Sunday, May 28, 2006

Algarve II

Algarve – Wednesday 26th April to Monday 1st May

The last leg of the holiday was spent in the eastern Algarve. The area had a lot to offer in respect to birding, but not so much for Vitty, so we decided to splash out and stay at somewhere a bit more classy where Vitty would be happy staying during the day while I went off birding. Close to Tavira, Quinta da Lua was a fantastic place to stay and well worth the extra cash. Our hosts, Miguel and Vimal, had done a superb job and the breakfasts were out of this world.

Vitty, Quinta da Lua (Portugal), 27-Apr-06
me, Quinta da Lua (Portugal), 27-Apr-06
Vitty and me at Quinta da Lua

On the way down to the Algarve we took the scenic route alongside the River Guadiana. At Alcoutim we took a wrong turn and ended up in a construction site where a superb Blue Rock Thrush was singing from the top of a crane. Much of the time in the Algarve was spent at Castro Marim, a superb area for birding. But with 3 days to go there were 3 main target birds still not found: Red-necked Nightjar, Iberian Chiffchaff and Orphean Warbler.

The first of these was supposed to be common in the area but I only had one specific site. I waited here at dusk and could hear one calling miles away but after hours of trying I just couldn’t seem to get anywhere near it. Rather than waste another evening and half the night here I decided to check out the area close to Montenegro University as I thought the habitat looked suitable and it would give me another opportunity to find the nearby Ludo Farm, supposedly a good birding site. I did find the right area this time and indeed struck lucky with the Nightjar. However I needn’t have spent so much energy searching, for we subsequently heard one calling from our terrace at Quinta da Lua!

Iberian Chiffchaff was a bird I particularly wanted to see and hear but it turns out they’re harder to find than I realised in southern Portugal. I spent quite a bit of time desperately driving around looking for and checking any remotely suitable habitat I could find. Eventually I struck gold at a nice little valley at Tareja, just north of São Brás de Alportel. Orphean Warbler was a similar tale, except without the happy ending – one left for the next trip if one doesn’t turn up here before then.

As well as birding we did do a little 'normal' sight-seeing - e.g. the Roman ruins at Estói where there were some cool fish mosaics but not much else.

Ruinas de Milreu, Estói (Portugal), 29-Apr-06
Ruinas de Milreu, Estói (Portugal), 29-Apr-06
Mosaics at the Ruinas de Milreu at Estói

Birding sites:

Castro Marim. Fantastic area for birding and despite spending considerable time here I never did cover the whole place. My main target here was Lesser Short-toed Larks which were very easily found just past the reserve centre. I returned here three times as it took me a few goes to get any decent photos and I hoped also to see Spectacled Warbler which was supposed to be in the area (but I didn’t find any). The pool behind the centre held breeding Red-crested Pochards but the saltpans elsewhere on the reserve, especially those accessed from the other end, were excellent for waders. There were more, larger pools the other side of Castro Marim village and these were fantastic, crammed full of thousands of waders and other birds. I didn’t see any rare species of wader, but the variety was excellent. Other interesting species included Caspian Tern.

Kentish Plover, Castro Marim (Portugal), 30-Apr-06
Sanderling, Castro Marim (Portugal), 26-Apr-06
Curlew Sandpiper, Castro Marim (Portugal), 1-May-06
Common Sandpiper, Castro Marim (Portugal), 1-May-06
Kentish Plover, Sanderling, Curlew Sandpiper and Common Sandpiper - four of the many waders present at Castro Marim

Lesser Short-toed Lark, Castro Marim (Portugal), 1-May-06
Lesser Short-toed Lark - Castro Marim is one of the best places in Europe to see this species

Ponta da Areia. The most south-easterly tip of Portugal, I thought the area might be good for migrants and sea-watching. Perhaps it is sometimes, but not when I visited.

Azinhal. North of Castro Marim, I had read that there was a site for Orphean Warblers here so I spent quite a bit of time looking for them. Unfortunately I hadn’t got any specific details so I don’t know if I was looking in the right area and didn’t find them. The minor road running east from the village to the banks of Guadiana did however hold a good variety of birds and was well worth birding even without the Orphean Warblers.

Ria Formosa. I only spent a single afternoon at the reserve here and didn’t see a great deal. Possibly it would have been better on a different tide and early in the morning. Unfortunately it doesn’t open early enough in the morning to get there before breakfast, and it didn’t seem worth missing breakfast at Quinta da Lua.

Forte de Rato. A few saltpans on the edge of Tavira held good numbers of waders, though nothing remarkable.

Ludo Farm. A good site which would have probably been worth spending more time at. There was a good variety of woodland species, a freshwater pool with reed beds as well as salt-pans which held a good variety of waders. Best birds were the Red-necked Nightjars.

Spotless Starlings, Ludo (Portugal), 29-Apr-06
Spotless Starlings - another Iberian speciality

Tareja. The place I eventually found Iberian Chiffchaff, at the very bottom of the valley. Nice little spot with a good variety of mainly woodland birds.

Click here for full details and photos of the birds seen.

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