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Dogging in Bedfordshire

Today Jo and I have been to see the Prairie Dogs which roam wild and free in Bedfordshire. Although they would only peep nervously from their holes at first, they soon emerged to feed and gave really good views in the sunshine. There seem to be just three animals here on a sandy abandoned arable field off Gypsy Lane, Broom, near Biggleswade. I don’t know where they’ve come from but there used to be at least 6 Prairie Dogs at this wildlife attraction near Bedford which closed in 2010.

Pretty sure they are Black-tailed Prairie Dog Cynomys ludovicianus.

It could be a scene from the prairies ... but for the oilseed rape field.

Nearby, a few miles up the A1, we dropped in to look for Firebugs Pyrrhocoris apterus at some dilapidated glasshouses in Beeston: a site which I heard about from this blog. We only saw two, both adults and both walking on the tarmac track where it passes between glasshouses on either side. Jo saw them at the Surrey colony soon after they were discovered in 1996 so it was high time I caught up!

Firebug Pyrrhocoris apterus

Caught on camera

I love seeing Hedgehogs in the garden, or more often just hearing them snuffling, rustling and chomping in the borders. When we had part of our fence replaced a few years ago with more durable concrete gravel-boards, we got a few holes cut in the boards to allow Hedgehogs to come and go. Here’s one of the Hedgehog portals in action, filmed on a borrowed trail camera last night.

Lots of photos of cats as well – I think I should make the gaps smaller.

Barbies in Beds

Natural history takes you to some strange places. I spent several hours underground on Saturday, carrying out licenced monitoring of bats in various hibernacula in Bedfordshire with Bob Cornes and members of the Beds Bat Group. Our first site, an old icehouse, had no bats on this occasion but two Buttoned Snouts were hibernating on the walls – a new moth for me and the first hibernation record of this species for Beds (VC30).

Buttoned Snout hibernating in an icehouse

We saw a few hibernating Heralds during the day too.

Herald in hibernation

We found five species of bat, a typical result for these sites. Two Pipistrelle sp. which I didn’t photograph, numerous Natterer’s Bats, several Daubenton’s Bats and Brown Long-eared Bats and, best of all, Barbastelle. I think there were 6 Barbies in total, a new bat for me. About 90 individual bats in total!

Daubenton's Bat, typically well-concealed.

Natterer's Bat, sleeping hammock-fashion!

Brown Long-eared Bat: my favourite photo of the day.

Barbastelle: it's unusual for them to hang free on the ceiling like this. Which is a shame as they look really cool - I like the shadow too.

Barbastelle: note the ears touching in the middle of the head, a diagnostic feature of this species.

Barbastelle, showing the peculiar and distinctive semicircular flap of skin protruding from just behind the outer margin of the ear.

Many thanks to Bob for the opportunity to see these bats, and to Andy and Melissa Banthorpe for identifying Buttoned Snout from the photo.

 

Counting sheep and lack of sleep

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.

Soay Sheep ewe and lamb

Billy Goat

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.

Female Cuckoo sheltering

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).

Small Adder's-tongue

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!

Fin Whale

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 (see the June 2010 Lundy bird sightings). 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.

Charismatic megafauna

2010 was a year of great wildlife for me, so much of it that I’ve hardly had time to reflect on what I’ve seen, let alone blog about it. Here’s a selection of the mammal highlights.

For a fortnight in June I was doing surveys for saproxylic (i.e. dead wood) beetles in the Highlands from Ullapool, down through the Isle of Skye, ending up in the Fort William area. I had amazingly good weather for most of it, and pretty good luck. I finally connected with Pine Marten which I’ve dipped on several painful occasions in the past. Glen Loy Lodge just outside Fort William is highly recommended for anyone wanting to see them well, actually ridiculously well! Watch my first ever youtube clip here.

I also had my most prolonged views of an Otter while in Scotland from this quay on Skye on a tranquil evening. For over quarter of an hour I watched it catching and eating shellfish while I was eating chips and the midges were eating me. I also saw one from the car as I was driving away from the Mallaig ferry.

Jo spent many evenings surveying woodlands in Buckinghamshire for Bechstein’s Bats, one of Britain’s rarest mammals, with amazingly successful results. I took my chance to see them when I accompanied her and a vanload of North Bucks Bat Group folks to help with some batbox monitoring in Herefordshire on 5th September. Footage here. One of the batboxes was being used by a couple of very lively Dormice that decided to bale out when the box was checked.

What will surely be a once-in-a-lifetime experience took place at The Mens Sussex Wildlife Trust reserve. Jo and I were beetling with Graeme Lyons when there was frantic rustling in the leaf-litter and it sounded like something quite big was charging at us. I looked up and was lost for words at first and then decide to hedge my bets and called “Mustelid!”. A Badger was chasing a Polecat towards us in broad daylight! Graeme has the story on his Lyon’s Den blog.

I think I love mammal-watching more than any other branch of natural history. And I love whales and dolphins more than any other mammals. So it was a bit upsetting that Jo gripped me off on Killer Whale in the Bay of Quendale during our Shetland trip in September. I console myself that they were distant views into the sun: it would be great to see them like this (in Mousa Sound).

Portugal, Sat. 31st October to Sat. 7th November 2009: a birding and natural history trip report.

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.

Sat 31st
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.

Sun 1st
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’!

Mon 2nd
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.

Tues 3rd
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.



Wed 4th
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.

Thurs. 5th
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!

Fri 6th
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.

Sat 7th
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 …

Birds

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
Very common.
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.