Friday, 23 October 2009

World Tour of the Algarve, Part III

Wednesday 14th October.

Another day, another habitat. A shorter trip out this time, back towards Faro, to Ludo Farm and Quinta Da Lago. Ludo Farm is where, of course, they make the board game!

No of course not, I'm being silly. Although I am a black belt at Ludo. I have wondered what kind of livestock or crop is produced at Ludo Farm. Well, the crop is salt. Imagine what this lot would do to your blood pressure!

Fortunately for us birders, the salt pans make fantastic lagoons for a variety of species, when the water level (and thus the salinity) is right. Around and about were about 200 Greater Flamingoes, more Spoonbills and White Storks, Marsh Harrier, Avocets, Spotted Redshanks, Kentish Plovers, 9 Med Gulls, 3 Booted Eagles, 50 Azure-Winged Magpies, even a view of a Cetti's Warbler (how come they're easier to see than back home?). I have been told that Ludo Farm is like a giant Titchwell, and that's very good analogy.

Somewhere between Almancil and Quinta Da Lago, I don't know exactly where, we managed to drive past some watercress beds. A scan around produced at least 10 Water Pipits, a Yellow Wagtail and 4 Snipe, plus the ubiquitous Cattle Egrets.

We then arrived at the very plush and posh resort of Quinta Da Lago. A walk from the car park to the west produced a flock of birds on a lawn. Including Goldfinches, Crested Larks, Common Waxbills and some Serin (lifer).

A walk to the east leads to a hide overlooking a lake next to the golf course. Which allows for some great photographic opportunities, particularly for Purple Gallinule.

As good views as you get at Quinta Da Lago, it was the one place during the whole week that I didn't enjoy. Don't get me wrong, you can get some great views there, but perhaps it was the number of British tourists around that put me off the place. Perhaps I've become a wilderness snob, I don't know.

Thursday 15th October.

Heading inland a little way inland this morning, past the town of Monchique and up to the top of the Foia mountain.

A radar station is situated at the top of the mountain, and is a particularly good spot to find Rock Bunting.

This was also the only site where we saw Wren and Dartford Warbler, and where Black Redstarts were commonplace. Plus we found Blue Rock Thrush, Fan-Tailed Warbler and more Woodlarks. At this point I was also struggling a bit with a loose tripod leg (thanks Manfrotto!), so a careful balancing act had to be done for the rest of the trip.

We also saw a Green Woodpecker of the Iberian race, with a much greyer head compared to ours. Cheers Martyn for the picture.

Whilst driving back down the mountain road towards Monchique, we tried to find some decent areas of native woodland, which didn't involve plantations of Eucalyptus (yuck). Eventually we found an excellent stretch of pines and cork oak, along the road signposted to "Restaurante Jardin das Oliveiras". And if you ever wondered where wine corks came from (not the plastic corks), they strip the bark of cork oaks. The bark does naturally recover, and can then be re-harvested.

A really productive time was had here, as we managed to find Song Thrush, Nuthatch, Great, Blue and Crested Tits, Short-Toed Treecreeper (lifer) and Firecrest. We also managed
to hear a call of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, but we couldn't see it.

We then decided to have a look around the nearby Alvor estuary. We did wonder whether there would be any point in visiting here. Would we really see anything different to what we saw at Ludo Farm the day before? Well, how wrong could we be! And not just for the first Oystercatchers of the trip, we did a bit better than that.

At the western side of the estuary are some disused salt pans, as above. A mixed flock of waders included Knot, Golden Plover and Whimbrel. A mixed flock of gulls and terns produced a Common Tern, a Common Gull and 16 Med Gulls. Martyn also clocked onto another gull, just popping it's head up a bit from behind the bund of one of the salt pans. We gradually got nearer:

And when the bird took it's head out of it's wing and stood up:

It was a Slender-Billed Gull (lifer), magnificent! At one point the flock of gulls and terns were spooked and all took off. We thought it was due to a pesky Peregrine, but after a closer look we both realised at the same time it was due to an Arctic Skua! We really couldn't believe what we were seeing here. It's not really the kind of bird we were expecting to see in southern Portugal, during the middle of October. But as we saw, it must happen, but in a way it was our largest surprise bird we found during the whole trip. We also found another Bluethroat here.

As the winds were kind of heading in from the sea for the first time during the trip, we decided to head back to the cliffs at Carvoeiro for a seawatch.

Seawatching isn't my particular favourite form of birding, probably because I hardly ever do it. But eventually you do get your eye in, but I find it difficult following a bird that you haven't found yourself.

In an about an hour's seawatch we managed to find 1 Great Skua, 20 Cory's Shearwaters, 18 Balearic Shearwaters (which got easier to pick out when the sun got lower in the sky), 1 Med Gull and a pod of 20 Bottlenose Dolphins. A pretty good end to an excellent day's birding.

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