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!

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