Saturday 14 May 2016

Bird Watching Trip to Southern Portugal

Dawn and I were in Portugal again last week this time in search of the birds that are absent in autumn. Swifts were much in evidence during the first part of the trip. Pallid Swifts were racing around just outside of the Faro airport and at Praia da Rocha many Common and Pallid Swifts filled the sky in front of our top floor hotel room. Occasionally an Alpine Swift would appear amongst their smaller relatives. The best location for these was Cabo de São Vincent (Cape Saint Vincent). The weather wasn't brilliant on the day we visited the cape, but it kept the swifts low.

Pallid Swift, Praia da Rocha

Common Swift, Praia da Rocha

Alpine Swift, Cabo de São Vincent

Cabo de São Vincent
The weather was stunning for half the trip, but we woke to grey clouds one morning and then one bank of clouds followed by another and another rolled in from the Atlantic. We only lost half a day to rain, but when it arrived it was pretty spectacular. Below is an image of the sky just before the rain started to fall.

Dawn and I made two trips to the Alentejo, which was roughly a 100 km drive from our base in the Algarve. The first time we set off at 04:00 to arrive there at first light. Our first destination was the LPN reserve just north of Castro Verde ( 37°44'10.57"N  8° 1'53.81"W). As we approached the reserve headquarters we could see small falcons silhouetted against the fading night sky. Many of the Lesser Kestrels that nest colonially at the site were hunting insects around the buildings. As the sun began to rise I left Dawn snoozing and attempted to photograph the Lesser Kestrels, but unfortunately they stayed distant.

Male Lesser Kestrel

Whilst I was watching the Lesser Kestrels, a Roller flew past. At least two pairs were in the area - they were nesting in the same buildings as the Lesser Kestrels.


From the permissible footpath it is possible to see Calandra and Short-toed Larks, Great and Little Bustards, Montagu's Harriers, Quail and other species. Little Bustards doing their wing quivering display flight were easy to see and one was on the ground doing his display complete with his mouth fart call. That sound carries quite a distance. When you first hear it you think the bird is right next to you, but it is more likely to be at least 200 metres away. At least 14 Quails called close to the footpath and two showed briefly.

Digiscoped Little Bustard
Calandra Lark
We visited several more sites including a track just west of Guerrerio (37°40'45.03"N   7°54'16.28"W). This track leads to the southern entrance to the LPN Reserve (there is no access through the gates). We have been here several times. We are always lured back after our sighting in 2014 of an Iberian Wolf loping across the steppe. This animal was a long way from it normal range, but we had a good look at it through my scope and we were certain at the time that it was a wolf. There were, however, three Great Bustards relatively close to the track and several Montagu's Harriers hunted and sky danced nearby. This is a good place to scan for birds of prey. A Booted Eagle was hunting over the plains and an immature Iberian Imperial Eagle joined it for a while before drifting off east.

Montagu's Harrier Carrying Prey

Great Bustard
Bustard Habitat Near Guerreiro 
Prior to setting off I had searched for likely spots using Google Earth. I noticed a lake between Penilhos and Alvares ( 37°38'49.05"N 7°49'11.39"W) and so I decided to check it out. As I drove along the gravel road I spotted birds hawking the hillside to our left - they were Collared Pratincoles. At the lake at least forty of these stunning birds were either resting or hawking above our heads.

Collared Pratincole
A pair of Gull-billed Terns were there and they wasted no time in coming over to check us out. After the terns grew bored of us their raucous calls were replaced by the harsh call of a wheatear in fact not one but two Black-eared Wheatears.

Gull-billed Tern
Black-eared Wheatear
Little Ringed, Ringed and Kentish Plovers were there along with Avocets and Black-winged Stilts. On our second visit three Red-crested Pochards had arrived - two males and a female.

The Castro Verde area really requires more time to do it full justice. It is a large area to work, but with a little effort many of the species can be seen in a day.

The rest of the trip was spent at several sites along the coast and up in the hills around Monchique. On the slopes below Picota many Iberian Chiffchaffs were singing and a couple of Iberian Green Woodpeckers showed occasionally. On the summit of Picota time had stood still. We were last there in October 2015 and there were Two-tailed Pashas, Swallowtails and Scarce Swallowtails gliding around at head height and they were all there again this time. It is like a butterfly park up there as these beauties just glide past you at touching distance.

Scarce Swallowtail
It was good to see Bee-eaters, Cattle Egrets, Greater Flamingos, Hoopoes, Iberian Grey and Woodchat Shrikes and White Storks etc, etc.

I'll finish with a few random images including one for Paul Riddle.

White Stork
Breeding Condition Cattle Egret
A Very Dark Little Owl
Greater Flamingo - Always the First and Last Species to be Seen in The Algarve

37°38'49.4"N 7°49'09.8"W


  1. Looks and sounds like Dawn an yourself had a great time,really nice post mate and a great set of images Carl.

  2. Yes we had a great time and thanks for the comment Col.

  3. Nice post Carl, accompanied by a superb set of images, especially the image of the "dark Little Owl" but I would say that wouldn't I!!!!!

  4. Cheers Paul, as soon as I saw it I thought of you and how much you would have enjoyed seeing it.

  5. Lovely photos Carl, particularly like the Pratincole shot. You're certainly getting about!