Thursday, October 30, 2014

Portugal part 1: Faro

My daughter's school was having their mid-term break and we wanted to visit someplace sunny before winter really set in.  We were looking at various places when I saw a post on Portugal from the Birdchick's blog. That pretty much made the choice for me and I told my wife to book it.  Doing a little more research online I found the website for a local guide, Georg Schreier, and booked a day of guided birding. This would be my first paid for birding trip and I was really looking forward to utilizing my one day of the holiday set aside for birding.
Saturday morning came and I drove from our hotel in Albufiero west towards Faro before dawn. Georg and I had a funny moment when we were both in a filling station drinking coffees side by side while waiting for the other to show up. It was 5 minutes before we said something to one another.
Something else interesting about Portugal was that everyone drank shots of espresso, almost all of the time.  And the tiny filling station served coffee in ceramic cups and food on real plates with real silverware, not a very busy culture.
Our first stop was some very fragrant sewage ponds for waders and whatever else we could see.  First we saw some Spotless Starlings and heard some Common Waxbills and then saw a Marsh Harrier circling out over the fields around the ponds. When we finally reached the ponds I saw lifer Black-Winged Stilts and Glossy Ibis. And then a small, pale bird. It was a lonely Sanderling, and another lifer for me.

Sanderling and Common Sandpiper
Sanderling (L) and Common Sandpiper (R) - Faro, Portugal
We would see some White Wagtails and even a Yellow Wagtail, both different from the Pied and Grey Wagtails of Ireland.

White Wagtails
White Wagtails - Faro, Portugal
We also spotted some rare for the area Wood and Green Sandpipers along with Ruff and Common Sandpipers. Small birds were all around too, Water Pipits, Black Redstarts, Crested Larks, Zitting Cisticolas, Sardinian and Cetti's warblers, plus some others common to Ireland.  A Spoonbill made an appearance too.  We saw a brown shape with black and white wings fly by us and land behind some reeds, it could only have been a Hoopoe!  A bird that I really wanted to see on this trip. Unfortunately for me, I never saw it again for a photo and I wouldn't see another while in Portugal.
We left the ponds with a list of 44 species and 18 lifers in less than an hour of birding.  

Our next spot was closer to Faro and the Aeroport. A mixed forest which led to some salt ponds, a golf course and finally sand dunes, lagoons and the ocean. 
We walked through some trees to a spot over-looking a wide forest valley.  Our targets here were raptors.  It started off quiet.  A solitary Booted Eagle was roosting in a tree, which my guide somehow spotted.  And then a white bird in a tree turned out to be a Black-Shouldered Kite through the scope.  And then far off in another tree was a grey bird, a surprise Northern Goshawk.  All too far or any sort of photo, but great spots.  And then three Booted Eagles were in the air at one time and one of them came close enough for a good shot.
Booted Eagle
Booted Eagle - Faro, Portugal
Having spotted the targets, with a bonus Goshawk, we went to drive along the salt ponds.  These were rectangular ponds where seawater was held until it evaporated and the remaining salt collected into giant piles. Here we saw more waders, some sandpipers and plovers.

Kentish and Ringed Plovers
Kentish and Ringed Plovers - Faro, Portugal
We spotted our first Kentish Plovers, a local specialty, along with some Ringed Plovers and a few Little Stints, a bird that I had just missed seeing in Ireland.
Another of the birds that I really wanted to see were all around, Flamingos.  We had seen some in Lisbon while driving down in the car, but I wasn't keeping track and was driving instead.  But now they were everywhere, at least 30 were on both sides of the road.

Flamingos - Faro, Portugal
It was amazing to see them in the wild and not in a zoo for once.  There were still other sandpipers and ducks around too, mainly Eurasian Wigeons and the usual Mallards.
We left the last of the salt ponds and parked the car near the San Lorenzo Golf Course and continued on foot.  Another bird to see in Portugal is the Iberian Magpie, a much more colorful cousin to the, mainly, black and white magpies that I have seen before.  We were able to see a few along the fairways.

Iberian Magpie
Iberian Magpie - Faro, Portugal
We also saw lots of songbirds about.  Goldfinches, more Sardinian Warblers and we added tiny Serin to the list, although more heard than seen.
We eventually arrived at a 2-story hide overlooking some impressive wetlands alongside the course.
Wetlands at San Lorenzo Golf Course
Wetlands at San Lorenzo Golf Course - Faro, Portugal
 Immediately Goerg noticed the white rump of a Ferruginous Duck among more Wigeons and now Shovelers too.

Ferruginous Duck
Ferruginous Duck - Faro, Portugal
And nearby was another odd duck, a female Garganey.

Garganey - Female
Garganey - Faro, Portugal
You can see the small size when compared to the Shoveler in the background, and the bill is fairly distinct.  An unexpected find.
The target birds for the marsh were Purple Swamphens, Kingfishers and maybe a Little Bittern. Purple Swamphens where plentiful, with 5 or 6 at various places on the wetlands.

Purple Swamphen
Purple Swamphen - Faro, Portugal
A few Kingfishers were darting about, and I was somehow able to get a shot of this one.

Kingfisher - Faro, Portugal
Although we didn't see or hear any Bitterns, we did spot this Snipe doing it's best to not be seen.

Common Snipe and Coot
Common Snipe and Coot - Faro, Portugal
A few Little Grebes were also swimming in front of the hide, including this one.

Little Grebe
Little Grebe - Faro, Portugal
We finally left the wetlands and the green of the Golf Course to take a look at some saltwater lagoons behind some sand dunes.  We spotted a Plover that looked a bit off.  Georg felt that it might have been an American Golden Plover. But after observing it for 10 minutes or so, we decided that it was a Grey Plover (aka Black-Bellied) who looked a bit off.

Grey (Black-Bellied) Plover
Grey Plover - Faro, Portugal
I was also able to get a better look at a Kentish Plover.  They lack the full rings of a Ringed Plover and instead have a bit of a horseshoe shaped ring around the neck.

Kentish Plover
Kentish Plover - Faro, Portugal
Not seeing anything else interesting, we turned back towards our car.  But before we got too far, we saw some large birds flying overhead, some White Storks.
White Stork
White Stork - Faro, Portugal
I had seen some really large nests on the drive down to Algarve from Portugal and found out that they were Stork nests, but this was the first time seeing some.

It was time for lunch and to decide what we were going to do with the second half of our day.  Either head west to the Southwestern tip of Europe or north looking for the heaviest flying bird on Earth.  But by lunch we had already seen 83 species and 37 lifers, what a great day.

I'll conclude the trip with another post,

Thanks for making it this far,


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