Sunday, 23 April 2017

Iberia: Campo Maior 21 - 23 April

Day 12 21.04.2017
Having moved north to Campo Maior yesterday afternoon we today started our work in the fields just outside the city. Not gonna lie, today was pretty rough. I was attacked by bees, which resulted in my right eyelid becoming rather swollen from the stings, thrown off the land by the farmer, drenched by a sprinkler and there were not even many birds to enjoy. A couple of Iberian Yellow Wagtails was about the best of it, although they are obviously lovely birds. In the evening I checked out a small site where the few remaining Great Bustards in the area were residing, which I counted 14 in total. Another distant Black-winged Kite was nice and I also had a few Gull-billed Terns go over. So not an awful days birding but compared to Castro Verde it was certainly a step down.
-European Bee-eater

Species List:
Campo Maior: Black-winged Kite, Gull-billed Tern, Woodpigeon, Zitting Cisticola, House Sparrow, Crested Lark, Red-legged Partridge, Corn Bunting, Great Bustard, Stone Curlew, Great Tit, Spotless Starling, Common Kestrel, Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, White Stork, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, Iberian Grey Shrike, Iberian Yellow Wagtail, House Sparrow, Mallard, Montagu’s Harrier, Bee-eater, Sardinian Warbler, Hoopoe, Little Owl, Magpie,

Day 13 22.04.2017
After the horror show that was yesterday I was pretty keen to have a much better day today. And I was rewarded with one. Today’s transect was further south, in an area called Elvas where great bustards no longer occur. On the dry fields here I counted 3 pairs of Stone Curlew, as well as a breeding ground of Collard Pratincoles, which we watched mob a Montagu’s Harrier, and a few Little Bustards. There was also some small wooded areas where we began to have, at last, some migrants. I heard a single Willow Warbler but saw at least four Whitethroats. Finding one of my most wanted birds for the trip along my transect was pretty exciting; Western Bonelli’s Warbler. The bird was singing from the bushes, and soon flew over to the tree which I was standing under. Sadly it did not sit still, making it difficult for me to get a decent record shot. It proved hard work and gave up when the bird stopped showing. And just when I thought the morning had peaked, I found another lifer along my transect. This time I was just checking under some rocks in a small wood when I looked up to flush a Nightjar from the floor. My initial thoughts were that it was a Red-necked Nightjar. It looked to go down again, so tried to contact Yoav (Who still needed it) before attempting to relocate. It took a while to contact him due to signal problems, so half an hour later we were ready. We refound the bird with ease but failed at any point to see it on the ground. However the views we obtained were conclusive the bird was a Red-necked Nightjar. A cracking lifer! It was just a shame not to see it on the ground. And finally in the bushes whilst looking for the nightjar we found a Melodious Warbler, my third lifer of the day. However, once we finished nightjar hunting Yoav took us back to a Melodious he had found earlier which showed much better. A fantastic morning!
-Western Bonelli's Warbler
-Melodious Warbler
In the afternoon we went out with one of Yoav’s supervisors to trap and satellite-tag Little Bustards. We had a nice evening, with one successful capture of a superb male. Really smart to see these birds up close! We also had three Alpine Swift fly past us whilst we waited, a nice trip tick for the evening.
-Little Bustard

Species List:
Elvas: Collard Pratincole, Montagu’s Harrier, Black-winged Kite, Marsh Harrier, Stone-curlew, Magpie, Quail, Red-necked Nightjar, Blue Tit, Common Whitethroat, Sardinian Warbler, Western Bonelli’s Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Willow Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Corn Bunting, Crested Lark, Stonechat, Black Kite, Common Buzzard, European Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Little Bustard, Common Swift, House Martin, Sand Martin, Barn Swallow, Mallard, House Sparrow, Spotless Starling, Gull-billed Tern, Iberian Grey Shrike, Woodchat Shrike, Alpine Swift, Griffon Vulture,

Day 14 23.04.2017
After another week of working transects we decided to have a day off today. We chose to head Alqueva Dam, the largest dam in Iberia. We had only a rough idea of where to bird, so first headed to an area on the south side of reservoir where we found the birding to be slow and steady. That said, we did still have some good birds; another Black-winged Kite was obviously really smart, Woodchat and Iberian Grey Shrikes were common, and overhead we had a pale phase Booted Eagle and a few Black Kite. The birding highlight was a pair of Rock Sparrows that we encountered whilst on our way back to the car. They were not as striking as I had imagined but our angle of viewing was not ideal. Still a nice bird to see! Pied Flycatcher was a nice Portugal trip and I also had a butterfly lifer in the form of Western Dappled White.
-Woodchat Shrike
-Black Kite
-Western Dappled White
-Rock Sparrow
We then moved round to the northern area of the dam. The scrubby habitat here provided us with a few more birds. A uncooperative Western Subalpine Warbler was obviously the highlight. Although views were acceptable, its movements made it impossible to photograph. Azure-winged Magpies were also common here, and we had our first Long-tailed Tits of the trip, of the Iberian race irbii. Another butterfly lifer here was False Ilex Hairstreak. Down by the reservoir itself there was not much happening. We had a few Black Terns, as well as trip ticks of Egyptian Goose and Greylag Goose. On the way back we had an incredible moment when an Egyptian Mongoose ran across the road in front of us.
-European Bee-eater
-False Ilex Hairstreak
-Western Subalpine Warbler

In the afternoon we headed out again to a smaller reservoir (Although still sizable) nearer to Campo Maior; Albufeira da Barragem do Caia. We spent most of our time birding the woodland adjacent to the reservoir and added my third lifer of the day; Short-toed Treecreeper. We had three birds flitting around but they were not showy (The theme of the day really) and I only managed record shots. Overhead were a number of Pratincoles flying towards the reservoir, they were really cool. After dark we tried to pin down a Red-necked nightjar but only succeeded in hearing one distantly. However we did get an amphibian lifer in the form of Spiny Toad. A pretty cool day off in the end.
-Short-toed Treecreeper 
-Collard Pratincole

Species List:
Alqueva Dam: Common Kestrel, Common Buzzard, Black Kite, Short-toed Eagle, Booted Eagle, Black-winged Kite, European Cuckoo, Mallard, Gadwall, Greylag Goose, Egyptian Goose, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Black-headed Gull, Cormorant, Sardinian Warbler, Western Subalpine Warbler, House Sparrow, Rock Sparrow, Spotless Starling, Thekla Lark, Crested Lark, Corn Bunting, Common Sandpiper, Kentish Plover, Azure-winged Magpie, Common Magpie, Woodchat Shrike, Iberian Grey Shrike, Black Tern, White Stork, Grey Heron, House Martin, Sand Martin, Crag Martin, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, Common Swift, Pallid Swift, Cattle Egret, Great-crested Grebe, Coot, Collard Dove, Woodpigeon, Hoopoe, European Bee-eater, Blackbird, Pied Flycatcher, Jay, Goldfinch, Clouded Yellow, Western Dappled White, False Ilex Hairstreak, Brown Argus, Meadow Brown, Small Copper, Painted Lady, Red-veined Darter, Egyptian Mongoose, 
Albufeira da Barragem do Caia: Collard Pratincole, Black-winged Stilt, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Zitting Cisticola, Serin, Short-toed Treecreeper, Sardinian Warbler, Common Swift, Red-rumped Swallow, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Crested Lark, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Common Sandpiper, Mallard, Gadwall, Woodpigeon, Goldfinch, Corn Bunting, Spiny Toad,

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Iberia: Castro Verde 16-20 April

Day 7 16.04.2017
Having had an insanely busy day yesterday, on our day off, it was nice to get back into the routine here. The area we went to was possibly the best area of Steppe in Castro Verde and it showed. At one point I had a field with over 50 Great Bustards and 50 Black-bellied Sandgrouse in. An incredible sight! A pair of Iberian Grey Shrike near the reserve entrance was a highlight, as the birds were more approachable than I’m used to with Grey Shrikes. I also had a Spanish Terrapin, which was unexpected for the size of the pool I found it in. After the morning we took the rest of the day off, as a result of the backlog of work as well as an extended morning in the field.
-Iberian Grey Shrike
-Great Bustards
-Iberian Marbled White

Species List:
Castro Verde: Woodpigeon, Iberian Grey Shrike, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Great Bustard, Little Bustard, Corn Bunting, Zitting Cisticola, House Sparrow, Spanish Sparrow, Spotless Starling, Red-rumped Swallow, Marsh Harrier, Montagu’s Harrier, Red Kite, Black Kite, Lesser Kestrel, White Stork, Grey Heron, Cattle Egret, European Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Jackdaw, Feral Pigeon, Collard Dove, Common Buzzard, Common Swift, Calandra Lark, Crested Lark, Red-legged Partridge, Stonechat, Gadwall, Goldfinch, Spanish Terrapin, Small Copper, Small Heath, Clouded Yellow, Green-striped White, Common Blue, Meadow Brown,

Day 8 17.04.2017
A much quieter morning than yesterday to be sure! Far less bustards but still quite a few Black-bellied Sandgrouse and more Montagu’s Harriers made up for it. There were also plenty of Bee-eaters in the few bushes in my transect. I did get a butterfly lifer and a dragonfly trip tick to make up for it. The butterfly I identified in the field as a grizzled skipper but after looking in the book is in fact a Red Underwing Skipper, based on the line of small white spots along the outer edge of the wing. The dragonfly was Red-veined Darter, with two females found in the grass. In the evening we went back out to this area, but my transect included some more scrubby vegetation. In hindsight I life-ticked Thekla Lark at this point, but it wasn’t until I saw more the next day that I was confident of my identification. I also had a few Woodchat Shrikes and more Montagu’s Harriers. After the transect we went with Bruno, our Portuguese birder, to look for Scops Owl. We had some success with the owl, as two or three could be heard calling and we got brief views of at least one individual. The wooded valley where they were was a fantastic location, with Nightingales and Cettis Warbler both in full song from the bushes, as well as our first trip Crag Martins flying over and under us at the road bridge. A great way to spend an evening!
-Red-underwing Skipper
-Black-eared Wheatear
-Montagu's Harrier
-Large Psammodromus

Species List:
Castro Verde: Montagu’s Harrier, Common Buzzard, Lesser Kestrel, Black Kite, White Stork, Grey Heron, Cattle Egret, Great Bustard, Little Bustard, Mallard Gadwall, Calandra Lark, Crested Lark, Short-toed Lark, Corn Bunting, European Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Magpie, House Sparrow, Spotless Starling, Collard Dove, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, Zitting Cisticola, Thekla Lark, Woodchat Shrike, Red-legged Partridge, Cettis Warbler, Nightingale, European Scops Owl, Crag Martin, Iberian Hare, European Rabbit, Red-veined Darter, Iberian Blue-tailed Damselfly, Painted Lady, Common Blue, Red Underwing Skipper, Green-striped White, Iberian Marbled White, Small Copper,

Day 9 18.04.2017
Today we travelled further south to an area of habitat that was far more scrubby. Here I continued to cock up my Crested/Thekla Larks, but by the end of the morning I had seen a number of larks that were obviously Thekla. Short-toed Larks also put on a good show here. I heard two Golden Oriole but sadly could not see them, and on the subject of Portugal ticks I also had my first Dartford Warbler and Common Cuckoo of the trip. On the drive back we also added Black Stork and had more encounters with Azure-winged Magpie. On our now daily trip to the Intermarche got us a few Pallid Swift flying over. In the evening we went out to try and photograph Dartford Warbler. We saw the birds but an increase in wind meant they were not sitting up and as a result views were quite restricted.
-Thekla Lark 
-Short-toed Lark
-Black Stork

Species List:
Castro Verde: Montagu’s Harrier, Common Buzzard, Lesser Kestrel, Black Kite, White Stork, Cattle Egret, Great Bustard, Little Bustard, Mallard, Calandra Lark, Crested Lark, Short-toed Lark, Corn Bunting, European Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Magpie, House Sparrow, Spotless Starling, Collard Dove, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, Zitting Cisticola, Thekla Lark, Woodchat Shrike, Red-legged Partridge, Pallid Swift, Dartford Warbler, Blue Tit, Common Cuckoo, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Azure-winged Magpie, Black Stork, Iberian Hare, European Rabbit, Red-veined Darter, Iberian Blue-tailed Damselfly, Painted Lady, Common Blue, Red Underwing Skipper, Green-striped White, Iberian Marbled White, Small Copper,

Day 10 19.04.2017
As we continued our surveys we found ourselves working further and further away from Castro Verde itself. Today we worked in a private reserve half an hour’s drive north. The change in scenery provided a few new birds, including BLACK WINGED KITE!!! What a bird, seriously! So exciting to have to birds hunting over us whilst we did our survey! In addition to the Kites there was not much, another Golden Oriole singing, plus our first Woodlark of the trip singing. I had an exciting encounter with a Western Montpellier Snake. I almost trod on a rather large individual, which responded with a naturally aggressive hissing tone. It then proceeded to rear up and slither in my general direction. Appreciating the snake’s discomfort I backed off, upon which it turned around and slithered under a rock. A pretty mental experience to say the least! We also got to look in the nest of a Lesser Kestrel thanks to the park ranger, and had plenty of Iberian Grey Shrikes. Due to strong wind we did not go out in the afternoon. I had a look at the pond near the centre but the best I managed was a Greenshank. We heard reports of a possible aquatic warbler just up the road so went to have a look. No joy but did get a cracking Great Reed Warbler which was more than enough compensation. There were a few Odonata species here, including our first Southern Damselfly of the trip.
-Black-winged Kite
-Western Montpelier Snake
-Red-veined Darter

Species List:
Castro Verde: Montagu’s Harrier, Common Buzzard, Lesser Kestrel, Black Kite, White Stork, Cattle Egret, Little Bustard, Mallard, Calandra Lark, Crested Lark, Short-toed Lark, Corn Bunting, European Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Magpie, House Sparrow, Spotless Starling, Collard Dove, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, Zitting Cisticola, Red-legged Partridge, Black-winged Kite, Quail, Stonechat, Iberian Grey Shrike, Greenfinch, Great Reed Warbler, Spoonbill, Little Egret, Black-winged Stilt, Little Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper, Coot, Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Gadwall, Iberian Hare, European Rabbit, Red-veined Darter, Black-tailed Skimmer, Iberian Blue-tailed Damselfly, Southern Damselfly, Painted Lady, Green-striped White, Iberian Marbled White, Small Copper, Western Montpellier Snake, 

Day 11 20.04.2017
For our last day in Castro Verde we headed north again, but to an area with much poorer habitat than any we had experienced so far. It was also extremely windy. As a result I only saw 1 Great Bustard and 1 Little Bustard, although more of the latter were heard. I actually saw my first Woodlark of the trip, as well as getting more views of Azure-winged Magpie and another Black-winged Kite, as well as a Black Kite showing well. Overall though the birding was much poorer. After lunch we wrapped up our time in Castro Verde and headed north. 
-Azure-winged Magpie
-Red-rumped Swallow

Species List:
Castro Verde: Montagu’s Harrier, Common Buzzard, Lesser Kestrel, Black Kite, White Stork, Cattle Egret, Little Bustard, Mallard, Calandra Lark, Crested Lark, Short-toed Lark, Corn Bunting, European Bee-eater, Hoopoe, House Sparrow, Spotless Starling, Collard Dove, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, Zitting Cisticola, Red-legged Partridge, Black-winged Kite, Iberian Grey Shrike, European Roller, Stonechat, Azure-winged Magpie, Small Copper

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Iberia: Algarve 15 April

Today was our first ‘day off’, but involved getting up even earlier than usual. This was in order to make good time for our birding trip to the Algarve. There were a few birds that we wanted to twitch, plus some good birding to be had.
Our first port of call was the town of Tavira. We were here for early morning and immediately had some success (I felt, having not birded much of Europe) as Sardinian Warblers were abundant, as were many wader species; Avocet, Whimbrel, Kentish Plover and Curlew Sandpiper. We here had our first Northern Wheatear of the trip (Obviously a trip highlight), and I ‘ticked’ Common Waxbill and Iberian Yellow Wagtail. The latter was a cracking little bird, the Spanish race of Yellow Wagtail, and one of the highlights of the whole day. Better views of Serin and Red-rumped Swallow were also afforded here.
-Red-rumped Swallow
-Sardinian Warbler
-Iberian Yellow Wagtail
-Common Waxbill
Next we headed south to the Ria Formosa Headquarters. This was a cracking reserve. Its habitat was extremely similar to the Dorset heath, with open coniferous woodland in sandy soil with a few small areas of mudflat and open water. Azure-winged Magpie were very common in the park, affording great views but somehow always against the light for photos. Besides them the birding consisted of species we were familiar with now from across Portugal, although we did get a number of new additions to our Portugal species list; Pochard, Shelduck and Purple Heron. The real highlights were seeing two of my most wanted species for the whole trip, although sadly not birds. The first was Spanish Festoon butterfly. We saw 2 of these fantastic insects in total, really stunning. The next was European Pond Terrapin, my most wanted reptile. I was surprised to learn that there are two species of native terrapin, European Pond and Iberian Pond, plus the invasive Red-eared Slider. We saw all three here and at other sites later in the day.
-Spanish Festoon
At the headquarters we met up with a couple of Portuguese birders that we had met earlier in the week. Acting as our guides, they helped us no end with saving time traveling, plus giving us information on birds to expect through the next few weeks. Our first stop was Quinto Do Lago, an estuarine/wooded area next to a golf course. The area itself was the most affluent area of Portugal, with Cristiano Ronaldo’s house now added to my house list. The main attraction was a small pool on the edge of the course. A little crake had been seen here but we failed to connect. Purple Swamphen was common here, and quite approachable too apparently though we didn’t try particularly hard. Birding here was nice; Azure-winged Magpie was still extremely common, and we added both Common Snipe and Common Sandpiper to our trip list. Little Bittern was occasionally seen flying across the reedbeds, and we had our second Category C of the day; Black-headed Weaver. One of my most wanted birds of the day was Audouins Gull. We had a single fly over us here, but just up the coast we connected with plenty more. Terrapins were also common here, all three species, and our first dragonflies of the trip; Violet Dropwing and Emperor. Iberian Bluetail was also present.
-Purple Swamphen & Red-eared Slider
-European Pond Terrapin
-Violet Dropwing
-Spanish Terrapin
-Black-headed Weaver
Audouin's Gull
Once we moved on from the Audouins Site we made our move to Silves to hopefully see the sora there. We failed, but possibly as a result of the tides. Realising our efforts here were in vain, we chose to move on after less than an hour. However we did see a few bits here; Grey Wagtail and very excitingly a couple of Moorish Gecko.
-Moorish Gecko
Second on our twitching extravaganza was the harbour in Portimao. Here an American Herring Gull had been identified by one of the top gullers in Europe. Unfortunately nobody in our company knew why. This presented a problem. Our Portuguese friends pointed out the bird, but due to confusion earlier in the week with a Yellow-legged Gull (Which were abundant), we are still a little unsure if we have in fact seen the correct bird. It certainly looks like it, but we await confirmation. The other gulls present were crimes against nature. The state of these birds was something else. It was a horror show to say the least.
-American Herring Gull (?)
Moving quickly on from the gull nightmare we headed to Lagoa dos Salgados, for the far more straightforward drake Ring-necked Duck. Being one of my most dipped species I was not overly optimistic but picked up the bird as soon as we were on site. The supporting cast was really nice too, I only got brief views of Collard Pratincole, but Iberian Yellow Wagtail, Pintail and more Audouins Gull all showed well. We also did a little Seawatching. It was pretty barren out at sea, but Great Skua and Balearic Shearwater livened things up. Our Portuguese friend was extremely pleased when I picked up a Razorbill, not a common bird in these parts.
-Ring-necked Duck
We made another stop for the sora before dark but it was not to be. Regardless it was an outstanding day. I got five lifers (Waxbill, Weaver, Audouins, Ring-necked Duck & American Herring Gull), and saw a host of other awesome species. A really nice day out! Massive thanks to Bruno for all his help with finding sites and birds.

Species List:
Tavira: Azure-winged Magpie, Jay, Feral Pigeon, Blue Tit, Serin, Grey Plover, Turnstone, Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper, Avocet, Red-rumped Swallow, Whimbrel, Little Tern, Kentish Plover, Redshank, Siskin, Oystercatcher, Common Waxbill, Iberian Yellow Wagtail, Northern Gannet, Zitting Cisticola, Sardinian Warbler, Sandwich Tern, Common Swift, House Martin, Barn Swallow, Yellow-legged Gull, Blackbird, European Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Collard Dove, Mallard, Spotless Starling, Northern  Wheatear, Greater Flamingo, Brown Rat
Ria Formosa Headquarters: Pochard, Little Grebe, Purple Heron, Shelduck, Azure-winged Magpie, Hoopoe, Bee-eater, Zitting Cisticola, Collard Dove, Blackbird, House Martin, Sand Martin, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, Sardinian Warbler, House Sparrow, Common Swift, Dunlin, Little Ringed Plover, Gadwall, Mallard, White Stork, Cattle Egret, Coot, Moorhen, Crested Lark, Cettis Warbler, Red-eared Slider, European Pond Terrapin, Iberian Pond Terrapin, Spanish Festoon, Clouded Yellow, Green-striped White, Large White
Quinto do Lago: Coot, Moorhen, Purple Swamphen, Red-crested Pochard, Pochard, Shoveler, Mallard, Gadwall, Common Sandpiper, Common Snipe, Cettis Warbler, Little Bittern, Sardinian Warbler, Black-headed Weaver, Azure-winged Magpie, Magpie, White Stork, Blackbird, Collard Dove, Common Swift, House Martin, Barn Swallow, Little Tern, Cormorant, Yellow-legged Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Audouins Gull, Purple Heron, Nightingale, Great Tit, Zitting Cisticola, Cattle Egret, Hoopoe, House Sparrow, Serin, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, European Pond Terrapin, Iberian Pond Terrapin, Red-eared Slider, Emperor Dragonfly, Violet Dropwing, Iberian Bluetail Damselfly,
Silves & Portimao: Reed Warbler, Grey Wagtail, Blackbird, Moorhen, Mallard, White Stork, Grey Heron, House Sparrow, House Martin, Barn Swallow, Common Swift, Great Tit, Cormorant, Feral Pigeon, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, American Herring Gull, Cettis Warbler, Moorish Gecko, Iberian Pond Terrapin, Red Admiral,

Lagoa dos Salgados: Ring-necked Duck, Collard Pratincole, Black-headed Gull, Pintail, Shoveler, Marsh Harrier, Grey Wagtail, Iberian Yellow Wagtail, Glossy Ibis, Little Bittern, Great Skua, Balearic Shearwater, Razorbill, Gull-billed Tern, Sardinian Warbler, Audouins Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Pochard, Red Crested Pochard, Zitting Cisticola, Crested Lark, House Sparrow, Coot, Moorhen, Corn Bunting, House Martin, Barn Swallow, White Stork, Gadwall, Mallard, Blackbird, Sandwich Tern, Azure-winged Magpie, Goldfinch, Linnet, Iberian Marbled White,