Well, we've moved house (not far) and after two weeks solid work, I'm having a day out. In the new garden, the feeders have been up for ten days and so far, I've only seen a Collared Dove and a Dunnock - looking a bit grim!
Previous homes have always had even a small area of 'untouched' land and trees to the rear, which has always provided an interesting garden list. Now I'm in what I usually describe as a 'sea of bricks and tarmac' and 'spot the tree' - so it will be interesting to see what happens. The plus point of being surrounded by other bungalows is that there is plenty of sky and this afternoon, 5 Common Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk were in the air.
Although it's rather early for migrants on the East Coast, a visit to the Spurn area was made in view of an Easterly wind. I found a lovely male Northern Wheatear and I think it's my earliest ever Wheatear in Spring.
The wind was cold off the sea and it was a while before Chiffchaffs became noticeable by their song. I counted eight around the area, during the day.
Also warming up in the morning sun were two Long-tailed Tits huddled together in a hedgerow.
At Kilnsea Wetlands, the Countryfile film crew were at work in the hide so, waiting outside, I scanned the large Brent Goose flock and located the long-staying Black Brant. Six Avocets were nearby.
There were plenty of Brents to sift through!
A flock of Wigeon contained this individual, which I've found a bit puzzling. The bill has an interesting pattern and I'm not sure if this is a hybrid x wigeon, or a 'still' immature male Wigeon.
Great to be out again today.
I'm looking back on some of the wonderful moments I've had on our winter stay in Portugal's Algarve region. At this time of year, the Algarve is quiet, the days can be sunny and warm, and the countryside is filled with orange orchards and almond blossom. Most days the Atlantic has been flat calm and a deep blue, with a pure white surf, rolling up the long expanses of beach.
The only addition to my Life List came in the form of an American Herring Gull, found by a Portuguese birder in the fishing port at Portimao. I went down a couple of times to see this bird and it seems to have remained there throughout my stay.
Perhaps even more exciting was the arrival of a Sora from N. America as this constituted a 'first' for Portugal. Although by nature, a fairly skulking bird, this Sora had found a habitat bordered by a riverside wall in the town of Silves making it very easy to see with a little patience.
This was not the best time of year for raptor watching but I was treated to some exceptional views, on occasions.
The juvenile Bonelli's Eagle pursuing Glossy Ibises at Lagoa was spectacular. One of three seen during my stay.
The Peregrine which frequents Alvor Marsh was quite approachable.
..... as was the stunning Black-shouldered Kite - possibly my favourite Algarve raptor.
An early Short-toed Eagle was found on the way to Monchique, two Golden Eagles being seen in the hills also.
Marsh Harriers were frequent, as were Ospreys on the marshes and Booted Eagles were seen occasionally.
On the ground, Bluethroats showed really well at times and it was good getting to grips with Iberian Chiffchaff, once they started calling!
I recorded 124 species in all. New additions to my Algarve List were the American Herring Gull. Sora and a single Common Gull at Pera Marsh.
It was good to meet with old friends and new - Cheryl, Roger and the Alvor gang, Idris and Jacqui, Luis and friends at Silves. Looking forward to seeing you all again in Alvor.
Well, it's back to the UK and moving house so......I may be gone some time!!
The water levels have been raised once more and the site looked really good this morning. The level seemed just right for all the waders and the roosting gulls too.
Feeding waders included Golden Plover, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwits, Sanderling, 12 Avocet, Green Sandpiper, Redshank and a single Spotted Redshank. No Flamingos were present but 2 Spoonbills, several Grey Heron and the occasional Glossy Ibis emerged from the reeds.
Nothing unusual among the wildfowl this morning, whilst scanning a Purple Gallinule was seen distantly.
I was on the lookout for early migrants and certainly the number of Swallows had increased dramatically with a hundred or so feeding low over the water. House Martins were with them also,
Newly arrived adult Swallows resting in the tamarisk bushes.
I met with two other birders who were deliberating over a distant gull which aroused my interest. It was larger than a nearby Black-headed Gull, clearly not a Med Gull and smaller than a Yellow-legged Gull. Common Gull is a very scarce visitor and this was looking like one, in terms of size and shape.
Later, the Gull appeared closer, perched on a post in the lake. I thought, yes it's a Common Gull - in terms of age, the bill and leg colour (darkish green) looked like a second winter. The problem was, the head was white and unstreaked, the sides were extensively white which I have never seen on a Common Gull.
I wish I'd taken more images, but I was being distracted by more birds and hadn't realised it wasn't that clear cut!
Back on the search for migrants and my first Yellow Wagtail called overhead. I found it near a pool of fresh water, it was a smart Iberiae race.
We walked the boardwalk to the sea end and had lunch in the restaurant. On returning, an adult Little Bittern flew between two reedbeds and a surprise Stone Curlew landed in the dunes on the seaward side and out of view.
Today was much better for Penduline Tits, there was practically no wind in the morning and twelve were seen in one flock, but very mobile. I found them later in the afternoon, close to the viewing screen and feeding on tamarisk seeds.
A female Black-header Weaver was with the Penduline Tits.
One of our favourite haunts in the Monchique hills, is the walk up to the small and picturesque village of Caldas.
I have visited this site many times and usually come across something completely unexpected. There are always the 'residents' - plentiful supplies of Blackcaps, Nuthatches around the village square and, the Grey Wagtails along the stream, the source of the Monchique mineral water.
There is a wonderful air of tranquility and quiet walking around Caldas, at the same time though, I felt the need to dig out some star birds in all this woodland. I got off to a good start with two Firecrests, following a tit flock and constantly checked all the Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs. A Jay and Great-spotted Woodpecker made their presence known vocally.
Between two trees in a patch of blue sky, I saw two eagles passing over the valley. By the time I had configured the camera for bright sky, I had all but lost the birds behind distant trees. Looking over several images I took, I'm sure they were Golden Eagles and, this one, possibly a second/third year bird.
I had no sooner taken those images when a Common Buzzard flew past, carrying a eucalyptus branch to a conifer tree in the valley. Nesting time already perhaps.
These were the unexpected sightings I referred to earlier as, I have had little success with raptors here in the past, despite the ideal landscape.
With my eyes back in the trees, another great bird to see at Caldas is the Crested Tit. The approach road has large pines on the left and these are likely places to check. Rather like the Firecrest, a 'zi-zi' is all that may be heard and they don't always show well among the pine needles.
On the subject of bird calls, the Common Chiffchaffs which have spent the winter in 'silent mode' are now starting their 'chiff cheff chiff cheff' calling, more noticeably each day and, so it seems is the Iberian Chiffchaff with its completely different 'seeo' call.
I found at least three at Caldas today and photographed this one many times, looking for visual differences. Identification by call is still the safest way, this particular Iberian Chiffchaff has some white on its forehead which is not normally found.
An excellent day at Caldas de Monchique with the tiny Firecrest to the mighty Golden Eagle providing much enjoyment.
As I start the final week of my winter getaway, I am encouraged by what I have read in the english Portugal News, regarding the Lagoa Wetlands.
Otherwise known as Alagoas Brancas, this area is the last freshwater wetlands in the Algarve and is refuge for many species you would expect in such a habitat. The area has been acquired by a developer who intends to build - yes, just what we're desperate for - a supermarket, facing another supermarket across the road (sounds just like home!)
I became aware of an action group of local people and fellow birders/naturalists, who were raising a petition to draw the local council's attention to the opposition and destruction of an important habitat.
The petition has had initial success as the council has stopped the developer and the whole matter is being escalated to Central Government. I hope the people of Lagoa can achieve a favourable settlement for their local area. It is remarkable how a small organisation can bring to the attention of 'the powers that be', an issue which they had no knowledge of and sometimes, similar judgements can be applied favourably to other habitats.
I feel the same despair at home sometimes, living on an island of finite square miles with an ever-increasing demand for housing and services. Lip service paid to farming and the countryside in general, having to create marine zones for sea creatures to live in safety.
Whether it be a small woodland you've always known, a high-speed train through an important nature reserve, or a third runway at Heathrow obliterating village life - once that tarmac's down, it's down for good and the habitat's gone. Keep making your voices heard.
Finally, some birds of the Lagoa area.
As always, the Black Redstarts were showing well from an elevated rock or building. This morning the males were in fine singing voice.
One of four females Black Redstarts seen, below.
Cape St. Vincent was very quiet apart from a couple of Linnets and Crested Larks. I spent a considerable time scanning the rocky slopes around the lighthouse, in search of an Alpine Accentor. A rare winter visitor but I have usually found one and, with patience, my search paid off.
Also on the peninsula were 16 Choughs, 3 Kestrels, a Little Owl at Vale Santo farm, 3 White Storks and many Meadow Pipits.
In Porto Baliero harbour, there was no sign of the Glaucous Gull and I watched the Cormorants drying off.
This one was in superb breeding plumage.
Nearer to home, this male Blue Rock Thrush was found on a disused building - a lovely colour!
Some local mammals -
Finally, back home a real treat - a large group of gulls alerted me to a passing school of dolphins, close inshore.
I have no knowledge at all on dolphins and don't know which species frequent these waters.
A short visit to Silves this morning, to see if the Sora is still about on the riverside.
I'm pleased to say that the adult Sora is in the same location on the riverside, between the two bridges in the town and on the North bank.
The river here is popular with the locals and bread was seen being fed to the awaiting bird population. Black-headed Gulls lined the riverside wall, Muscovy duck and Mallard were also in waiting. Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail, Cetti's Warbler, Little Egret and Grey Heron were all seen here.
I found the Sora hidden in the reeds below the wall and it wasn't long before it came out in the open, to the delight of a Portuguese birder who had travelled 500 km to see it.
What was interesting was the fact that it has latched on to the bread, making off with a fair sized crust! It looks very well and in good condition.
Towards the harbour, a Shag was fishing in the swell around the rocks. This one looked to be in breeding plumage with its fine crest raised.
The harbour held a good number of Yellow-legged Gulls, a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls and four Grey Herons.
Most of the gulls were resting on a fish-house roof and by chance, I noticed an adult Audouin's Gull at the far end. I was pleased to see this gull as they don't seem to show in the Alvor area at all.
The Audouin's was really smart, with a deep red bill, tipped black and black legs.
Going on a fishing trip?
The cliff top had more Black Redstarts than I have seen before. Six were perched on one fence and I counted around thirty in all.
The surrounding scrub held numerous Sardinian Warblers, Blackcap, Meadow Pipits and Song Thrushes.
The rain was falling heavily after lunch and I was on the point of calling it a day when, a group of gulls lifted up above the cliffs and among them was a brilliant white Glaucous Gull. I thought it was an egret and was ages getting the camera on it, resulting in one of those awful flying away shots. I watched it fly out, beyond the fort and didn't see it again.
There have been many of these gulls this winter in the UK and I guessed some would find their way down here by February. This was a great find as far as I was concerned and a little while later, I was equally surprised to see what is probably my first Spring migrant - a Northern Wheatear on the cliff top scrub.
The Wheatear was looking a bit scruffy, probably wet through too and judging by the brown/grey back and brown on the wings, I think it's an adult female.
Yesterday's sunset across the garden and pool.
My birding interest in the Algarve rarely falters when, looking at the view above, I have from my garden - Azure-winged Magpie, Robin, Hoopoe, Great Skua and a pair of Black Redstarts. Variety goes without saying!
The Magpies (twelve of them), were finding red berries in the hedge (shown in the photo).
The male Black Redstarts are stunning here, he was elusive today but I did see the female.
Just as the light was going, the Hoopoe arrived and my attempts at flight shots were let down by the lack of shutter speed. I'll keep trying!!
Barragem da Bravura
This morning's drive was to a large reservoir, the Barragem da Bravura.
Strangely, the area was 99% birdless, save for one species which I have only seen here, and nowhere else in the Algarve.
In the stone pine trees, an abrupt 'seeoo' or just 'see' call had my brain racking until I realised, somewhere in front of me was almost certainly an Iberian Chiffchaff.
It appeared shortly and as well as calling, showed a few noticeable characteristics - lighter coloured legs than Chiffchaff, more like Willow Warbler. Whiter underparts and yellowy breast, very pale supercilium and signs of a dark eye stripe.
I was pleased to find one of these again and although Chiffchaffs are everywhere here in winter, I'm sure I haven't been overlooking the 'Iberian'. This one was extremely vocal.
Probably one of the most visible and unmistakable birds seen throughout the Algarve. A common resident found in the Iberian peninsula and then, occurring again in a small area of the Far East, a peculiar distribution for a bird by any means!
It is a few centimetres shorter than the Eurasian Magpie and has a lighter, more fluttery flight. They roam around in feeding parties and the largest flock I saw recently, consisted of thirty-five birds calling noisily.
Each morning, there are a couple outside my apartment and I took these images before going out today.