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26 years ago, half-term, Saturday 19th October 1985, I got off the ferry on my first visit to the Isles of Scilly, aged 16, with three school-friends. We walked straight up to the Garrison camp site. While I was pitching our tent and Gareth Richards was checking in and paying, a birder with a resplendent beard walked up to me and asked “Can I interest you in a Booted Warbler?”. He’d just found it and within a minute I was onto it – the first tick of the trip! Gareth never did see it but we couldn’t give it long as we had bigger fish to fry that day. First stop was a Yellow-billed Cuckoo giving awesome views from the Garrison Walls looking down into a Sallyport garden where it was perched on a rotary washing-line! Then to the Incinerator to watch a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak scoffing blackberries. Moving quickly on to Old Town churchyard for UTV of a Red-eyed Vireo in the high elm canopy. Across the road to the school for fabulous views of a Myrtle Warbler (as it was then; Yellow-rumped Warbler now) creeping around on lichen-covered elm boughs. Up to the airport for an unbelievably showy Bobolink crawling around in the grass at point blank range. Final rarity of the day was a juv Night Heron roosting in sallows on Lower Moors. But I had one more tick to come – Brambling!
On Sunday we took the boat to Tresco for another deluge of ticks: a Radde’s Warbler in the Great Pool sallows which is still the best one I’ve ever seen; Spotted Sandpiper, Ring-necked Duck and Richard’s Pipit all at the Simpson’s Field end of Great Pool, and then a Woodchat Shrike in some big pines and a stunning Bee-eater at Borough Farm (later to become my favourite place on Scilly!). Back on St. Mary’s I saw my first Jack Snipe and Lapland Bunting, got better, but still untickable, views of the REV and then yomped to Newford Duck Pond for a Pallas’s Warbler in failing light, my 9th tick of the day!
We had gone for quantity over quality on Sunday by going to Tresco, hoping the best of the lot would stick on St. Agnes for another day. And it did … we yomped straight from the quay to see a male Parula Warbler showing beautifully in a couple of apple trees two fields up from the chapel. To this day, one of the best birds I have ever seen in my life. An American Wigeon on Big Pool was yet another new yank for me. And back on St. Mary’s we re-located a Wryneck on Peninnis Head – another stunning new bird.
We had a day to catch our breath on 22nd and then a male Sardinian Warbler turned up at Higher Moors. It gave us a long wait but in the meantime we were there when Chris Heard called an Olivaceous Warbler at Lunnon Farm on 23rd. We eventually saw the Sard well on 24th and had time to cross over to Bryher for a Rose-coloured Starling. Attempts to see the bird were abandoned after a hostile islander dispersed the twitchers by firing his shotgun. To this day, landing on Bryher gives me a feeling of trepidation. We sailed back to the mainland the following day, leaning on the Scillonian’s railings chatting to the late, great Peter Grant about bird ID. The cost of the entire trip including tubes, trains, ferries, camping, inter-island boats and a week’s worth of Kavorna pasties was £80. I’ve been back to the magic isles many times since but 1985 can never be bettered – I’m so glad I was there!
I put away my pooter and trowel for this trip and dusted off my bins and scope. The plan, hatched on Friday night, was to spend a few days birding on and around the Dingle peninsula, Co. Kerry. It’s been a record-breaking autumn for transatlantic vagrants already, following Hurricanes Irene and especially Katia. I was hoping to get a piece of the action. It sounded as though what few birders were out on the west coast of Ireland were finding yanks wherever they looked. Would it be like looking for a needle in a sewing-box?
En route to Luton Airport on Tuesday morning, I got a text that Hudsonian Whimbrel had been found on Three Castles Head, Co. Cork. Drove 2½ hours straight there from Kerry Airport. The bird was quite a way off but I got one clear view of its diagnostic dark rump. A tick!
Hung around birding Three Castles and Mizen Heads until late morning on Wednesday. Rather few migrants in the bushes and gardens (1 Spotted Fly, 1 Reed Warbler and 1 Willow Warbler plus 1 Sand Martin with the other hirundines). Local birders reckoned there’d be nobody birding out on the Beara peninsula so I headed over there for the rest of Wednesday. Firkeel valley is a magical place with an awesome track record including Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Red-eyed Vireo, Scarlet Tanager and Ireland’s first Parula. On this day it held just a Chiff-chaff and a Willow Warbler.
It was so windy it felt like I ought to be seawatching so I had a look off Garnish Point. Great views of Sooty and Manx Shearwaters and a lovely flock of 11 Grey Phalaropes bobbing in the surf below me.
After two days spent doing a lot of driving, on Thursday I walked and birded from dawn till dusk, covering the whole of the Inch strand and estuary on the Dingle peninsula. Saw thousands of birds but got the tides wrong and the all-important flocks of Dunlin and Sanderling were too distant. I did pick out a Buff-breasted Sandpiper though, my first yankee find of the trip. Excellent, even though this is a species I have found before on Scilly and Fair Isle.
I was back out near Inch Point on Friday, in position for the rising tide and spent hours scoping through hundreds of Dunlin, Sanderling and Ringed Plover as they came closer and closer. Eventually my scope landed on something different – Semi-palmated Sandpiper! The first one I’ve found. A couple of times I suspected there were two birds but it was hard to be sure in the mêlée. Saw the Buff-breast again and at least 10 Curlew Sandpipers. I think this is a top-class birding site but it’s a 1½ hour fast walk from Sammy’s Café at the start of the beach, even if you know where to cut across the dunes. It’s one of the places Jo and I birded on our honeymoon.
Spent the last of the afternoon birding Blennerville and Black Rock Strand. Both sites I’ve heard of but never visited before. Had great views of the adult American Golden Plover at Black Rock Strand, albeit in driving rain.
Saturday, my last full day. Planned to bird as many of the bays and beaches of the Dingle Peninsula as I could and really give it socks. Started at Trabeg where the White-rumped Sandpiper was still present and showing well, the fifth species of yankee wader for the trip, so far. Gareth Richards texted some bird news while I was there and said “Keep checking the Ringed Plovers …”. Had a look in Dingle Harbour where I didn’t see much but learnt that Funghi the dolphin is still around 29 years after his first appearance.
Ventry Harbour was next, a pretty uninspiring site for waders, especially with all the loose dogs, horse-riders, joggers, etc. But I walked up to the quiet, seaweedy end of the beach, scoped through a few dozen Ringed Plover, Turnstone, Sanderling and Dunlin, then moved round to Cuan Pier. Looking back from the pier to the part of the beach I’d been at 5 or 10 minutes earlier, I was amazed to see three other birders. And they were sprinting full-pelt along the beach with their tripod legs extended! My first thought was that the only bird I could’ve missed that would be worth more than a gentle trot was Semi-palmated Plover. A few minutes later and I was with them: Dan Brown, Rob Martin and Alex Lees, alpha-birders all of them and three of the punkbirders. They had seen, photographed and sound-recorded a Semi-p Plover and then watched it fly off. The second for Ireland. Totally gutting. There have only been two in Britain and fortunately I saw the one at Dawlish Warren. But I was utterly disconsolate to have walked past such a massive rarity without noticing.
I decided to give up on wader ID and hone my corvid ID skills instead. So 2½ hours later I was chucking cheap white sliced bread around Kennedy Pier, Cobh. The House Crow hadn’t been reported since 6th September but Cork birders reckoned this was just through lack of interest and that the bird would still be around. It didn’t show up in the three hours I was there but was seen on the following Monday morning. ****! I was advised that early mornings are best for this bird. So maybe a Saturday afternoon with Jimi Hendrix covers blasting out from the Bandstand was not optimal! However, an adult Sabine’s Gull made a brief and thrilling appearance attracted to bread. It reminded me that for all its frustrations, birding is always capable of providing unexpected excitement. Night drive back to Kerry, missing a Sika by an antler’s breadth.
The Semi-p Plover had returned on Saturday afternoon on the falling tide. So I was keen to see it on my last morning. As I walked down the track to the beach at first light, a dog Otter crossed in front of me a few paces ahead. Great!
No other birders present and only 5 adult Ringed Plover at the spot. Working my way up the beach towards the stream outflow, the first juv. plover I looked at was the Semi-p! By this time, a dozen or so Irish twitchers had assembled on the other side of the stream. After about half an hour watching the bird I went round to talk to them and, although they were watching the same bird, they weren’t yet convinced it was ‘the bird’. Which just goes to show how easy it was to overlook and what a quality find it was by the punkbirders. At least I took some consolation from it anyway!
Watched it till 10 and then dashed to the airport seeing my 100th bird species of the trip en route when a House Sparrow flew across the road in Dingle. It had been a pretty hard trip on the hire car and I didn’t let the grass grow under my feet.
There are highs and lows to birding and there’s always someone, somewhere, seeing more than you. But I enjoyed myself and saw a lot of good birds in a beautiful part of the world.
Just back from four days on Lundy Island (4 – 7 May) as part of a team of 13 carrying out the National Trust’s annual mammal monitoring; counting Soay Sheep, Feral Goats and Sika Deer, and estimating Rabbit numbers by counting droppings in quadrats. This was my fourth visit to Lundy but the first since about 1990.
In the twenty years since, my attitude to alien or feral wildlife has changed. I have no recollection of seeing Soays or goats on any previous visit and I think I just regarded them as beneath contempt. But I was pleased to see them on this visit and admired them for getting on with their lives, thanks to and in spite of humans.
We had easterly or south-easterly winds throughout which held the promise of some good migrant birds. There wasn’t much time for actual birding but we saw three Pied Flycatchers, 1 Spotted Fly and a Tree Pipit on the first day (Wednesday), as well as a few Willow Warblers, Chiff-chaffs, Whitethroats and a Sedge Warbler. Cloud cover and showers on Thursday morning brought a few more migrants in: a Collared Dove looking lost on the barren north of the island, a couple of Swifts, 1 Yellow Wagtail, 1 White Wagtail and two Cuckoo’s including this exhausted female.
On Friday in fair weather, there was a smart male Black Redstart at the north end, and pushing up through the tussock sedges in South Combe revealed several warblers: 1 Sedge, 2 Chiff, 2 Whitethroat, 1 Blackcap and a Grasshopper. This is birding Shetland-style! Pausing to shed a layer at the top of the combe I realised I was standing on some Small Adder’s-tongue Ophioglossum azoricum, only the second time I have seen this plant (17+ plants at SS 13320 47236).
By mid-afternoon, I’d also seen 1 Whimbrel, a fly-over Hawfinch, 1 Yellow Wagtail, 1 White Wagtail and heard 2 Tree Pipits. And having finished all my mammal monitoring duties, I headed to Millcombe Valley with high expectations. I found nothing unusual in Millcombe but conditions were beautifully calm and sunny and I could see the sea was starting to glass over inshore, so headed to the clifftops near the Castle for a seawatch.
Seawatching was a good move. I concentrated on checking through the assembling rafts of Manx Shearwaters. I was quite impressed to see over 200 birds by 17.00 though up to 700 had been seen recently: still a tiny fraction of the estimated 5,000 breeding pairs that rat-free Lundy now supports. Also a distant Great Northern Diver and at least 5 Porpoises racing along the tidal rip. And then … a big whale, side on. It surfaced three times and each time I saw the arch of its body first, which then flattened out a bit and eventually the sickle-shaped dorsal fin followed through. Now I was half-expecting to see a Minke Whale but with Minkes you don’t have to wait that long for the dorsal fin to roll through. This was a big whale and, despite my own incredulity, it must have been a Fin Whale! I have seen dozens in Biscay and several off California but never expected to see one in British waters. Fin Whale is Britain’s (and the world’s) second largest mammal (after Blue Whale) and from my perch on the clifftops I could also hear Britain’s smallest squeaking in the grass: Pygmy Shrew!
I dedicated the last day (Saturday 7th) to entomology, sampling the endemic Lundy Cabbage in Millcombe Valley and looking for its specialist beetles. A Wood Warbler sang from the trees all day but I didn’t go and look for it (if I had, I might have seen the male Golden Oriole which I only heard about once we were on the boat!).
And finally, yes I did hear the Little Shearwater. It called for about 15 minutes on the night of Wednesday 4th from 23.04. With the easterlies, the background noise from the wind and surf was very loud and, having been up since 02.00, I hit the sack soon after. Sadly, on the following night, the weather was no better and I didn’t hear the Little Shearwater at all from c. 23.30 to about midnight. And on the last night when I would have been able to stay out into the early hours, the beautiful weather that I’d been whale-watching in earlier broke down into a dramatic thunder storm. I took a drenching for the best part of an hour: the Manxies were still calling but I didn’t hear the Little. I had hoped that with three nights on the island I might be able to repeat Johnny Allan’s lucky sighting. But I’m lucky to have even heard it. Anyway, the experience of listening to the Manxies and seeing the occasional bird flap past in the starlight was really magical.
I remember thinking ‘vismig’ was a horrible bit of jargon for the activity of watching visible migration but be that as it may, vismigging has become one of my favourite birding activities in the autumn. It has made me realise how much more I still have to learn about bird migration. Like discovering that ‘resident’ birds like Blue Tits can be seen migrating south in their thousands (listen to the click-counter go!). My local watchpoint is Totternhoe Knolls. It’s quite a nice 25-minute walk to get to the trig point for first light, and after an hour or two when the migration has died down, I walk back through the orchards and scrump plums.
This year’s highlight so far has been 2 Hawfinches flying north-west together on Sunday 17th October. I’ve really got my eyes and ears in on this species in recent autumns and these are the 3rd and 4th I’ve had from Totternhoe Knolls, amidst very few other Beds records. The same morning produced this rarely seen atmospheric phenomenon: a sky-wide ray in which the more familiar crepuscular and anti-crepuscular rays join in an arc right across the sky (click to enlarge).
I am ever hopeful for other scarcities: Waxwing and Lapland Bunting are my best bets for the remainder of this autumn. I’ve yet to see a Ring Ouzel on vismig but I may be too late now for 2010. And surely there’s going to be a vismig Richard’s Pipit in Beds or Bucks before much longer?
But what really gets me up in the mornings is the sheer unpredictability of it. I have been birding since my early teens under the assumption that birds migrate south in the autumn and north in the spring. And yet most of the migration over Totternhoe Knolls in the autumn is to the north-west! I am reliably informed that this is a well-understood migration of birds from the Low Countries heading to winter in western Britain and Ireland but I still find it baffling and somewhat perverse. Secondly, I have been looking at weather forecasts for many years to predict where we might be getting migrants from: in easterlies you head to the east coast, in south-westerlies you head to the south-west. Obvious really! But when it comes to vismig, the best conditions for migration seem to be into a light headwind. It’s as though everything I thought I knew about migration is wrong.
All my counts for this autumn are now on the excellent trektellen website.
Despite being almost a non-birder for about 50 weeks of the year, there is something irresistible about the autumn bird migration period, not least the chance to discover mega-rarities. This year after dusting off my bins and scope, Jo and I went to Shetland with Dave Gibbs.
The MV Hrossey from Aberdeen to Lerwick was pitching heavily on our northward voyage and I was seasick for the first time in several years. For Jo it was the first time in her life she’d been seasick despite numerous rough crossings to Scilly and northern Spain. There was some compensation in the form of a Sooty Shearwater and some Seabows. So by the time we’d made it to Lerwick on Sunday morning, we were very glad of the hospitality of my old mate Juan Brown in Sandwick. After coffees at Juan and Jane’s, Juan took Dave and I into the field to work part of his local patch at Hoswick. It was a fine day with SE-erlies – classic conditions in which to find rares on Shetland.
Dave and I had both been to Shetland in previous autumns but only once in my case (to Fair Isle) and not for 28 years (!) in Dave’s case. So we both admitted to a certain naivety about where and how to find migrants on Shetland. With Juan as our guide, we looked round some gardens in Hoswick and saw Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Robin, Chaffinch, White Wagtail and flava Wagtail (all migrants here) and I could definitely see their potential for rarities. But as we started walking up the Swinister Burn, an unassuming stretch of irises and rough grassland with a few shrubs, I thought “This is rubbish. We’ll never see anything in here.” Higher up the burn, the scrub closes over the top so Juan waded up the tunnel in his wellies while Dave and I skirted round the edge of the scrub.
I heard a convulsion from Juan, as though he’d twisted an ankle or something, but then heard him say to himself “White’s Thrush??!” 13.15: It had flushed from very close, showing (to Juan only) golden-spangled upperparts and white tail-corners but no view of the underwing. With a more conclusive view still needed, we formed a cordon and at 14.00 it broke cover again flying close past Dave and leaving no doubt as to its identity. We put the news out and then finally, about an hour and a half after Juan’s initial sighting I got to see it myself, flying down towards Juan and I, passing within a couple of feet of our heads and then banking left into cover. An awesome sight! As the crowds gathered, we left to grab some lunch, graciously accepting the congratulations of birding friends as we departed!
Later that afternoon, we birded Channerwick, which apart from a single Sycamore, also looked rubbish to my untrained eye. However, Juan had found a Booted Warbler in the willowherb beds here some years earlier and assured me it was a good site. Dave flushed a pale warbler but we only got onto Blackcaps.
With the last of the light we twitched an Arctic Warbler in a tiny patch of cover at Sumburgh lighthouse, and then worked the southernmost quarry on Sumburgh Head where in failing light we spotted a Spotted Fly. Could this be the bird that caught out the punkbirders?
An amazingly successful start to our trip. With southeasterlies forecast to continue for at least the next 5 days what more rarities would we find? Prophetically, Juan said we’d probably already peaked.
Monday was a beautiful bright and breezy day. Dave and I worked Quendale Mill and the crop fields up to Loch of Hillwell, allowing Dave to reminisce about the Pallas’s Sandgrouse in ’90 (I’d had exams). Meanwhile Jo looked around the Bay of Quendale and gripped us off on Orca (though I’d rather see one like this). Our best finds were just a Hawfinch and a Yellow-browed Warbler (though we later learned that the YBW had been present the previous day). After birding Spiggie, Geosetter and Bigton with little to show for our efforts, we ended the day back at Quendale to twitch a Paddyfield Warbler. The bird we actually saw was a Blyth’s Reed Warbler though, calling and showing in flight.
That night there was an almost full moon shining through very thin ice-clouds over Juan and Jane’s, and for the first time in my life I saw a 22° halo around the moon with a pair of diffuse moondogs!
Tuesday started pretty well with a Barred Warbler and a YBW both new birds in the Swinister Burn but the rest of the day dragged a bit and our only find was another Hawfinch flying through Wester Quarff.
On Wednesday we were due to fly to Fair Isle for our last 7 nights on Shetland but the day dawned with poor visibility and strong wind. We spent much of Wednesday and Thursday hanging around Tingwall airport, surely the dreariest place on Shetland, with occasional forays to bird the Loch of Tingwall or the Scalloway gardens, before finally abandoning hope, rebooking for the Saturday and driving to north Unst. With the last hour of daylight at Norwick, Unst, we could see we’d arrived at a birdy place, with several bedraggled Goldcrests in the rain-lashed bushes.
Restored after a night billeted at the Saxa Vord Resort, we were in the field at first light on Friday and birding hard. But weather conditions were atrocious. Our highlights were the 6 Greenland Redpolls Carduelis flammea rostrata and our first Lapland Bunting of the trip, plus a YBW at Lower Voe on our way back south.
Finally, on Saturday 2nd October, we were able to fly to Fair Isle, squeezed into one of Directflight’s 7-seater twin-prop planes. It was immediately obvious that Fair Isle was a lot more birdy than the mainland with several migrants just around the observatory building. And within minutes, the red flag was flying from the minibus and Carrie was ferrying us down to the Meadow Burn to see a Lancy. Most of the island birders had been and gone leaving just five of us to dig it out. But miraculously we flushed it into the Quoy chicken-coop where it sat out in the open just a few metres away, looking over its shoulder at us showing its neatly-fringed tertials, before sprinting off across the ground and burrowing into the grass.
The rest of the day’s birding was excellent with loads of trip ticks including Little Bunting in a ditch on the north side of Boini Mire and a Short-eared Owl, plus loads of Laps. Stayed up for the bird-log that evening. As on my previous visit in 2006 it was an uncomfortable ritual in which fresh-faced initiates eagerly call out their counts of common migrants in a spirit of birding camaraderie. A long pause is allowed in which the veterans present either sneer at them in silence or cringe in pity, before the staffers inevitably trump them humiliatingly with their transect counts.
Not much in the way of new arrivals on the Sunday other than a Barnacle Goose at South Light but we caught up with the Bluethroat in the Setter crop, and added Ring Ouzel, Fieldfare and Jack Snipe to the trip list. The highlight of the day was seeing the Lancy in the hand, with Derek pointing out all the ID features – considerably better than the views I had at Sheringham on 29th September 1993 (the only occasion when I have forgotten to take my bins on a twitch!)
A Hen Harrier had been around, though not seen on the Saturday. Jo and I bumped into one at Gilsetter on our way back to the obs on Sunday evening. I was immediately struck in flight by the extensive ginger underparts and underwing-coverts, and by the strongly contrasting face-pattern. I wasn’t able to rule out a possible Marsh-hawk (a.k.a. Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus hudsonius, the North American subspecies of Hen Harrier) but I expect others have seen it better.
I was a bit late getting into the field on Monday (08.10) but was soon greeted by a new bird. Single, well-spaced ‘c-lip’ calls over Gilsetter and then I got onto a red male Crossbill. The call was much more disyllabic than any I can remember hearing from a Crossbill before and when that evening I listened to The Sound Approach recordings was clearly a match for their Glip Crossbill Loxia curvirostra type C. Added Dunnock and Tree Pipit to my Fair Isle trip list in the crofting area but nothing more exciting. After lunch Jo and I headed north and there was a delicious heart-stopping moment at the crumbling walkway between the lighthouse and the foghorn as a swift shot past … but which one? It soon showed again and was just an extremely late Common Swift (damn!) With a Redstart at the foghorn, 3-6 Ring Ouzels, a brief view of the harrier again, loads of Snow Buntings, and a Pied Flycatcher incongruously sitting on a concrete block on top of Ward Hill, it was a good afternoon. I really lost my nerve birding the geos in 2006 with a gusting gale at my back. This time I just belly-crawled to the edge of the really fearsome ones. Got back to the obs raring to do it all over again tomorrow.
Tuesday 5th October, our last full day in the field, was a bit too windy and birding was hampered. Dave and I had two streaky Locustella warblers in the Meadow Burn Phalaris bed but these strangely failed to elicit any interest from the ringers. A House Martin on the north cliffs in late afternoon was new but dissatisfying. But as I trudged back for dinner, there was an unmistakeable omen of good luck … a White Rabbit!
Will Miles gave an absolutely brilliant talk in the evening about St Kilda: how to get there, its history of human presence, his research on interactions between Bonxies and Leach’s Petrels, and the rares he found while he was there. It’s now a lot higher on my list of places I must see.
Wednesday 6th October and the journey home begins. It looked like it would be touch and go for the flight but we got away with only a slight delay. With five hours on mainland Shetland, Dave and I tried for the “mobile and elusive” Sykes’s Warbler at Channerwick. I was fully expecting this to be Shetland birding at its worst: a crowd of twitchers booting a poor beleaguered bird around and getting nothing but untickable flight views and glimpses. And for the first hour or so it lived up miserably to my expectations, with added rain. I wished I’d gone shopping in Lerwick with Jo! But it did keep returning to an area which could be viewed from the opposite bank of the burn from a less intrusive distance. Dave fetched the scopes from the car and we ended up scoping it for over an hour in which it was static and showy, frequently zooming up to 60× on it; possibly the best views anyone has had of it so far? My photo is dreadful but a better one here. Excellent: a British tick (and lifer) for both of us, the only one of the trip and a good way to end. Hmmm … we never did nail that pale warbler here the Sunday before last.
So would I do an autumn birding trip to Shetland again? On the one hand, it was a lot of hard work, travel and expense for just one tick and a paltry self-found haul of 1 Barred Warbler and 3 YBWs. And there were times when the weather, flight delays and logistical hassles were such that it really wasn’t enjoyable. But we were in on Juan’s discovery of one of the classic British rarities, and all around us mega-rarities were being found every day. Yes, we could have been strolling the picturesque bulb fields of Scilly in our shirt sleeves, but we’d have been wishing we were on Shetland! I’ve learnt that even the most unpromising habitat can harbour rare migrants, and that (although it is still anathema to me) flushing birds is probably a better way of finding rarities on Shetland than politely waiting for them to show.
This trip was conceived when Kevin Austin sent me a copy of the 2008 catalogue of the Carabidae of Cyprus. John Walters and I have been trying to compile a collection of clean, neatly-carded specimens of all the British and Irish carabids for some years. Cyprus looked like it might be a good place to find some of the species which are now ‘missing presumed extinct’ in Britain and thus to fill some of the gaps in that collection. Kevin advised March and April to be the best months for carabids on the island so it looked like an ideal holiday before my UK field season gets into full swing.
Unfortunately, Jo was taken ill and spent two nights in hospital the week before we were due to leave. It was great news that she recovered fast and received doctor’s approval to travel on Friday 26th March but we were both exhausted by the time we disembarked at Pafos airport. And so our trip began slowly with both of us needing a good rest rather than dawn-till-dusk nat hist.
Sat 27th: A slow start to the holiday with a migrating Glossy Ibis over our apartment, and 7 species of carabids found in trashy habitat around Pafos. All the carabids were of genera that occur in Britain, and including a Platyderus that I presume to be the undescribed species numbered 214 in the Austin et al. (2008) catalogue.
Sun 28th: Pallid Swifts amongst the Common Swifts over the apartment and a Nightingale seen well nearby. We set off east to Fassouri reedbeds and Akrotiri Salt Lake in search of Acupalpus elegans. This small carabid was last seen in Britain on the Isle of Grain, north Kent in 1952. In the British literature it is reportedly confined to saline habitats, and found in saltmarshes, and in wet flushes on coastal cliffs and undercliffs. This had seemed to be the most guaranteed of my target species: “Really quite common in spring amongst damp reed litter in saline areas. Also found under stones, rubbish, etc in the same areas but normally in proximity to reeds”. Well I never did find it! In fact, carabids in general were really hard to find and this day yielded 15 species, mostly as single specimens though one or two species (Agonum nigrum and Tachys scutellaris/ centromaculatus) approaching double figures. Quite frustrating to see so many tiger-beetle larval burrows in the salt-flats with no adults around. Bumped into Black Francolin and Spectacled Warbler during the day. No new birds for me on this trip but Black Francolin is one of several species that I have not seen since I did my 6-week birding trip round Turkey and northern Cyprus in 1988.
Mon 29th: So far, we’ve been nowhere that you could actually describe as nice habitat, let alone pristine. Everywhere seems to be affected by development, hunting, tipping, and general abuse of the environment. So we strike out north towards the Akamas Peninsula where the battle against coastal development has not yet been lost. I am astounded by the dearth of carabids – just a single Carabus anatolicus despite rolling over a fair tonnage of boulders! Some good birding though with Cyprus Wheatears showing well, plus Cretzschmar’s Bunting, male Collared Flycatcher and an all-too-brief possible Goshawk.
Tues 30th: I’d had to shoulder the apartment door open on Friday evening as the latch had stuck, so spent the morning repairing the door frame. We spent the rest of the day admiring the archaeological sites of Pafos, including some superb mosaics. Added Short-toed Lark, Spanish Sparrow and Black Redstart to the bird list, and Swallowtail and Small Copper to the butterfly list.
Wed 31st: Feeling more rested and decide to set the alarm and do some proper birding in the morning, back on Pafos headland. About 60 Black-headed Wagtails going over SE in just 5 minutes standing outside the door at first light – so I reckoned straight away that it was going to be an interesting morning for migrants.
And so it was, with 45 Slender-billed Gulls NW, 1 Great Cormorant over, 2 Spur-winged Plover briefly at the point before flying off, 1 ‘dombrowskii’ Wagtail amongst the Black- and Blue-headeds, 1 Kingfisher, 1 Wryneck and 5 Cretzschmar’s Buntings.
Also great views of 4 Red-throated Pipits within about 100m of a flock of 4 Tree Pipits.
We plan a day in the Troodos mountains where I could potentially hope to find 3 of my target carabids. Two of them are alien species probably never established in Britain: Elaphropus quadrisignatus (a.k.a. Tachyura quadrisignata) and Porotachys bisulcatus. The other is a vagrant to Britain and a long shot on Cyprus: Calosoma sycophanta.
We get good views of the distinctive Cypriot races of Coal Tit and Jay, as well as a lovely pair of Masked Shrikes and then actually find Elaphropus quadrisignatus, amongst stream-side pebbles intermixed with Oriental Plane leaf-litter, 2 specimens. A quick stop by the River Diarizos on the way back to Pafos yields a range of wetland carabids including two familiar British species: Chlaenius vestitus and Anchomenus dorsalis.
Thurs 1st April: Jo joins me for another dawn round of Pafos headland. Fewer migrants then yesterday but we get cracking views of a male Pallid Harrier as well as our only Hoopoe sightings of the trip.
Decide to have one last-ditch attempt to find some of the target carabids, starting with Ophonus subquadratus at Asprokremmos Dam. After what seems like about an hour I find my first carabid of the day (Broscus nobilis) and after more unrewarding hard slog, I give up. Jo shows me a Long-eared Hedgehog – a charming creature but this one a road casualty. We move on to Zakaki reedbed. This is an appallingly degraded brackish, reed-fringed lagoon, remnant of a once much larger site now under a port development. Acupalus elegans was the target again but I still couldn’t find it. Did turn up a reasonable selection of carabids though including a single Daptus vittatus and a single adult Megacephala euphratica – the most superb carabid of the trip! Other compensation in the form of another male Pallid Harrier and a mole-cricket.
Fri 2nd: Back to culture today. We make an early start and arrive at Ancient Kourion for opening at 08:00 to make the most of the cooler part of the day. This must be the best place to go to see both Cyprus’ endemic birds (Cyprus Wheatear and Cyprus Warbler) easily and in the most spectacular of settings. I spend the heat of the day chasing around vainly with my net after what can only have been a Vagrant Emperor Hemianax ephippiger. It was unwise and most of the afternoon is spent resting in a shady beach restaurant at Avdimou, where an Audouin’s Gull flies past us.
Back into the field in the late afternoon and I indulge in one of my favourite ways of finding carabids – rolling over roller-bales in weedy arable fields. Sometimes you need at least four hands to grab all the beetles as they dash for cover but sadly not here. Thin pickings and just four species of carabid, though one of them (Orthomus berytensis) is a new one for the trip. It becomes apparent that not only has the sun driven all the carabids into deep cover but it has also given me sunstroke.
Sat 3rd: After throwing up yesterday evening and then sleeping for 15 hours, I still feel terrible. What a great holiday this is! In the evening, we gently stroll down to the seafront, and find a female Desert Wheatear. I’ve twitched 3 in Britain but this is the first I’ve seen abroad and the first I’ve found for myself.
Sun 4th: We’ve a few hours spare on our last morning to bird the Pafos headland before going to the airport. It gets quite a turn-over of birds and we add Black-eared Wheatear, Tawny Pipit and Skylark to our trip list, as well as seeing a flyover Purple Heron and getting more good views of Nightingales and Red-throated Pipits.
Not a very inspiring trip report I know! Obviously this reflects the fact that Jo and I were both knackered at the start of the trip and never got into our usual hard-core natural history stride. Part of the reason we didn’t was that we found many of the sites we visited to be degraded and abused and it was pretty dispiriting to see what Cyprus’ prosperity has done to the environment. Part of the reason too was that carabids were so unexpectedly difficult to find. I’m really basing this on experience in Britain but I have also done some carabid-hunting in Portugal, Spain, Turkey, Poland, Denmark, Finland, Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands. Only on Ibiza in high summer have I ever before felt that it was so unproductive as to be a waste of time. Seems like this spring has been a dry one for Cyprus and in a different year with different weather it might have been better.
95 species of birds seen without trying very hard. Annotated list here.
Beetle list to follow, eventually! Only collected Carabidae, Tenebrionidae, Elateroidea, Cerambycidae and Pselaphinae. Getting a collecting permit was simple thanks to this advice on Eddie John’s site and only took a couple of weeks to come through.
Cape St Vincent (or Cabo de São Vicente in Portuguese) is a good area for migrant and vagrant birds, being the most south-westerly point of mainland Europe but it is incredibly under-watched. We first visited in 2006 (28th Oct to 4th Nov) when we saw a superb range of migrants including Dotterel and Yellow-browed Warbler. We stayed in Sagres again, a small town as near to the Cape as you can get, popular with surfers and campervan hippies.
This trip was not about seeing as many of the Algarve’s birds as we could within a week. It was a substitute for a week on Scilly (too boring to go there every year) so we just put ourselves in a good place and birded it every day to see what was on the move and what we could find. The weather was rather placid all week with winds from the north and north-west, and a couple of light showers – nothing to really concentrate, divert or delay migrating birds.
We pick up our hire car at Faro airport and spend the afternoon at the coastal lagoon of Lagoa dos Salgados which was fantastically birdy in 2006. Large areas of the lagoon have dried up but it’s still alive with birds including 4 Glossy Ibis, Caspian Tern, 116+ Dabchicks (!), 1 Black-necked Grebe and Southern Grey Shrike. Highlights were two birds we didn’t connect with in 2006: Black-winged Kite and 2 Bluethroats. In Sagres, we have the apartment below the one we stayed in in 2006. Although a little lower, the balcony is still an excellent position for seawatching, raptor-watching, and scanning an area of scrub and small fields.
I do a dawn round of some of the best bits of migrant habitat around the apartment, including my ‘patch’: the donax fields (with hedges of Arundo donax). Its not very busy: 6 Chiff-chaffs, 6 Black Redstarts, the only Redstart of the trip, 2 Blackcaps, 1 Wheatear. Serins are the main bird moving overhead but only a total of 44.
Back to the apartment for a coffee. Over the course of 1 hour and 20 mins, intermittently watching from the balcony, I see 61 Cory’s/Scopoli’s Shearwaters, 19 Balearic/Yelkouan Shearwaters, 1 Bonxie, and (bizarrely) 1 Black-necked Grebe! A couple of buzzards get up and we decide it is high time we were at the raptor watchpoint.
En route to the watchpoint, it is clear that there are raptors on the move as we see 2 Hen Harriers and 4 Short-toed Eagles.
Up at the watchpoint we add Booted Eagle, Egyptian Vulture and Griffon Vulture to the list: the latter a huge flock of c. 200 birds.
We scan and scan again in search of Rüppell’s Griffon and I eventually pick out something different: a Black Vulture!
There’s a Spaniard up at the watchpoint, one of a team of 8 monitoring raptor migration from 8 watchpoints around the wind-farm, 0800-1500 every day. If vultures enter the risk zone, they make a call and stop the turbines turning until the birds have moved into safety. Apparently it’s their first Black Vulture of the autumn. We later learn that there was a Rüppell’s in the flock and we missed it!
The edge of the pine woods here can be good for warblers, Redstarts, flycatchers, Tree Pipits, etc so we have a blog round once the thermals have died down: Crested Tit and Firecrest but no migrants. Highlight was Barometer Earthstar. It’s on the British list but I’ve only seen them once before, in the dunes at Cape Cod, Massachussets.
Quite a strong north-westerly so we take a punt at seawatching right out at the Cabo: in 17 minutes we see 6 Cory’s/Scopoli’s, 7 Balearic/Yelkouan and 185 Gannets, then stopped counting. I really wanted to get to grips with these two shearwater pairs on this trip but the views from the Cabo are too close!
You’re on top of massive cliffs, with a view half way to the Azores and all the shears are close in below you, moving fast and really hard to get in the scope.
The sun sets on a cloudless horizon and by putting my bins on it just as it sets, I see the ‘green flash’!
It’s a Near Gale (Force 7) NNW-early in the morning so I forsake the bush-bashing, don full winter-birding clobber and sit on the cliffs at the Cabo. Gannets are going south at about 20 per minute but I’m still not getting my scope on the shearwaters – need a wide-angle lens, not the zoom! Goldfinch and Serin are on the move overhead, coming out to the point and going back again. Highlights are 5 Porpoises and a prob. Bottle-nosed Dolphin close off the point (we didn’t see any cetaceans in 2006).
Second breakfast on the balcony produces Whimbrel, 3 Ravens and 3 Short-toed Eagles.
For a bit of shelter, we check out the Martinhal lagoon just to the east of Sagres. Like Lagoa dos Salgados, it is much drier than in 2006 and holds just 2 Black-winged Stilts, 16 Turnstone, 1 Ringed Plover and 2 Common Sandpipers. The land above and to the east of the lagoon has become much more developed – a new resort hotel and large villas and the area around the lagoon more disturbed. Still, it’s the only wetland birding in the Sagres area and adds a bit of variety to the birding, always with the chance of a rarity.
We spend the rest of the day birding across the Vale Santo plain, round the farm buildings and along the spectacular clifftops north of Telheiro, taking the full force of the wind. The geology and erosion features of this bit of coast are amazing. The plain was alive with Skylarks, Linnets and Corn Buntings. The highlight was spotting a flock of c.15 Golden Plover in flight over the plain with 1 Dotterel.
I give the donax fields a proper thrashing from first light. Reed Warbler, Ring Ouzel, Woodlark and Wryneck are new. Probably the strongest ‘vismig’ (i.e. visible migration) of the week with the main movers being Goldfinch (93), Chaffinch (57) and Serin (27) between 0643 and 0740 (when I stopped counting) plus Bullfinch. It wasn’t a good week for big vismig movements (unlike 2006 when we had easterlies)!
From the balcony I saw a small dolphin (Common or Striped) close in off Ponta de Sagres and so with the sea looking quite calm we tried our luck for cetaceans off the Cabo. In an hour and a half we could only manage 2 brief Porpoises but the highlight was a single Great Shearwater as well as the inevitable Cory’s and Balearics.
Turned up at the raptor watchpoint at 1320, quite late for raptor movement but just in time for a superb low fly-over Richard’s Pipit – no mistaking this one! Quite a big movement of Common Buzzards (16) and a flock of 40 Choughs arrived high from the north. The immature Egyptian Vulture showed well and there were 9 Griffons lingering from Sundays mob.
Once the thermals had died, decided to leg it around the Vale Santo plain in search of large pipits. After walking no more than 100m from the car, saw a distant flock of 8-10 white birds in flight which I presumed to be Cattle Egrets. Lazily raised my bins just in time to see them land: Little Bustards!!! They’ve got a lot more white in the wings than I’d remembered! They favour the scrub/grassland edge which gives them plenty of cover and we failed to find them at all in 2006. This time, we managed to stalk them so well that when we finally got them in view they continued feeding and even came closer! Awesome views (the photos don’t do them justice)!
Stayed watching the bustards till the light had gone and then set off back across the plain feeling very privileged indeed. And then I noticed a monstrous black shape barrelling across the open plain – a huge male Wild Boar in full flight!!! I could hardly believe my eyes.
In the first glimmer of daylight at 0635 I had two Ring Ouzels from the balcony. Needing no further encouragement I was out. Scanning the fenceline beside the path to the donax fields I could see 4 Blackcaps, 3 Chiff-chaffs, as well as 3 Sard’s, a Robin and a Black Redstart. Getting up to the donax fields, I dropped straight onto a Common Rosefinch in the fig garden, presumably feeding on fallen figs, it popped up into the bare branches of the fig tree right in front of me. I got some superzoom pics once it had flown to the tall trees at the back of the garden. Superb!
A Portuguese national rarity and must be my best find for the Sagres area. Other new birds this morning were 3 immature Common Waxbills (my first at Sagres – dispersers from further east?), Common Whitethroat and Mistle Thrush.
Despite the passerine interest, I was too knackered for any more bush-bashing so opted for standing and scanning round the fishing harbour. Excellent and very educational views of the Yellow-legged Gulls and added Sandwich Tern to the trip list. In light rain, we continued scrutinising the large gulls from the veranda of the Nortada beach bar at Martinhal, where we had lunch – a superb wet-weather birding option!
Spent the rest of the afternoon working the edge of the pines around the raptor watchpoint and the pine copse and gardens on the west edge of Sagres but without finding any more good migrant passerines. The Rosefinch was still present at dusk.
Seems like the Rosefinch has taken advantage of a clear night to move on, and the dawn round seems quiet, though still just into double figures of Chiff-chaffs. 5 Siskins go over to the south – my first in Portugal. I presume they carried on to Morocco? Turtle Dove is also new.
As ever, the balcony comes up trumps. Coffee goes cold while my attention is torn between a raft of 63 Cory’s in the bay and 3 close Booted Eagles, not to mention one of the resident Peregrines trying to catch a Rock Dove for its breakfast.
We head out eastwards for the day for a change of scene and for a bit of non-birding: menhirs, a Roman Villa with mosaic floors and a megalithic site. Fortuitously, we drive past “A Rocha”, the christian bird observatory, and drop in. They’re just finishing the morning’s ringing and had released a Yellow-browed Warbler earlier, their 4th ever and 2nd this autumn. We have a quick whizz round the Alvor estuary which boosts the trip list considerably including a Greater Flamingo, Common Waxbills, Spanish Sparrows and a crake, presumably Spotted, flushed by dogs. I am very pleased to see a scutigeromorph centipede – unfeasibly long-legged and astonishingly fast!
Last day’s birding. Another clear night and a fairly quiet morning with only 9 Chiff-chaffs and a Ring Ouzel. Little vismig but it did include a new Sagres bird for me: 1 Brambling heading south. My first ever Vestal moth at the apartment lights.
After a slightly disappointing start to the day, the balcony comes to the rescue with a large dispersed pod of Common Dolphins moving rapidly west with lots of splashing, breaching and acrobatics including some wriggly baby dolphins copying the grown-ups – about 200 animals altogether.
We haven’t birded the Telheiro valleys yet this week so we give them a go. Immediately wish we’d birded them more often as the northern of the two valleys is chock-full of chacking Ring Ouzels. At least 6 seen at once, drinking from a residual puddle in the valley bottom but probably 10 or more present. Trail of cat prints to a burrow in a sandy seam on the cliff-face: could be a good stake-out at dusk for one of the areas Wild Cats but might just be a feral cat – we didn’t give it a go.
We explore new ground by descending to the bottom of the southern Telheiro valley and discover an eye-wateringly rare spot: a small grove of ancient tamarisks wedged into a damp, sheltered cleft, fringed by Arundo donax. If this spot doesn’t turn up a yank passerine one day I will eat my binoculars! But not today – I pished out two Robins.
With the wind down to the lightest breeze by late afternoon, it is great to be on the Vale Santo plain and to be able to hear all the birds: Spectacled, Sardinian and Dartford Warblers in the knee-high Inula scrub, the ‘zit’ of Cisticolas, the ‘thip’ of flocks of Corn Buntings. No repeat performance from the Wild Boar at dusk.
No time for birding this morning as we are on the road at 0640 to the airport. But it’s not over yet – en route we see three flocks of Azure-winged Magpies, over 100 Cattle Egrets and a Black-winged Kite hovering over the verge! Arriving at the airport with 50 minutes to spare, we nip down to the lagoon between the airport and Praia de Faro beach for some waders and wildfowl – four trip ticks!
Birding Sagres was hugely enjoyable once again. Its only a little more expensive than a week on Scilly but seems like vastly better value-for-money now that Scilly prices have gone up so much with the ‘Island Parish’ effect. OK, so you’re thinking “but it’s not Britain: why go and look for rare birds in somebody else’s country?”. Because it’s just good, fun birding! And because it might blaze a new trail. I’m pretty happy with the haul of scarcities from our two visits: Yellow-browed Warbler, 2 Dotterels, Richard’s Pipit, Common Rosefinch and Great Shearwater. Despite very little coverage, in the past the Sagres and Cape St Vincent area has had Portugal’s first Moussier’s Redstart, Europe’s first White-backed Vulture and a flock of 5 Chimney Swifts. I’d still love to find a big rarity out there …
1 Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope
6+ at Praia de Faro on 7th.
2 Gadwall Anas strepera
6+ at Praia de Faro on 7th.
3 Common Teal Anas crecca
1 at Praia de Faro on 7th.
4 Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
4 at Alvor Estuary on 5th; 3 from the Roman Villa at Abicada on 5th; about 50 at Praia de Faron on 7th and dozens moving west high over.
5 Common Scoter Melanitta nigra
2 north at the Cape on 3rd. About 8 west from the balcony on 5th.
6 Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa
Recorded on most visits to the more scrubby areas of Vale Santo and Telheiro, either heard only or seen bombing off.
7 Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
An amazing concentration of at least 116 in the channel at Lagoa dos Salgados on 31st. 2 at the Alvor Estuary on 5th.
8 Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis
1 with the Dabchicks at Lagoa dos Salgados on 31st.
9 Cory’s/ Scopoli’s Shearwater Calonectris borealis/ diomedea
Seen every day moving offshore in small numbers; 6 in 17 minutes probably being the strongest passage observed. An absolute fixture from the balcony with a rafting flock of up to 63 in the bay as well as passing birds further out. I failed to get really convincing views of the extent of white on the underside of the primaries but from what I did see I think they were probably the true Cory’s Shearwater (i.e. the population of the Atlantic islands) rather than Scopoli’s (of the Mediterranean). I expect Portuguese birders have sussed it out but I’m not aware of their results.
10 Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis
1 lingering off Cape St Vincent on 3rd.
11 Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus
Less common than Cory’s and rarely settling on the water. Example counts: 7 in 17 minutes off Cape St Vincent on 1st; 19 from the balcony in 75 minutes on 1st. Several convincing Balearics seen but also several ‘small Puffinus sp.’ seen (mostly briefly or badly) which could have been Manx, Yelkouan or even Little.
– European Storm-petrel Hydrobates pelagicus
Not seen this trip. 1 from the balcony on 2nd Nov 2006.
– Wilson’s Storm-petrel Oceanites oceanicus
It should be pretty much guaranteed to see Wilson’s by taking a boat up to about 15km S of Sagres, even as late in the year as early November: see here. There’s a good pelagic operator based in Sagres harbour.
12 Northern Gannet Morus bassanus
Ever-present at sea. 185 south from the Cape in 17 minutes on 31st was an example count.
13 Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
15 at Lagoa dos Salgados on 31st. 13 high west over Sagres on the morning of 2nd. Up to 16 in the Martinhal/ fishing harbour area. Present at the Alvor Estuary on 5th and Pria de Faro on 7th.
14 Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis
Uncommon with no more than 2 seen in a day around the rocky coast.
15 Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
Only seen once in the Sagres area: 4 with cattle at Vale Santo on 2nd. Much commoner to the east.
16 Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Seen once on the rocky shore in the lee of Ponta de Sagres, plus two on the coast at Martinhal. Much commoner on the wetlands to the east.
17 Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Not seen in the Sagres area but very common to the east, e.g. c.50 at Lagoa dos Salgados on 31st.
– Black Stork Ciconia nigra
Not seen this trip. 23 seen from the raptor watchpoint on 29th and 30th Oct 2006.
18 White Stork Ciconia ciconia
3 at Lagoa dos Salgados on 31st. 1 at Martinhal on 4th. About 40 from the Roman Villa at Abicada on 5th. About 10 at Praia de Faro on 7th.
19 Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus
4 at Lagoa dos Salgados on 31st.
20 Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia
16 at Lagoa dos Salgados on 31st. 7 viewed from the Roman Villa at Abicada on 5th. About 10 at Praia de Faro on 7th.
21 Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus
1 at the Alvor Estuary on 5th.
22 Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus
1 at Lagoa dos Salgados on 31st and one hovering beside the motorway on 7th.
– Black Kite Milvus migrans
Not seen this trip. Up to 7 seen in October 2006.
– Red Kite Milvus milvus
Not seen by us. Two were seen by the raptor monitors from the Sagres watchpoint on 2nd.
23 Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus
An immature bird seen from the raptor watchpoint on 1st and probably the same bird again on 3rd.
24 Eurasian Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus
A flock of about 200 came in from the north-east on 1st, seen from the raptor watchpoint. The flock fragmented, and we saw a remnant 9 on 3rd. Apparently, at least for the big vultures, the only possible crossing point to Morocco is at Tarifa (and even there some end up ditching short of the Moroccan coast and drowning). So the journey out to Cape St Vincent in search of a shorter crossing is a wasted dead-end journey for them.
– Rüppell’s Griffon Vulture Gyps rueppellii
The big flock of 200 contained 1 Rüppell’s but though we were scanning for this species, we didn’t spot it. With this observation, the raptor monitoring team had recorded 3 to 6 Rüppell’s during the autumn.
25 Eurasian Black Vulture Aegypius monachus
One amongst the big vulture flock on 31st.
26 Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus
Four from the raptor watchpoint on 1st and 3rd plus 3 from the balcony on the 2nd (perhaps the same birds?).
27 Western Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus
1 at Lagoa dos Salgados on 31st. 1 at Praia de Faro on 7th.
28 Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus
An adult female and a ringtail en route to the raptor watchpoint on 1st.
– Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus
Not seen this trip. 2 seen at Sagres in 2006.
29 Common Buzzard Buteo buteo
Prevalent all week with a particularly strong passage on 3rd: we caught the tail end of it with 16 going through after 1320.
30 Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus
5 from the raptor watchpoint on 1st and 3 from the balcony on 5th. All pale-phase birds.
31 Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
Common. A scan of the Vale Santo plain would usually reveal at least three. Checked carefully for Lesser Kestrels but apparently these have long gone by this time of year.
– Merlin Falco columbarius
Not seen by us but one had been seen from the raptor watchpoint on 31st before we turned up.
– Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo
Not seen this trip. 1 in 2006.
32 Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus
Seen every day with up to 4 recorded and some spectacular views of Peregrine vs Rock Dove, Peregrine vs Ring Ouzel and Peregrine vs Peregrine!
33 Water Rail Rallus aquaticus
Two heard at the Alvor Estuary on 5th.
34 Spotted Crake Porzana porzana
One flushed by dogs at the Alvor Estuary on 5th. I certainly saw enough to rule out Water Rail and Corncrake and it didn’t seem small enough for either Little or Baillon’s Crakes, which in any case would appear to be far less likely than Spotted Crake.
35 Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
At least 11 at Lagoa dos Salgados on 31st. Also 1 at the Alvor Estuary on 5th.
36 Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax
One of the highlights of the trip was connecting with a flock of 8-10 of these birds on the Vale Santo plain on 3rd. 28 were seen at Vale Santo 2 days later and photographed rather well.
37 Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus
About 50 at the Alvor Estuary on 5th.
38 Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
27 at Lagoa dos Salgados on 31st. 2 at Martinhal on 2nd. Present at the Alvor Estuary on 5th.
– Stone-curlew Burhinus oedicnemus
Not seen this trip. Recorded twice in 2006 totalling 17 birds.
39 Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula
A few seen at wetland sites including up to 2 at Martinhal lagoon.
40 Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus
A few seen at wetland sites including 5 at Martinhal lagoon on 4th.
41 Eurasian Dotterel Charadrius morinellus
1 in flight over the Vale Santo plain on 2nd, initially with Golden Plover. Sadly never located it on the deck.
42 European Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria
About 15 flying over the Vale Santo plain on 2nd. Also heard there on 3rd, and at Ponta de Atalaia (near the apartment) on 5th.
43 Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola
Present at the Alvor Estuary on 5th and Pria de Faro on 7th.
44 Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus
97 at Lagoa dos Salgados on 31st. At least 5 near Vale Santo Farm on 2nd. About 50 on the marshes viewed from the Roman Villa at Abicada on 5th.
45 Red Knot Calidris canutus
1 at Lagoa dos Salgados on 31st.
46 Sanderling Calidris alba
20+ at the Alvor Estuary on 5th.
47 Dunlin Calidris alpina
Present at the Alvor Estuary on 5th and Pria de Faro on 7th.
48 Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago
About 20 at Lagoa dos Salgados on 31st and a few more from the Roman Villa at Abicada on 5th.
49 Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa
1 at the Alvor Estuary on 5th.
50 Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica
4+ at the Alvor Estuary on 5th.
51 Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus
Two flew in and landed in the Sagres bay on 2nd. Also 1 at Praia de Faro on 7th.
52 Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata
4+ at the Alvor Estuary on 5th.
53 Common Redshank Tringa totanus
Present at the Alvor Estuary on 5th and Pria de Faro on 7th.
54 Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia
Present at the Alvor Estuary on 5th and 2 at Pria de Faro on 7th.
55 Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus
4 at Lagoa dos Salgados on 31st. Also 1 from the Roman Villa at Abicada on 5th.
56 Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
1 at Lagoa dos Salgados on 31st. 2 at Martinhal lagoon on 2nd.
57 Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres
16 at Martinhal on 2nd. Also present on the Alvor Estuary and at Praia de Faro.
58 Great Skua Stercorarius skua
Only two this trip: one on 1st and one on 6th, both from the balcony. Much more numerous in 2006.
59 Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus
2 at Lagoa dos Selgados on 31st. 1 at the Alvor Estuary on 5th.
60 Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus
44 at Lagoa dos Salgados on 31st. Scarce otherwise: e.g. 2 in the Sagres fishing harbour on 4th and 6th.
61 Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus
Only about 10 birds amongst about 250 YL Gulls at Sagres but far outnumbering YL Gull at Alvor Estuary, etc.
62 Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis
The commonest large gull in the Sagres area with about 250 birds around the fishing harbour and Martinhal beach. Outnumbered by LBB Gulls further east.
63 Caspian Tern Sterna caspia
1 at Lagoa dos Selgados on 31st. 1 very distant probable at the Alvor Estuary on 5th. 1 at Praia de Faro on 7th.
64 Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis
Two around the Sagres fishing harbour on both visits, 8 at the Alvor Est on 5th, 2 at Praia de Faro on 7th.
– Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea
None this trip. 3 in 2006 plus a few Comm-ics.
? Razorbill Alca torda
Several Guillemot/ Razorbill sightings around the Cape probably related to Razorbill.
65 Rock Dove Columba livia
Very common around Sagres, outnumbering the few Feral Pigeons in town.
66 Stock Dove Columba oenas
Seemingly a rather scarce migrant: 2 singles high west over Lagoa dos Salgados on 31st; 1 west over the raptor watchpoint on 1st.
67 Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto
At least 22 in Sagres.
68 European Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur
An adult in the donax fields on 5th.
69 Little Owl Athene noctua
They are spoilt for choice when it comes to picturesque dilapidated barns. We saw Little Owls sitting out on barns at Telheiro, near the raptor watchpoint and near A Rocha.
– Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus
Not seen by us but one had been seen from the raptor watchpoint on 31st before we turned up.
70 Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla
1 in the donax fields on 3rd.
71 Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major
One heard on two or three dates in pines near the raptor watchpoint, and extensive feeding damage seen on beetle-infested pines.
72 Crested Lark Galerida cristata
Still making very heavy weather of identifying Crested and Thekla Larks. I am happy to accept the received wisdom that all the larks around Sagres are Thekla. The ones I photographed at Lagoa dos Salgados appear to be Crested (longer, more strongly decurved bill, especially the lower mandible, more diffuse streaking on underparts, especially at breast-sides).
73 Thekla Lark Galerida theklae
Common all around the Sagres and Cape St Vincent area where there appear to be no Crested Larks. Further east I’m not sure!
74 Wood Lark Lullula arborea
Up to 8 around the raptor watchpoint throughout. Elsewhere the only record was of 1 in the donax fields on 3rd.
75 Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis
About 200 at Vale Santo on 2nd was typical. A few seen on vismig but never into double figures.
76 Eurasian Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris
Little sign of passage on this trip. Up to 10 or more present around the apartment and along the cliffs of Sagres.
77 Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
2 west over the raptor watchpoint on 3rd. 2 more west over the Vale Santo plain on 6th
– Common House Martin Delichon urbicum
Not seen this trip. 4 in 2006.
78 Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi
1 low over the raptor watchpoint at c.1320 on 3rd, heard several times and seen.
– Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis
Not recorded on this trip. At least three recorded in 2006.
79 Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis
Common. Ones, twos or small flocks present throughout but never any big flocks or significant vismig movements.
? Rock/ Water Pipit Anthus petrosus/ spinoletta
One bird probably of this group calling and flying west over Cape St Vincent on 2nd.
– Spanish Wagtail Motacilla iberiae
Not seen this trip. Several records of up to 4 flava-group wagtails in 2006.
80 Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea
1 at Faro Airport on 31st. 1 over the donax fields on 3rd and 1 there on 4th.
81 White Wagtail Motacilla alba
Dozens at Lagos dos Salgados on 31st. Frequent in small numbers throughout the Sagres area but never into double figures.
82 Winter Wren Troglodytes troglodytes
Recorded twice: at the raptor watchpoint and in the northern Telheiro valley.
83 European Robin Erithacus rubecula
Fairly common with a noticeable increas of numbers on 4th.
84 Bluethroat Luscinia svecica
Two seen in the rushes around Lagoa dos Selgados on 31st but only in flight.
85 Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros
Fairly common. Tried to keep count of them but generally gave up after the first 10 or 15 each day.
86 Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus
1 at the donax fields on 1st was the only record.
– Whinchat Saxicola rubetra
Not seen this trip. 2 recorded in 2006.
87 European Stonechat Saxicola rubicola
One of the common and ubiquitous birds of the area.
88 Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe
1 at Lagoa dos Selgados on 31st. 2 in Sagres on 1st, one still present on 3rd.
89 Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius
Seen most days with up to 3 on my early rounds of the Sagres fields and gardens but mostly keeping to the cliffs.
90 Ring Ouzel Turdus torquatus
One at the donax fields on 3rd. 2 from the balcony at first light on 4th. 1 at the donax fields again on 6th, and then 8-10 in the northern Telheiro valley later in the day.
91 Common Blackbird Turdus merula
The commonest thrush with 8 around the donax fields on the morning of 3rd being about the best count of the week, numbers falling thereafter.
92 Song Thrush Turdus philomelos
7 around the donax fields on the morning of 3rd was the best count of the week. They were very skulking and there must have been many more hiding away judging by the large number of ‘tsip’ calls heard at night.
93 Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus
1 near the raptor watchpoint on 1st, 3 there on 3rd. 1 over the donax fields on 4th was the last recorded of the trip.
94 Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis
Fairly ubiquitous and common, especially in the scrubby areas of Vale Santo plain.
95 European Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus
1 near the donax fields on 3rd.
96 Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata
Infrequently recorded, mostly on call, in scrubby areas around Vale Santo plain.
97 Spectacled Warbler Sylvia conspicillata
A male seen well in the Inula scrub on Vale Santo plain on 6th and at least three others heard calling there.
98 Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala
99 Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis
1 in the donax fields on 4th.
– Garden Warbler Sylvia borin
Not seen this trip. 2 recorded in 2006.
100 Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla
Numbers in the donax fields rose from 2 on 1st to 8 an 4th and had declined to 5 on 6th.
– Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus
Not seen this trip. 1 recorded in 2006. We missed seeing a bird ringed at A Rocha on 5th.
101 Northern (& Iberian?) Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita (?& ibericus?)
Pretty common with 10-20 most mornings in and around the donax fields. I always think Phyllosc’s feeding on the ground, as most of these do, should count double as tired migrants! Few heard calling and no real effort was made to try and distinguish Iberian Chiff-chaff, if they’re still around at this time of year. Several of the Chiff-chaffs had a Scandinavian look to them.
102 Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus
2 at Lagoa dos Salgados on 31st.
103 Firecrest Regulus ignicapilla
Three or more present in the pines near the raptor watchpoint.
– Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata
Not recorded this trip. Three in 2006.
– European Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca
Not recorded this trip. Three in 2006.
104 Crested Tit Parus cristatus
Two or more recorded each time we ventured into the pines.
105 Great Tit Parus major
One or two in the pines on most visits.
106 Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis
One at Lagoa dos Salgados on 31st, one at the Alvor Estuary on 5th.
107 Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius
One from the car near Faro airport, seen by Jo only.
108 Iberian Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cooki
Quite often seen from the car, e.g. when driving to and from the airport. Unusual in the Sagres area but 14 at the raptor watchpoint on 1st.
109 Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax
1 near the raptor watchpoint on 1st. A flock of 40 arrived from the NE on 3rd and then stayed around the Vale Santo plain.
110 Western Jackdaw Corvus monedula
Up to 4 seen around the donax fields.
111 Common Raven Corvus corax
3 past the balcony on 2nd, 1 at Telheiro on 6th.
112 Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris
Very few around and outnumbered by Spotlesses all week except on 1st when 9 were seen around the donax fields, plus a high flock of 45 over, and a settled mixed flock of c. 100 startlings on wires at the southern end of the Vale Santo plain.
113 Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor
Steady numbers all week with for example 9 around the donax fields on 1st.
114 House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Pretty common in the usual habitats
115 Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis
A few at the Alvor Estuary on 5th.
– Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus
Not seen on this trip but migrant parties of 2 and 5 recorded at Sagres in 2006.
116 Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs
Commonly seen but usually just flying over and never getting into 3-figure counts. 80NW over the raptor watchpoint in nearly 4 hours on 1st being the highest count.
117 Brambling Fringilla montifringilla
1 south over the donax fields on 6th.
118 European Serin Serinus serinus
The commonest vismig species on most days but with 40W on the morning of 1st the highest count.
119 European Greenfinch Chloris chloris
Rather few seen with 14 the best count.
120 European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
The second commonest vismig species overall but with a peak of 93 birds on the morning of 3rd.
121 Eurasian Siskin Carduelis spinus
5 south over the donax fields on 5th, seen and heard well.
122 Common Linnet Carduelis cannabina
Fairly common, especially on the Vale Santo plain where dozens could be seen.
123 Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus
Probably the best find of the trip: a juv in the fig-garden all day on 4th but not subsequently. First record for mainland Portugal was as recently as 9th Nov 1995 (1 juv ringed at Ria de Alvor) and records of this species need to be submitted to the Comité Português de Raridades.
124 Eurasian Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula
1 over the donax fields on 3rd (heard only).
125 Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra
About 50 at Vale Santo on 2nd was the highest count.