Southern Spain and The Algarve
13th - 20th February 2010
Needing a break from the constant cold weather weíve been experiencing this winter in Northern England Margaret and I decided to head to the Algarve and Southern Spain for February half term.
Cattle Egret Spotless Starling
Booking relatively cheap flights we flew from Liverpool arriving in Faro early afternoon. Picking up our car hire we headed straight east for Spain. From the car we saw several White Storks that were back on their nests, Cattle Egrets, Swallow, House Martin, Southern Grey Shrike and Marsh Harrier. We made our way directly into Donana to El Acebuche Visitor Center, stepping out of the car we were immediately surrounded by House Sparrows followed a few seconds later by Azure-winged Magpies all waiting for Food. Azure-winged Magpies proved to be very numerous around the pine woodlands with a flock of 70 roaming around the visitor centre. As we made our way onto the boardwalk the most obvious birds were Chiffchaffs, Black Redstarts, and Stonechats in smaller numbers were Robin, Great Tit, 2 Crested Tits, 10 Spotless Starlings, 1 Sardinian Warbler, 2 Serin and 12 Chaffinch. Due to the very wet winter all the ponds in the area are brim full and we soon found that birds were thin on the ground. From the many hides over looking the pools we logged 2 Pochard, 4 Little Grebes and a single Purple Swamp-hen.
Light was starting to fade as we made our way to Hinojos where were based for the first three nights. More birds added were 2 Crested Larks, 3 Buzzards, White Wagtails and 120 Azure-winged Magpies seen in several flocks heading off to roost.
A cold cloudy start as the car registered just 3 degrees Celsius! We made our way to Villamanrique de la Condesa where we had arranged to meet up with Peter Warham a bird guide for the area. We thought we would get there with plenty of time to spare but as it turned out we were quarter of an hour late since we totally forgot the time difference between Portugal and Spain. Luckily Peter was still present and spotted us straight away and we were soon on our way in his 4x4.
Straight away as we headed towards the reserve we started seeing many birds with Red Kite, Hen Harrier and a Booted Eagle overhead. Flicking off the roadsides were Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, Meadow Pipits, Song Thrush, Serin, Tree Sparrow, 4 Spanish Sparrows and 3 Hoopoes. We made a stop at a pond seeing Great Crested Grebe, Tufted Duck and Coot (but not our two target birds for the day, Red-knobbed Coot and White-headed Duck). Skimming low over the water amongst many Swallows and House Martins were a couple Red-rumped Swallows as Cettiís Warblers called from the margins. Moving on through the sparsely wooded area we picked out a distant perched Black-shouldered Kite.
As we headed further into Donana we made lots of random stops before arriving at a large reservoir which held 500 Flamingos, 30 Red-crested Pochards, Shoveler, 2 Caspian and Whiskered Terns and a distant flock of Coot that included a neck collared bird but we wonít count that! Further on a Black Stork rested in a field with a flock of 41 Glossy Ibis in the next flooded area whilst a pair of White-spotted Bluethroats skulked down a ditch. We then arrived on a raised road over fields from which we got the first Lapwings and Snipe for the trip and then a flock of 28 Little Bustards flew over high in the sky.
Black and White Stork
Heading out into the flat plains along challenging roads we followed alongside a large flooded dyke that was full of birds, with 8 Great White Egrets, 3 Squacco Heron, 30 Spoonbill, 16 Black Storks, 100ís Pintail, 300 Red-crested Pochards, and 1000 Coot. Roosting in the trackside bushes was a Barn Owl with a Great Spotted Cuckoo further on. Overhead were up to 20 Pallid Swifts and 2 Yellow Wagtails. Moving between two dykes we picked out a few distant Cranes with winter Skylark flocks all around. Arriving at Cano de Guadiamar another massive dyke we started scanning all the Coot whilst seeing 2 Gadwall, a few Green Sandpipers and 300 distant Black-winged Stilts and towards 100 Cranes. Moving on slowly we recorded a few Purple Swamp-hens, 30 Black-necked Grebes and 50 Lesser Short-toed Larks on the opposite side. Then amazingly from the near bank a Red-knobbed Coot swam out to feed in submerged vegetation along with a second bird giving amazing views with both birds in breeding plumage. We later spotted another two birds further on and non had the neck collars that reintroduced birds bear.
Great Spotted Cuckoo Barn Owl
We finished the day at Jose Antonio Visitor Centre where the pools were filled with 600 Flamingos and several Glossy Ibis but the heronry was not yet occupied. On the drive back a Stone Curlew flew across the road bringing the days total to an impressive 97 species.
Lesser Short-toed Lark
We awoke to heavy rain this morning so we decided to start at La Rocina Visitor Centre where we could hide under the trees and hides. Not much to report with just 8 Pochard on the water but the trees yielded 3 Short-toed Treecreepers, 2 Wrens and a Long-tailed Tit. As a few dry patches arrived we headed to the sea to check the beach at Matalascanas where we immediately found 5 Audouinís Gulls among many Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backs. But the best sighting by far was a colour ringed LBB Gull that was ringed at Tarnbrook just a few miles from our home back in Lancashire. Also on the sand were several Sanderling. Heading north we stopped at Mazagon where a large gull flock held 20 Audouinís and 3 Sandwich Terns whilst 6 Kentish Plovers and 2 Gannets were also recorded.
Still on the hunt for White-headed Duck we checked every pond in sight heading to the so-called reliable site of Las Madres Lagoon. Still nothing but 2 Squacco Herons and a further 23 Audouinís washing. Back at El Acebuche VC we focussed on photographing the Azure-winged Magpies, seeing a single Dartford Warbler and a Sparrowhawk.
Once again the heavy rain showers continued as we made our way back towards Portugal. The first stop was at the town of Niebla where a walk around the old ruins produced 9 Lesser Kestrels, 2 Crag Martins and a Peregrine between the showers. One final chance for W-h duck was at El Portil Lagoon but we could only manage 3 Ferruginous Ducks and 2 Audouinís Gulls.
Having a scenic drive we headed inland via El Granado seeing not a great deal apart from Green and Great-spotted Woodpeckers, 2 Jay and 2 Long-tailed Tits. Back at the Portuguese border we made a trip to Castro Marim were the path was flooded but off the access track we picked up Greenshank, Redshank, Common Sandpiper, Shelduck and another Peregrine.
Onto Tavira where we will stay for the remainder of the holiday we managed a look down to the coast at dusk passing lagoons that held Avocet, Dunlin, Turnstone, Black-tailed Godwits, Oystercatcher, Grey Plover and Ringed Plovers.
An early start as we left a showery coast to head north into the central plains near Castro Verde, as we pulled off the motorway we had a Black-shouldered Kite hovering overhead. Once out in the open grassland we started seeing Thekla Larks, Southern Grey Shrikes, Corn Buntings, 4 Red Kites, and big flocks of Golden Plovers with Lapwings. It wasnít long before Margaret spotted a group of Great Bustards on a rise that included a single male preparing for full display. We managed an impressive total of 40 birds by the end of the day. As we headed east we arrived at a bare looking field with really short turf and just a couple Lapwings. This field was near to Benviudo and had been home to a potential lifer for the last four months but will it still be here? After our first scan there was nothing, so we edged forward as a bird flew up from out of view with a Lapwing before landing a little further away. There it was a Sociable Lapwing, still in winter plumage but most importantly still here, cracking bird. As we pottered around some small roads a brief stop for a look at a Southern Grey Shrike resulted in great flight views of a Stone Curlew and then a flock of 14 Calandra Larks dropped into a field.
Great Bustard Sociable Lapwing
Stone Curlew Southern Grey Shrike
After a cracking morning we headed back south down the scenic N2 through the hills making several random stops picking up Nuthatch, Mistle Thrush, 3 Woodlark and 2 rather distant flying Black-shouldered Kites. Since the sun was now shining bright we decided to end the day at Quinta do Lago. The tide was in as we walked along the marsh but we still found 2 Whimbrel roosting. Arriving at the lagoon we immediately found many Purple Swamp-hens, Teal, Shoveler, Little Grebes whilst Grey Wagtails and Chiffchaffs feed along the shore. Constant scanning on the reed edges produced Little Egrets and then a brief view of a male Little Bittern perched up.
We awoke to more of the wet stuff as we drove west to the town of Carvoeiro. Arriving at the cliff edge we settled into our waterproofs and perched ourselves overlooking a murky sea. For the next two hours we were hoping for a Coryís to cruise by but no luck, our hopes were quite high as a constant stream of Gannets passed along with 8 Great Skua, 3 Common Scoter, 4 Sandwich Tern and 3 Mediterranean Gulls.
Trying to dry off in the car we made our way to Pera Marsh were there was a large expanse of mud covered with Stilts, Black-tailed Godwits and Sanderling. Also enjoying a good feed low over the mud were hundreds of Swallows and House Martins as well as many Crag Martins. Amongst the White Wagtails was a single Spanish Yellow Wagtail, whilst distantly a Spoonbill and Little Gull were sheltering from the brisk wind. It wasnít long however until a Peregrine appeared sending everything scattering off as it stooped after waders. Amongst the chaos we spotted two birds flying in the distance that had obvious down curved bills but no obvious leg projection! As they circled round it became obvious that these were Bald Ibis before landing on distance streetlights over a car park. They must be part of the local re-introduced population and as we made our way around their leg rings became visible but still good birds to see.
Heading back to Tavira we decided to explore the saltpans that turned out to be relatively easy as tracks crisscrossed the area. Some of the pans proved very productive as we tallied up 60 Flamingo, 7 Spoonbill, 4 Little Stint, 6 Kentish Plover, 100+ Avocet, 50+ Black-winged Stilt, 4 Audouinís Gull and 2 Caspian Terns.
The sun was back out this morning so we made our way back to the saltpans to try and get better photographs. On the first pools we checked the roosting gulls contained a single adult Slender-billed Gull with 2 Spotted Redshanks in the foreground whilst 50 Flamingos remained in the area. Heading off back to Quinta do Lago we obtained great views of the Purple Swamp-hens once again whilst a flock of 50 Common Waxbills bombed all over the place. The tide was out on the marsh as 20+ Med Gulls feed along the waterline.
We finished the day back at Tavira and the salt pans where we picked out our only Curlew Sandpiper of the trip shortly before getting the car slightly stuck in the mud! As evening drew in the gull roost included 18 Audouinís.
It was our final morning of the holiday so we made a quick visit back around the saltpans on a cracking calm sunny morning. All the usual suspects were present including the ever present Sardinian Warblers and Zitting Cisticola but this time we also found a singing White-spotted Bluethroat. We also managed to continue the trend of a new bird every day with a Water Pipit preening out on a mud bank. As our flight was just after noon we were able to fit in a brief look at Faro Marsh just beside the airport where we saw 8 Spoonbill, several Bar-tailed Godwits and 22 Med Gulls. Not a bad end to a very enjoyable trip despite all the rain!!! Flight back was on time as we flew over a snowy Britain.
Final total came to 148 species with 2 lifers.
All Images taken by Margaret and Mark Breaks, Copyright - © Breaks Bird Photography