Sunday, May 17, 2015

Germany Trip

My family took a week-long trip to Bavaria in Germany during my daughter's spring break.  We went over the week after Easter looking to spend a few days in Munich and a few more in the Alps.  Birding wasn't a goal of the trip, but I did bring my binoculars and got a few chances to see some birds.  I had a couple of species that I really wanted to see, but I would only end up seeing one.
    I was surprised at the density of birds present.  We took secondary roads from the airport to our hotel (thanks to whomever had the car before us and had "avoid highways" checked deep in the car's SATNAV settings).  I saw a Kite, a Falcon and some Buzzards in just a short amount of time.  Once we were set in the hotel, we decided to get some lunch at the Hofbraukeller, which was within walking distance to where we were staying. As we were sitting outside enjoying liters of delicious beer and fantastic pretzels, while our kids were playing in the most convenient playground ever, I heard some drumming coming from the nearby park.  I looked around and saw a Woodpecker high up looking for some food.

Great-Spotted Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker - Munich Germany
I was floored, I had seen 2 in Ireland, but they were both quick, fly-over looks. After our lunch we explored the wooded park that adjoined the biergarten and saw some Chaffinches and even some Eurasian Jays at someone's feeder.
     Our 3rd day in Munich we stopped by Nymphenburg Palace. The scale of the palace was amazing, but the grounds were also impressive.  Mute Swans, Greylag and even Barnacle Geese were everywhere.  I was hoping to see Short-Toed Treecreepers or Eurasian Nuthatches there.  I did see some Treecreepers, but they flew off before I could determine which type they were.  But I did get to see a Nuthatch, and had really wonderful looks at it too.

Eurasian Nuthatch
Eurasian Nuthatch - Munich Germany

Eurasian Nuthatch
Eurasian Nuthatch - Munich Germany
What a great looking bird, maybe my favorite looking one.  My first "ice cream bird" of the trip and one that I wished would live in Ireland.
Our next stop after Munich were the German Alps.  I got to see some nice birds near our hotel in Oberammergau, but nothing that I got good photographs of. I added Siskin and Common Redstart as ticks.  We also visited the beautiful Castle Neuschwanstein, which was about an hour from where we were staying.
It was quite busy but I still manged to see some birds and even get some more lifer ticks. There was a beautiful lake there, the Alpensee which had some Great-Crested Grebes swimming on it.

Great-Crested Grebe
Great-Crested Grebe - Bavaria, Germany
I would also see a Eurasian Nutcracker while we were riding a horse-drawn wagon to Castle Neuschwanstein and some Alpine Swifts flying around the towers of the castle.  But no Wallcreepers like I had hoped.  We were also supposed to take a tram to the top of the Zugspitze (Germany's tallest peak), but we spent way too much time at Neuschwanstein to do anything else but drive back to our hotel for dinner.
We had a really late flight home to Ireland from Germany, so we decided to spend another day in Munich.  We had planned on visiting the BMW Museum, but it happened to be closed on the day that we were there.  So we explored the nearby Olympiapark instead.  The buildings from the Olympics, 40 years ago, were really impressive.  There were lots of trails and paths, but it was a bit colder than we were expecting.  So we decided to take a road-train tour of the park.  As we were touring along I saw an odd duck swimming from the window of our car. It was a Garganey, and a beautiful male in breeding plumage. I really wanted a photo, so after the tour was over, on the far side of the park from the duck, I jumped out and ran back to where I saw it leaving my wife and kids to jump on some giant trampolines.

Garganey - Munich Olympiapark, Germany
There were quite a number of nice birds in the area, and we had a few hours before our flight.  So I went into photography mode for an hour or so.

Great-Spotted Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker - Munich Olympiapark, Germany

Graylag Gosling
Greylag Gosling - Munich Olympiapark, Germany

Mute Swans on nest
Mute Swans at nest - Munich Olympiapark, Germany
And another scarce bird in Ireland that was just hanging out in a public park.

Common Merganser (Goosander)
Common Merganser/Goosander - Munich Olympiaprk, Germany
Germany was a great trip. The food and beer were wonderful, the roads were a pleasure to drive on.  People were friendly and I only saw a fraction of the birds that were there.  I would really like to go back and visit some day.  Maybe when my kids are much older, or even with just my wife and I.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Hen Harrier at Sunrise

I just wanted to share a photo from a trip to Wexford.  We reached the South Slobs just as the Sun was rising and one of the first birds that we saw was this Hen (Northern) Harrier cruising around.

Hen Harrier 2

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Birding in a Winter Ireland...

     January was fairly busy.  I still don't get out as much as I'd like, but such is life.  I started off the month by participating in the County Dublin Bird Race, basically a big day competition within Dublin County.  It was a really long day, but fun.  I got to meet some new people, but didn't take any photos.  Part of that was due to the weather, lots of rain, and just being in a hurry.  But out first bird of the day ID'd was a Peregrine Falcon and our last bird was a Lesser Yellowlegs.
     One of the birds that we had looked for during the race, but dipped on, was a Black Redstart.  They are rare visitors to Ireland, but tend to show up each Winter along the East Coast.  I returned to Dun Laoghaire the following week with my son to see if we could see one, and sure enough, there it was on the rocky beach.

Black Redstart
Black Redstart - Co. Dublin, Ireland
We also got to see lots of Ruddy Turnstones and Shags, as well as the usual mix of gulls. But it was really cold and windy, so we didn't spend too much time on the pier.  But I did spot some Mediterranean Gulls, some getting their spring duds already.

Mediterranean Gull
Mediterranean Gull - Co. Dublin, Ireland
     While out driving in Co. Kildare one day I spotted a large bird in the middle of a field.  I stopped and went back to see what it was.  I pulled off and saw a male Ring-Necked Pheasant standing out in the pasture, but by the time I got my camera out, it had flown.  I was disappointed, until I saw why.  A Buzzard had flown into the trees next to the field.

Common Buzzard
Common Buzzard - Co. Kildare, Ireland
     On another morning I took my son out to Castletown House in nearby Celbridge.  I was hoping to see some Fieldfares and Redwings, but I didn't see much beyond the usual Robins, Blackbirds and Song Thrushes.  But a Mute Swan decided to be photogenic for me.

Mute Swan and Castletown House
Mute Swan - Castletown House, Co. Kildare, Ireland
   My friend Brian Carruthers invited me out to the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin one Sunday morning.  I had not been there yet, and was eager to check it out.  I got there to see a really nice cafe and lots of land.  Much more than Pittsburgh's Botanical Gardens.  Brian had some birds that he wanted to photograph and I just wanted to be out for a walk.  We were walking around the Tolka River when I spotted a White-Breasted Dipper on the far bank, a very nice surprise.

European Dipper
White-Throated Dipper - Co. Dublin, Ireland
And we would see another one just downstream a bit.  Brian and I may have seen them fly into a nest, but didn't exactly see where they went, or where they shortly reappeared from.  As I was looking at some ivy, Brian gestured me over and pointed to a hedgerow.  There was a Goldcrest flittering in and out of the leaves and had not a care in the world that we were just a few feet way watching it.

Goldcrest - Co. Dublin, Ireland
I can't say how happy I am at this photo.  Those guys do not like to stand still at all.  One of the target birds that Brian wanted to see was a Treecreeper.  We did end up seeing one, but it flew off before we could get any photos.  The other interesting thing that we saw was a bumblebee out in some really cold weather, it was probably 2°C out, but here was a large, black bee visiting some flowers.

Bumblebee - Co. Dublin, Ireland
     After we left the gardens Brian took me to an urban pond that was once a water source for Guinness.  There were quite a few birds there, including some exotics kept as... "pets"?  A Smew, a Hooded Merganser and a White-Cheeked Pintail, all of which had clipped wings, so I wasn't too interested in seeing them.  But I got a decent shot of a pair of Tufted Ducks.

Tufted Ducks
Tufted Ducks - Co. Dublin, Ireland
  Brian and I went our separate ways and I decided to stop by Phoenix Park on my way home.  The Sun was out and it wasn't too cold.  I was told that some Wood Ducks could be found at a certain pond, and it would be nice to see my favorite North American duck again.  But there were none to be seen.  But there were a few Mandarin Ducks about.  I'm not sure what their status is, but I know that they breed over in England.  Regardless, a really nice duck to look at.

Mandarin Ducks
Mandarin Ducks - Co. Dublin, Ireland
     I had been seeing reports of Eiders off of the coast of Skerries, in Co. Fingal.  I had tried to see them on New Year's Eve, but they weren't there then.  Once again I met Brian along the harbor and we went looking for sea ducks.  There were many Gulls and Great Cormorants off shore, and lots of Ruddy Turnstones closer in.  We walked along the coast for a bit when Brian saw some white birds fairly far out.  We weren't sure if they were Eiders or Long-Tails at first, but we finally got a good enough look to confirm Eiders.  They were very far out and the Sun was in a bad spot for photos, so we decided to walk down the beach for a bit and try to get a better angle on them.  Lucky for us they got even closer in to shore.

Common Eiders
Common Eiders - Co. Fingal, Ireland
They shortly flew off and out of sight.  As we were walking along a large flock of Sanderlings flew by us and landed on the beach.  They were near some Curlews who weren't too happy to be near one another.

Curlew and Sanderlings
Curlews and Sanderlings - Co. Fingal, Ireland
     Just some odds and ends that I've seen recently.

Eurasian Robin
Robin - Co. Kildare, Ireland

Long-Tailed Tit
Long-Tailed Tit - Co. Kildare, Ireland
Coal Tit
Coal Tit - Co. Kildare, Ireland

Jackdaws - Maynooth Castle, Co. Kildare, Ireland
I've noticed that I don't have photos of a Great Tit, and the ones that I have of Coal and Long-Tailed are lousy, so I'm going to go out and try to get those sorted out.  I'm also going to try and do the Co. Wicklow Bird Race next weekend and hopefully see some Crossbills and Great-Spotted Woodpeckers.  Plus I really want to travel down to Co. Wexford and the Nature Reserve down there before the wintering birds leave.
I'm also going on a trip to Eastern Europe in June which I'm really looking forward too.  Hopefully I can get some nice camera gear to take along, but I fear that I'll be stuck with the current camera until we're back stateside in 2016.

I'm looking at performing a facelift on the site soon, so the next time you visit you may be in for a surprise.

Thanks for making it this far,


Thursday, January 1, 2015

End of the Year 2014

It's the time of the year when some lists go back to zero, January 1st.  According to Ebird I ended 2014 with 352 species seen on 2 continents. I got to see some really great birds during the year, and can't really pick a best bird for the year.  I did have a great end to the year by getting a chance to do some birding with two of the Irish birders that I got to meet so far.  I've been really busy lately with the holidays, a quick trip to Paris, having both kids home from school and lousy weather, to do much birding.  But my friend Brian asked me if I wanted to go look for a Ruddy Duck that had been seen in various parts of North Dublin.
We met at a petrol station or some coffee and ventured to a private fishing lake (angling club) in Knock.  The gate was closed, but a short stroll through some fields brought us to the larger of 2 ponds and we quickly found the Ruddy Duck among some Mallards, Tufted Ducks and Eurasian Coots.

Ruddy Duck
Ruddy Duck - Knock Lake, Co. Fingal, Ireland
Our friend Paul Lynch met us at the pond.  We also go to see a Kingfisher and had a Water Rail fly right in front us and into some reeds, not more than 10 feet away from us.  And then we got to hear another one calling just a bit further away along a the bank of a smaller pond.  We made our way back through the fields where we got to see some Yellowhammers and Sky Larks feeding in a field of stubble.
Paul mentioned that there were some Eider Ducks seen nearby at Skerries. I had yet to see some so I suggested that we head that way and see if they were still around.  We made it to the coast and scanned the sea around the nearby Skerries Islands but no Eiders could be seen.  We saw a Common Murre and many Shags moving about offshore, but no ducks.  

Rockabill Lighthouse
Irish Coast - Skerries, Co. Fingal, Ireland
I did spot some porpoises swimming just off shore, and we watched their dorsal fins break the surface a dozen times, but nothing else exciting. We stopped in Skerries for some coffees and then made our way further down the coast towards Rush.  We noticed lots of gulls, but nothing exciting and some shorebirds along the coast.  Redshanks, Ruddy Turnstones, Plovers and some Sanderlings were working the beaches and rocks.  We were hoping for some Purple Sandpipers, but none were present.
Ringed Plover
Ringed Plover - Rush, Co. Fingal, Ireland

Sanderlings and Ruddy Turnstone
Sanderlings and Ruddy Turnstone - Rush, Co. Fingal, Ireland
Paul parted ways with Brian and I at this point since it was starting to get dark.  Brian was mentioning a Martello Tower north of us and where to look for Short-Eared Owls near there.  I asked how long he could be out and then suggested that we just go over and see try to see them then, since we were 45 minutes from sunset anyway.  We made our way there and then walked through more farmer's fields and up the coast trail, stopping to see if a Black Redstart was still around, but it wasn't.

Martello Tower and Irish Coast - Co. Fingal, Ireland
We found a spot in the grass to sit and wait for it to get darker while scanning to the north.  It was too dark for spotting scopes or my camera so we just waited with our binoculars.  And then I spotted 2 big shapes gliding over the grass.  The short faces and wing-shapes could only be owls. I decided to put my camera in video mode and crossed my fingers that I could get some usable footage and I did.  Here's the video on Youtube.

My friend Brian had a much nicer camera set-up than me and shared some of his photos, which I'm posting with his permission.
Short-Eared Owl - Co. Fingal, Ireland.  Photo Courtesy of Brian Carruthers  
Short-Eared Owl - Co. Fingal, Ireland.  Photo Courtesy of Brian Carruthers
A very fine way to end the year, if I don't say so myself.  The owls were lifers for me and one that I missed seeing in Oregon back in the first half of the year.

Thanks for making it this far,


Monday, December 8, 2014

One Hundred Irish Birds

It has been a slow few weeks of birding for me.  The holidays and busy kids haven't left much time for birding, plus is finally got cold here in Ireland.  But I have been out a couple of times south of Dublin, and both times with a local birder, Brian Carruthers.
The first trip was to Cahore bog in County Wexford, just at the end of November.  Along with Brian, another local birder, Rachel Hynes also came along.  They were looking for a Great Egret which had been seen in area, and maybe Bearded Reedlings (AKA Bearded Tits) too.  But as we got there, some other birders said that we had just missed the Great Egret as it flew off and any Bearded Reedlings that were there decided to stay out of sight.  But it was a beautiful Sunny day in a great looking location, with some giant wind turbines standing tall overhead.

Wind turbines in County Wexford Ireland.
Cahore Bog and Turbines - Co. Wexford, Ireland
It ended up being a day of ID'ing ducks through the scope and counting waders flying overhead, so I didn't get many photographs. I did get to see flocks of hundreds and hundreds of Golden Plovers taking to the skies.  And I got my 100th Irish bird on the trip, which happened to be a Peregrine Falcon.  We actually saw 2 at the same time, one on a telephone pole and the other on the grass in front of one of the turbines.
Towards the end of the day we got to see a very friendly Stonechat and I had a chance to take a photo of an actual bird.

Stonechat - Co. Wexford, Ireland

Stonechat - Co. Wexford, Ireland
At the end of the day I had quite a few lifers and new Irish Birds, Golden Plovers, Hen (Northern) Harrier, Peregrine Falcons, Greylag Goose, White-Fronted Goose, and some ducks. Not a bad time, despite the cold and the cow patties everywhere.

Earlier this week I was walking to do some shopping in our town of Maynooth. The road crosses the Rye Water near one of the combination shopping mall and apartments which are quite popular in Ireland.  I usually stop on an stone bridge to see if there's a Kingfisher down below (there never is), but this time there was a pleasant surprise.  A European Dipper was sitting on a barely-submerged rock.  

Eurasian Dipper in Maynooth
Dipper - Maynooth, Ireland
Sorry for the potato photo, but I only had my phone with me. You can see the white bib which is an easy ID.  I also took a video of it swimming through the water, you can watch it over on YouTube here if you'd like. The bird is pretty hard to see, but is popping up and then diving back down towards the middle of the shot, and then it flies to some rocks.  I've seen Dippers nearby, but not in town before.

Yesterday Brian invited me back to the East Coast Nature Reserve in County Wicklow, which I wrote about back in October.  We got a very early start in order to get there before the Sun rose and drove all the geese away to forage.  But it ended up being in vain since the only fowl on the the reserve were a half-dozen Mallards, which was disappointing to say the least.  I was hoping to see some Pink-Footed Geese, or maybe a Barnacle Goose, but those will have to wait.  We did see a hundred or so Graylag Geese flying off because of a dog walker. But one of the first birds that we saw would be the highlight of the day.  Just before dawn we saw a raptor flying over the reeds in lazy circles. It was just barely light enough to see a white band around the tail and ID a female Hen (aka Northern) Harrier!  A nice surprise for Ireland, although common in the area.  But alas, the light was not good enough for photos, and we lost sight of it when the Graylags that I mentioned above, took off flying.
    We saw a few hundred Eurasian Wigeons on some flooded fields, and some Mute Swans, including these 2 which flew off above us.

Mute Swans in Flight
Mute Swans - ECNR, Co. Wicklow Ireland
In addition to all of the waterfowl, there were quite a few passerines about.  We saw a Yellowhammer sitting on a wire with some Linnets and Reed Buntings.  And stood watching a large flock of European Goldfinches eating some berries, maybe thirty birds in all.

Eurasian Goldfinches and Redpol
European Goldfinches - ECNR,Co. Wicklow Ireland
I can't decide if I like the European or American Goldfinch more.  Both are nice birds to see out in dull winter.
Eurasian Goldfinch
European Goldfinches - ECNR, Co. Wicklow Ireland
We were watching the flock of Goldfinches when I noticed that some of the birds were streaky brown.  Brian got his binoculars on them and noticed a red spot on top of a sparrow-looking bird.  A pair of Common Redpolls, a winter visitor to Ireland and a lifer for me!

Common Redpol
Common Redpoll - ECNR, Co. Wicklow Ireland
They neither Redpoll got into the light, so this is the best photo that I got of them, and I think that it's Mrs. Redpoll too.  They reminded me that I miss seeing the myriad Sparrows found back home in the USA (and don't get me started on Woodpeckers...).
We were driving off to get a bit of lunch when Brian saw a Coal Tit out of his window so we stopped.  And then we saw a few hundred Graylag Geese fly over and looked around to what scared them up.  We soon saw a Common Buzzard, and then another one or 2 others.  We watched one fly off and the other fly into a tree.  And then another raptor flew into the same tree, a Sparrowhawk.

Common Buzzard (below) and Sparrowhawk (above)
Buzzard (below) and Sparrowhawk (above) - Co. Wicklow, Ireland
In addition to walking through the fields, bogs and woods of the Nature Reserve, we also walked along the beach for a bit.  I spotted a lifer Little Gull, but no photo, as well as some other nice birds, like some Scoters, a Common Guillemot and a Ruddy Turnstone.  And also a few Red-Throated Divers (aka Loons) diving off the coast.

Red-Throated Diver (Loon)
Red-Throated Diver - ECNR, Co. Wicklow, Ireland
There were also some Wigeons on the ocean, which I've never heard of before.
Scaup on Irish Sea
Wigeons - ECNR, Co. Wicklow, Ireland
Birds weren't the only wildlife about, a single Common Seal popped up near us, which is so awesome to see.

Common Seal - ECNR, Co. Wicklow, Ireland
Despite it being a very windy and cold day, Brian and I still managed to get 47 species and I got to see much more of the Reserve than I usually do. Next up is a trip out to try and see some Short-Eared Owls and some Common Cranes were just reported in County Fingal. Plus I'd like to get down to Wexford and visit the big waterfowl reserve down there and see some Barnacle and Pink-Footed Geese.

Thanks for making it this far,


Saturday, November 1, 2014

Portugal part 2: Bustards, Skuas and an Owl

I started writing about my families trip to Portugal here in my previous post.  That post recalled the guided birding that I did Saturday morning with a local guide, Georg Schreier. Without getting too far from Faro we were able to see 83 species, 37 of those being Lifers for me.
Just after noon we stopped by the beach for some pizza and coffee.  While sitting there we were able to watch Northern Gannets diving just off the coast.  And then I spotted a pod of dolphins swimming by just off the coast. We had 2 choices for the afternoon, head West to the Cape of St. Vincent, the most Southwesterly spot in all of Europe, or north into the steppe of Alantejo.  At the Cape we could see raptors and maybe vultures on migration, while up north Bustards and Sand Grouse.  The Great Bustard is the heaviest flying bird on the planet and a species that I was eager to see if I could.  Georg checked in with a friend at the cape and the word was that it was a very slow day, so we decided to head north.
After almost an hour of driving, some on the motorway and some through some small towns, we arrived at open farmland.  Just before we got to the area where Great Bustards might be spotted, we stopped along the road so that we could get our binoculars on and other gear situated and stretch our legs a bit.  There were also Southern Grey Shrikes sitting on wires, another lifer for me.  I turned back towards the car and saw a large pair of wings just behind Georg, I yelled for him to turn around thinking that it was a Buzzard. But it wasn't, it was a Great Bustard.

Great Bustard
Great Bustard - Alantejo Portugal
I had read how skittish and hard to see they were.  That if I were lucky, I'd see one a few hundred meters away through a scope.  Well here was one about 70 meters away, and then we saw a second one with it, a smaller female.  Great Bustard males may be the heaviest flying birds with wingspans near 8 feet, but the females were typically only a third of that size.

Great Bustards
Great Bustards - Alantejo, Portugal
As they walked off and over a nearby hill, I spotted a corvid sitting out on a post, a Carrion Crow and my 3rd lifer in just a few minutes.

Carrion Crow
Carrion Crow - Alantejo, Portugal
We continued on our way to where we expected to see Great Bustards and maybe some Sand Grouse if we were really lucky.  My hired car was a Nissan SUV, who's name I won't even try to spell, and had the clearance to check some areas that Georg had a difficult time getting to.  We drove through a gate after talking to a friendly farmer and spotted more than a few Northern Lapwings.  And then we saw a small bird sitting on a post.  Georg asked me if I recognized it and I did immediately, although  had never seen one before.

Northern Wheatear
Northern Wheatear - Alantejo, Portugal
I had been looking for this bird all over Ireland with no luck.  There was also a rare one in New Mexico right after I left.  Friends of mine had seen them in Pennsylvania and Ohio, but I couldn't see them where they bred, it was my recent Nemesis bird.  But here in the middle of nowhere was a Northern Wheatear.  And as this things usually go, I'd see a few more after seeing my first.

Northern Wheatear
Northern Wheatear - Alantejo, Portugal
We stopped again a short while later to scan the fields for any more Bustards and spotted another pair far off.

Great Bustards
Great Bustards - Alantejo, Portugal
They flew off a bit further and were soon joined by another pair.  And then another pair.  Georg suggested that we sneak up to some rocks and see if any more where still there.

Great Bustard
Great Bustard - Alantejo, Portugal
Great Bustard
Great Bustard - Alantejo, Portugal
What beautiful birds.  Sort of like a miniature Ostrich or maybe a land-goose. I managed to get a few more shots before they flew off, and it was as great to see them fly as I thought that it would be.

Great Bustards in Flight
Great Bustards - Alantejo, Portugal
We saw some raptors out there in the Steppe too.  Some Red Kites, Black-Shouldered Kites, Kestrels and some Common Buzzards, including this one, which is my first good photo of one.

Common Buzzard
Common Buzzard - Alantejo, Portugal
We never saw Sand Grouse, but we did manage to see almost 20 Great Bustards, more than I had hoped to see.  I drove us back south towards Faro and then Georg and I parted ways.  What an amazing day.  I know that if I would have gone out by myself that I would not have nearly the day that we did, 90 birds and 42 lifers.

I was up early the next morning and my wife and kids were still sleeping, so I decided to walk around the hotel grounds and see what I could see.  I was watching some Sardinian Warblers on the other side of the fence from the pool area and trying to get a photo of one, but they were flying around way too fast.  But I noticed a bird fly up and land on the cliffs below me and land.  It was a Kestrel out hunting along the cliffs.
Eurasian Kestrel
Eurasian Kestrel - Albufiera, Portugal 
After everyone else woke up and we had breakfast, we went out to see some non-bird sights.  We visited some Roman ruins from the 3rd century and saw some really amazing mosaics that have held up fairly well.  Then after lunch we were scheduled for a boat tour along the coast. My wife really wanted to see some dolphins while we were there and this was our best chance.  
Once we were out on the water I pointed out some Northern Gannets that were diving into the water.  My daughter was watching them and then we started cheering every time they made a splash, and soon I had the entire upper deck of the boat watching and cheering too.  There were quite a few Gannets around, including some immature ones.
Northern Gannet
Northern Gannet - Algarve, Portugal
But I was looking for something else.  I knew that we weren't going out far enough for anything too amazing, but I was watching every bird that I could see.  Finally I saw a dark shape, that looked like a gull on steroids. Through the binoculars I could see a brown bird with tell-tale white edges to the wings and I actually let out a loud cheer, it was a Great Skua.  Another bird that I had always wanted to see.

Great Skua
Great Skua - Algarve, Portugal
I would end up seeing 3 or 4 others on the trip along with lots of gulls, Yellow-Legged and Black-Headed in the majority, along with a Mediterranean sprinkled in.
Here's a view of the coast from our boat, what a great time.

Albufeira from the sea - Algarve, Portugal
Once the boat returned to port I was done birding for the next day and a half.  We decided to not go north to Setubal and stay an extra day and a half in Algarve and then go to Lisbon the day before our flight and visit the large aquarium there.  We also planned to stop at the Sado Estuary on the way to try and again see dolphins, there is pod which lives there year round. But we ended up missing our exit and turning around would have added too much time to our trip.  Instead, we decided to stop by the Tejo Estuary just East of Lisbon.  Little did we know that it is really far into rice fields on dirt roads.  But we did make some nice discoveries.
I saw my first Great Egrets in Europe in what may have been a union meeting for waders, or maybe a birthday party.  But a sizable group of Grey Herons, Great Egrets and Little Egrets were in the same spot.

Great Egrets, Grey Heron, Cattle Egrets
Great Egrets, Little Egrets and Grey Herons - Tejo Estuary, Portugal
There were many raptors about too. I saw Merlins, Buzzards, Osprey, another Black-Shouldered Kite that dove down right next to our car, and Kestrels, including this female sitting on a fence post.

Eurasian Kestrel - Female
Eurasian Kestrel - Tejo Estuary, Portugal
We eventually discovered a large building in the middle of the fields, the EVOA center. The center consisted of a visitor's center and snack shop, as well as a series of ponds and hides.  Admission came with a guide to take you all the way out to the estuary proper.  Due to a time constraint, my wife and I were the only ones to go out for a walk while my kids and our friend ate lunch inside. The majority of the birds were Wigeons and lots and lots of Lapwings with some Little Grebes and Black-Winged Stilts around too.

Black-Winged Stilts and Lapwings
EVOA Wetlands - Tejo Estuary, Portugal
Apparently we had missed the Avocets and Purple Herons which had already left for the season. I also didn't get to see any of themany Bluethroats that were ringed there.  But the best animal that we saw wasn't a bird at all, but a mammal.

Egyptian Mongooses
Egyptian Mongooses - Tejo Estuary, Portugal
My wife and I came around a bend in the trail and saw 3 animals wrestling around. I had no idea what they were. They saw us and took off into the brush.  But it wasn't until later that we discovered that they were Egyptian Mongooses!  An animal that is found only in certain locations in Europe.
We finally met up with our guide just as we had to turn around.  He was very informative, but mainly had bad news in the way that the birds I most wanted to see were already gone.  But he did tell me where I could find Little Owls.  Apparently it was odd that we didn't see it on the way in.  But he described where to look on our way to Lisbon.  We said our goodbyes and set off to the Oceanarium in Lisbon.
We found the location where the Owls were supposed to be and stopped to look around.  They were supposed to be standing on buildings or fence posts, but I din't see anything anywhere.  But then I saw some eyes looking out at me from under a roof. 
Little Owl
Little Owl - Tejo Estuary, Portugal
I was immediately reminded of Burrowing Owls from back home.  But these live in nooks and crannies instead of holes in the ground.  My guide from earlier in the trip said that they liked to nest in piles of rocks in farmer's fields, stacks made when the fields are cleared. Unfortunately, I was the only one in the car who spotted this guy, because as soon as we backed up and my wife and daughter got out of the car, a truck full of farmers drove up and scared the owl away. At least I got one photo before that happened.

All in all it was a great trip.  I'd like to go back in the summer next year to see the birds that I missed, and to explore the great history of the country.  Plus I never got a hat made out of cork.  But in basically 2 days worth of birding I managed to see 99 species and get 44 lifers, including most of the species that I wanted to go there and see, Flamingo, Hoopoe, Great Bustard and Little Owl, with Great Skua being a very pleasant surprise.