Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The Algarve, Portugal 19th - 26th March 2011

After what appears to have been another never-ending winter my wife and I decided to wash away those winter blues with a trip to warmer climes. As usual though we left things to the last minute and so rather than plan a trip to a new location, we headed to Portugal and The Algarve. We have been to Portugal twice before, both times in the autumn, this time we thought we would try spring, in the hope of some sun and a bit of early migration birding for me. Our trip was very much aimed at being a relaxing break, but obviously being a birder I planned to visit a few of the sites that I had visited previously, including the Portugal A Rocha site, Cruzinha, for some bird ringing.

Hoopoe, Cruzinha, The Algarve March 2011

We based ourselves just north of the village of Sesmarias, and from our balcony we had excellent views across an undulating landscape of scrub with patches of open grassland. This land was private so I did not enter it, but from the boundaries it was possible to see a very vocal flock of azure-winged magpies most days. Sardinian warblers, blackbirds and chiffchaffs were also recorded during the first few days but surprisingly that was about all. As the week progressed the number of species recorded increased and included subalpine warbler, cattle egret, kestrel, fan-tailed warbler, red-rumped swallow, greenfinch, Eurasian jay, green woodpecker, linnet, the odd hoopoe and two fly-over bee-eaters.

On our first evening we travelled to a restaurant at Praia dos Caneiros. The restaurant is set on the beach and surrounded by cliffs, a tall vegetated cliff stack is located just off shore. As we arrived a male blue rock thrush sang from the cliff top, a male black redstart fed nearby and a screaming flock of pallid swifts fed overhead. Whilst sitting in the restaurant I noticed little and cattle egrets flying up to the vegetated top of the cliff stack, during our stay I counted over 200 birds going in to roost. It was an interesting location for a roost and one which undoubtedly gives excellent protection against predators.

On the morning of 20th March we headed to the small bay of Carvoeira and after a quick coffee, we headed up the cliffs for a  bit of birding. It was a glorious spring day with clear skies and plenty of warmth in the sun. It appeared that overnight there had been a fall of migrants as at least 10 chiffchaffs were feeding in the scrub on the cliff top along with five Sardinian warblers, three northern wheatears and a hoopoe, but the star of the show was a cracking male subalpine warbler.

Male Subalpine Warbler, Carvoeiro, Algarve - March 2011

As we continued around the cliff top a blue rock thrush, flew up from the ground and began to sing from a nearby television aerial. In the bright sunlight you can see the fantastic metallic blue colouration that makes this species so distinctive in Western Europe.

Male Blue Rock Thrush, Carvoeiro, Algarve - March 2011

A flock of yellow-legged herring gulls, of various ages, were roosting on the cliff top giving  me the ideal opportunity to study their different plumages, and clinch the key ID features......... after  a few minutes I think I got the hang of the adults!!

Yellow-legged Gull, Carvoeiro, Algarve - March 2011

The heat from the sun was obviously welcomed by the different insect communities, in particular butterflies and moths. Several white's, clouded yellows and painted lady's were present and a hummingbird hawk moth fed on the available nectar.

Hummingbird Hawk-moth feeding on Nectar

Pera Marsh/Salgados
Pera Marsh is located east of the resort of Armacao de Pera and immediately behind the beach of Praia Grande, at the mouth of Rib de Espiche. The area provides a diverse range of habitats from wetland and estuary to scrub and grazed pasture, and if thats not enough there is a fantastic sandy beach and a bar nearby to keep my wife happy whilst I wander. The back drop to the area however is not the best since it has become developed with hundreds of apartments and a golf course now borders the eastern bank of the lake. Nonetheless it is still a great place to bird.

Pera Marsh, Algarve - March 2011

During this holiday we made two visits to the marsh, one on 23rd and one on 25th March. During my previous autumn visits the water level had been low but on this trip it was relatively high and therefore provided ample feeding for the greater flamingos present. Further back a group of about a dozen spoonbill, six grey herons and on 25th and flock of glossy ibis were roosting, along with a selection of duck species.

Flamingos, Pera Marsh, Algarve - March 2011

Closer to shore black-winged stilts, pied avocets, black and bar-tailed godwits were all feeding. With spring in the air some of the black-winged stilts were concentrating on other activities. I must admit I felt as if i was invading their privacy, but then they had made no effort to hide.

Amorous Black-winged Stilts, Pera Marsh, Algarve - March 2011

A scan around the exposed mud produced a flock of approximately 75 sanderling, 35 kentish plover, ringed plovers, redshanks, grey plovers and dunlin, a more detailed scan produced a roosting Caspian tern and two Audouin's gulls. On 25th March we walked east along the boardwalk towards Salgados in search of a rumoured purple gallinule, we did not see this bird but instead a cracking male white-spotted bluethroat, as I reach for my camera it darted away for cover leaving me with a blurred back end shot.

Bluethroat running for Cover, Pera Marsh, Algarve - March 2011

Fueled with the success of the bluethroat I headed off into the bushes for some scrub bashing. There had obviously been a recent fall as the three commonest species were Iberian yellow wagtails, white wagtails and woodchat shrikes. 

Iberian Yellow Wagtail, Pera Marsh, Algarve - March 2011

White Wagtail, Pera Marsh, Algarve - March 2011

There must have been more than 50 white wagtails feeding on the grassland, they were generally quite flighty but some were more approachable than others. Whilst scanning through them I noticed that many birds showed a contrast in the greater coverts, thereby indicating that they were last years juveniles.

Close up of Wing Showing Contrast between Juvenile (Brownish) and Post Juvenile Greater Coverts

The image above clearly shows the contrast between the different feather generations within the wing.

Woodchat Shrike, Pera Marsh, Algarve - March 2011

Woodchat shrikes were abundant with as many as five recorded together in one tree at one point. They're respective plumages were incredibly variable, some birds being extremely pale and sandy coloured whereas others were very well marked black and white with a chestnut cap.

Woodchat Shrike, Pera Marsh, Algarve - March 2011

A species complex that I have always struggled with is the crested/thekla lark complex. It seems that there is so much variation in their respective plumages that some birders seem to identify them based on they're geographical locations. Over the years I have tried to study the birds that I find but the time between each encounter often means I forget the features to look out for.

Crested Lark, Pera Marsh, Algarve - March 2011

To me the individual above was a classic crested. It had a tall and spiky crested with a long  bill with an almost straight lower mandible. The breast markings were strong but not as bold as I would expect from a thekla, and although not visible in this shot, there was no contrast on the rump........crested lark it is then.

Summer Asphodel, Pera Marsh, Algarve - March 2011

The spring flowers at Pera Marsh were also amazing wild gladiolies, iris's, crown daisies and euphorbia's in abundance along with a scattering of mirror and tongue orchids. But the species that really caught my eye was the summer asphodel. These flowers were striking with their pure white petals with a red stripe through the centre. I have seen a few different species of asphodel previously but I don't remember them being as striking as these.

Once again I am very grateful to Marcial and his family and team for the hospitality and for allowing me the visit they're site for some bird ringing. My previous visits were in the autumn and during those visits blackcaps and pied flycatchers were the most numerous species captured with highlights that included azure-winged magpie and Sardinian warbler. Unfortunately my computer crashed after that visit and I lost all of my photos.

Sardinian Warbler, Cruzinha, Algarve - March 2011
So you can image my delight when I captured this male Sardinian warbler. This cracking male bird certainly made up for the loss of my photos from last time. But the bird that really did impress was the hoopoe. Marcial had warned me that if a caught one, that had a tendency to crap in every direction, and I would be well advised to keep my mouth closed. Well this individual was not that badly behaved and only crapped once and my mouth was closed!

Adult Male Hoopoe, Cruzinha, Algarve - March 2011

There was an interesting debate over the sex of this bird as the published literature states that males have a 'deep vinaceous-pink chin and breast' whereas females have a 'cinnamon-rufous breast and chin, latterly partly tinged white'. As with any description of colour this is highly subjective, and the perception of the colour of the breast varied as the light changed. This bird was eventually sexed on the basis of its wing length which was 156mm, the range for females is 142-151, whereas males is 147-153.

Adult Male Hoopoe, Cruzinha, Algarve - March 2011
By contrast the serin was easy, the bright yellow plumage, retained juvenile greater coverts and the pointed and abraded tail features confirmed it as a 1st summer male bird.

Male Serin, Cruzinha, Algarve - March 2011

Over my two visits around 50 birds were captured, the species captured included greenfinch, chaffinch, blackcap, chiffchaff, goldfinch, blackbird, common waxbill, great tit, song thrush and robin, as well as those above. So much like rining at home really.

The roadside verges in the vicinity of our accommodation were carpeted with an amazing display of wild flowers. Now I don't profess to be an expert on plants, and in particular orchids, as there seems to be so many different forms with many species hybridising and subsequently making identification very difficult. So I have always found the best approach is to take as many photos as possible and identify them later. In the case of the orchid below this turned out to be the best course of action. My initial thoughts were that this was some sort of spider orchid, but apparently not, it is in fact a bumble bee orchid, and a species which I don't recall having seen before.

Bumble Bee Orchid, Algarve - March 2011

Whereas I first encountered mirror orchid and yellow bee orchid back in the mid 1980's and during my first trip to the Iberian peninsula....and I seem to recall watching orphean warbler at the time.

Mirror Orchid, Algarve - March 2011

Yellow Bee Orchid, Algarve - March 2011

Well there we have it, the end of my first foreign trip of the year and the end of another post....I hope you enjoyed it.

Sunset over the Algarve and the end of our Holiday

Monday, 7 March 2011

Manor Farm Country Park and Curbridge - 5th and 6th March 2011

Another weekend and another ringing session at Manor Farm. The weather was good on Saturday, albeit cold, so I decided to get up early and give it a go. It was also the first weekend of the new RAS season...and therefore was the ideal time to catch some house sparrows.

This male House Sparrow was obviously aware that I was watching him; this image
was digiscoped  using my Swarovski scope and Sony compact

The session itself started slowly, with only a wren and a redwing on the first two rounds. I was beginning to wonder whether it would have been better to have stayed in bed, snuggled under the duvet, but by the next round things had picked up; three blackbirds, four house sparrows, a song thrush and a pair of Bullfinch's were soon added. By the end of the session we had amassed a total of 28 birds, of which 13 were re-traps; 9 house sparrows were captured, seven of which were re-traps, with the oldest being a female that was originally captured in January 2007, 4 years and 37 days before.

Highlights were the pair of bullfinch, which I didn't photograph, and this cracking female green woodpecker.......

Green Woodpecker, Manor Farm Country Park 2011

.......there is a fair amount of variation in this species within its range, but the nominate sub species, which is the one occurring in the British Isles, can be sexed by the colouration of the moustache. This bird had no red and therefore was a female. This is only the fourth individual captured at the park, the last one was six years ago.

Green Woodpecker, Manor Farm Country Park March 2011

I usually run a moth trap and intend to post my captures when I do, but the moth below was disturbed from vegetation in my garden as I was cutting back some shrubs. In 11 years of moth trapping I have recorded 569 species in my garden but this is the first time I have recorded this one. Ypsolopha mucronella is a local species of woodlands, but fairly widely distributed across Hampshire. Adult moths hibernate, but can be recorded flying on mild nights during the winter; the larvae feed on spindle.

Ypsolopha mucronella March 2011

A late afternoon stroll around Curbridge on the evening of 6th March, was timed to coincide with the falling tide. I positioned myself at the mouth of one of the narrow creeks in order to count wading birds. During spring the number of greenshank present can reach double figures, and previously the odd bird bearing colour rings has been present. However, this time only two un-ringed birds were present. 

Greenshank Curbridge March 2011

Two common sandpipers were also feeding on the intertidal mud; two birds have been present all winter, perhaps foolishly I assumed these two birds were those, but it is perfectly feasible that they were in fact returning spring migrants. The supporting cast included 17 redshank, two little grebe  and a little egret.

Little Egret, Curbridge, March 2011

The little egret was once a very rare bird in Hampshire, in fact I remember climbing a tree that overlooked Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve to get a view of my first. Now the species is well and truly established in the British Isles and breeds all along the south coast.
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