention the Corn Buntings and Stonechats.

At the Information Centre we watched a pair of Lesser Kestrels hunting in the surrounding fields.


Male Lesser Kestrel

Female Lesser Kestrel

Female Lesser Kestrel

Male Lesser Kestrel

LPN Information Centre

By now it was after 6pm, we had time for one more spot before we needed to head to the location we'd been given for Red-necked Nightjar. At that second last place we had lovely views of both male and female Montagu's Harrier. Hardly a more elegant bird of prey is there?

Male Montagu's Harrier


Then it was time to find our Red-necked Nightjar place, which we did. Unfortunately there were no singing birds but a female gave a very close fly-by and a Nightingale sang from deep cover.


It had been a long day, we got home and Nick whipped up a couple of steaks on the outdoor grill which we devoured with a few bottles of Sagres. By the time midnight came along I was whacked!

Thursday 26 May 2022

Southern Portugal - Part 1

It had been over three years since myself and Nick had last enjoyed an overseas birding trip (see Kuwait 2019) and since then a lot of water had flowed under the bridge. So on Tuesday 17th May it was with much anticipation that we set out (me from Norwich and Nick from Cornwall) for Faro in Southern Portugal. We arrived to our airport hotel late that night and convened at 6.15am the following morning to catch-up over breakfast. We sat outside chatting as Swallows, Swifts, House Martins and Red-rumped Swallows swooped down to drink from the hotel swimming pool.

Our first spot was west of Faro airport, an area known as Rio Formosa and Ludo Farm. Driving the dirt track that goes through Ludo and eventually leads on to San Lorenzo golf course, we scoped the salt pans where we had Kentish Plover, Collared Partincole, White Stork and Cattle Egret. In the scrub on the inland side there was Nightingale and the ubiquitous but still pleasing Sardinian Warbler.

At the end of the track we parked and walked along the edge of the golf course where we enjoyed views of Spanish Wagtail, Serin, Turtle Dove, Hoopoe and the many Azure-winged Magpies. The latter bird was a lifer for me and they were ever present throughout the trip, I was sorry I didn't make a better effort to photograph them as they are a smart looking corvid.

Azure-winged or Iberian Magpie

One of many Hoopoes on the fairways at San Lorenzo golf course

At the São Lourenço Bird Hide which overlooks an ornamental lake we had Black-faced Weaver, Red-crested Pochard and Common Pochard, Little Bittern and Black-crowned Night Heron.

Female Red-crested Pochard, Sao Lorenco Golf Course, Portugal

From there we headed east around Faro and through Olhoa on the N125 to the Rio Formosa Nature Park at Quinta de Marim. We walked the paths around the park which took us through scrub and woodland, the habitat looked good but unfortunately the day had really heated up so we didn't spend too long here.

From Quinta de Marim we turned inland and drove about ninety minutes north-west to the Alejento region of Portugal which we were to spend the remainder of our trip based around. We stopped for supplies in the town of Mertola, stocking up on local meats, cheese, fruit and veg and of course some excellent local wine. We pulled in to the carpark past the bridge over the gorge on the western side of the town where we enjoyed excellent views of a Blue Rock Thrush singing from the butresses of the bridge and at times from the edge of the bridge and on the lamposts as the traffic whizzed past him. 

Bridge over the gorge on Ribeiro Guadiana outside Mertola

Crag Martins, House Martins, Barn Swallows and Red-rumped Swallows buzzed below the bridge whilst a Nightingale sang lazily from the scrub near the river bank. Just above us where we had parked there was a rather handsome male Rock Bunting (which turned out to be a lifer for me).

From there we headed to our AirBnB which was to be our base for the next three days and kudos to Nick for booking such a comfortable and charming place.


Our own lemon tree - for evening G&T's.

Shady verada - perfect for lazy birding

Casa Chocholas with our rental car 'Pierre'

Nick took care of dinner (excellent Black pork and salad washed down with cold Sagres and local red wine). We scoped four Griffon Vultures soaring along the ridge in the evening sunshine and I was beguiled by lifer number three, this fine Iberian Grey Shrike, as it hunted from the telegraph wires in the field opposite the cottage.

Iberian Grey Shrike

As the sun dipped and the day finally cooled, a Golden Oriole sang briefly and a Nightingale pitched in a few bars. I stayed up a little late to enjoy a second bottle of Sagres and finally turned in around midnight. At 1.30am I was awoken by the mosquitoes who were having a party in my room. The next day I counted 27 bites on my arms and legs which are still driving me nuts a week later!

Monday 16 May 2022

Denizens of the night

Nightjars have been one of my favourite groups of birds for some time. Everything from Nightjars, Nighthawks, Potoos, Frogmouths, Owlet-Nightjars to Oilbirds just fascinate me. Whether its their cryptic plumage, nocturnal habits, the strange noises they make, the superstition and old wive-tales that accompany them or all of that! 

So, I count myself very lucky to have European Nightjars breeding only a short drive away from where I live. Saturday was a warm and calm day so just as the sun was dropping I hopped in the car, drove the short distance to the spot and got myself set up.


Parabolic microphone at the ready

 I didn't need to wait long after sun set for the first birds to appear. Two males chasing each other around. One of which posed a couple of times on his favourite post as the light faded.

European Nightjar - 14th May 2022

As the light faded the birds got more active, males chasing each other around, wing clapping and chirping before settling on their favourite high perches to churr away.


All photos taken at ISO51400 - that's as high as the setting goes on my camera hence the super-grainy shots, but you get the picture.

And of course there's that 'song'!


Despite bug spray I got eaten alive by midges, but you must suffer for your art! All in all a very enjoyable hour with the Nightjars and hopefully not my only visit there this summer.