Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Back in the U.K.

Laura and I flew back from Faro to Edinburgh today, leaving the dreary gray skies and heavy rain of the Algarve behind! Despite southern Portugal being well known for its beautiful sunny weather at this time of year, we happened to luck out and arrive just in time for a series of massive storms that produced over 100 mm of rain in 3 days. Not to worry though, the long range forecast now shows beautiful sun and 20 degree weather for the next two weeks at least ;)

Despite the conditions not being too conducive for great birding, Laura and I made the best of it! At any rate, it sure beat sifting through blackbird flocks and migrant geese in Ontario...

I will make full blog posts detailing each day of the Faro extension of the Portugal trip at some point in the near future, but for now I'll mention some of the highlights.

Friday March 28 (briefly mentioned in last blog post):
Took the train down to Faro, arriving in the evening and adding three lifers before the sun set!

Saturday, March 29: 
Laura and I took a catamaran through a few miles of salt marsh to a sparsely vegetated, sandy barrier island immediately south of Faro. Luckily we managed to dodge the rain for the afternoon! We birded and hiked all afternoon in nice sunny weather, the only good weather day of the trip. Chameleons eluded us, but birds did not! I added 8 lifers:
-Kentish Plover
-Audouin's Gull
-Collared Pratincole
-Sardinian Warbler
-Western Yellow Wagtail (Iberian subspecies)
-Common Redstart
-Greater Short-toed Lark
-Great Skua

Audouin's Gull - Ilha Deserta, Portugal

I was really happy to finally get a Great Skua - passing by the island with a steady stream of gannets - which had been one of my most wanted birds. Audouin's Gulls were also really abundant and I saw about a thousand of them. It was a bit of a surprise to find out there was a massive colony of them on the island!

Sunday, March 30:
It turns out that car rentals in Portugal are really cheap. We paid 30 Euros for 3 full days with a little Fiat! We picked up the car at 10:00 AM and checked out Quinta do Lago; a complex of numerous salt evaporation ponds, lagoons, scrub, pine woodlands, and a very productive lake adjacent to a golf course. It rained on and off during our time here but we managed to see nearly all our target birds!  Purple Swamphens were almost too easy and Iberian Magpies seemed to be everywhere. We also saw singles of Red-crested Pochard and Ferruginous Duck, several Black-headed Weavers, a flock of Common Waxbills, and heard one of the long-staying Little Crakes (a real rarity in Portugal). Just as we were about to leave, Laura spotted a Little Bittern right at the edge of a wetland! They are pretty much the Old World equivalent of Least Bittern...

Little Bittern - Quinta do Lago, Portugal (photo taken by Laura Bond)

We checked out Quinta de Marim (east of Faro) in the late afternoon, however the rain finally started for good while we were here, cancelling our plans of seeing Great Spotted Cuckoos, Chameleons, Bee-eaters, etc. Despite the weather I did add two lifers in Iberian Chiffchaff and Common Cuckoo! I finished the day with 12 lifers.

Monday, March 31:
Laura and I headed north to Castro Verde and Mértola; a vast area of steppe and grassland. This location contains an abundance of really cool birds including Little and Great Bustards, Spanish Imperial Eagles, Eurasian Black Vultures (and about 18 other raptor species!), Black-bellied Sandgrouse, various larks/shrikes/sparrows, etc.

Unfortunately it poured for most of the day and as a result we did not see any eagles or vultures of which maybe 8 species are possible. However we did get both bustard species! I added close to 20 lifers that day, though with good weather 30 would have been do-able.

Laura with her first Natterjack Toad - Castro Verde, Portugal

Tuesday, April 1:
Another day with nothing but rain and wind! Laura and I headed west to the furthest southwest corner of Portugal, known for its massive cliffs and scenic views. For Portuguese birders, this area is well known for its nesting wild Rock Pigeons and Red-billed Choughs, both of which Laura and I saw. The "best" bird of the day was an immature Glaucous Gull I found, a good April record for Portugal. Quite a few Glaucs (normally pretty rare this far south!) had been seen in the Iberian peninsula this winter, apparently. The rest of the day was mostly a write-off but we had a few brief periods of light rain where we could explore some of the cliffs.

Sagres, Portugal

Despite the weather we made the most of the situation and had an awesome trip. I'm looking forward to returning to the Iberian Peninsula sometime and finally seeing a Spanish Imperial Eagle!

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