Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Rufous Bush Robin & White-rumped Swift

White-rumped Swift (Apus caffer), Mértola-area (Baixo-Alentejo) 13-June-2017. All photos: Georg Schreier.

Summer has arrived here in South Portugal, providing the weather conditions for two species that do like it "hot": The White-rumped Swift and the Rufous Bush Robin, a.k.a.: (Western) Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin.
While widespread over equatorial Africa, the White-rumped Swift (WRS) in Europe is confined to areas in the south of the Iberian Peninsula, where it is rather rare, showing a slighly positive trend though since its colonisation beginning in the 1960s at the Strait of Gibraltar. In Portugal it is found in the arid and hot south-east and east of the country only. From the east Algarve hinterland (Serra do Caldeirão), along the Guadiana river-valley and its affluents inland, to areas around Mértola, Beja and Moura (Alentejo) with the Tejo-valley, near Castelo Branco marking the northern limit of its breeding territory in the country (corresponding to the northern limit of the distribution in Spain). Nest sites are often road bridges along small secondary roads over a river bed. Here the species takes over a nest of the common Red-rumped Swallows (Cecropis daurica) around mid May. Most of the few known breeding sites are occupied year after year. Recently, new nest sites have been discovered. The first breeding record for Portugal dates from 1995. Out of the usual breeding range in the country was a pair nesting in Monchique-area (West-Algarve) a few years ago. It correspondes with observations of the species made near Cape S. Vincent in late August. The total breeding population for the country might be in the order of 10-20 pairs, however, exact numbers do not exist. After the young have fletched, the birds beginn to disperse. I remember having observed WRS's in August on a regular basis feeding above a small reservoir in Alcoutim-county (east-Algarve), before a nearby (c. 10kms) nest site had been discovered. My latest observation date for the species are two Ind. seen over the salt pans of Castro Marim-reserve on the 15th of September, on the way to their wintering grounds in sub-saharan Africa.

White-rumped Swift (Apus caffer), Mértola-area (Baixo-Alentejo) 13-June-2017. All photos: Georg Schreier.

Rufous Bush Robin (Cercotrichas galactotes). Castro Verde-area, 13-June-2017. All photos: Georg Schreier.

Most birds are less active around mid day- the Rufous Bush Robin however, sings throughout the hottest hours. Again, confined to Portugal's south east and arriving hardly any earlier than the first half of May, it breeds in small numbers along streams in the "pseudo-steppes"of the Baixo-Alentejo plains and the region around the Guadiana-river valley, as well as in the eastern Serra do Caldeirão (Algarve). Territorys occasionally found further west in the Algarve, in the surroundings of Lagoa do Salgados (Silves) and near Paderne, for instance, are thought to be caused by birds forced away from their usual breeding grounds at the Alqueva-reservoir, where the species has lost lots of habitat, when Europe's biggest reservoir was built (around the year 2000). Rocky river beds, in hot and dry areas, best with some cliff faces and the pink-flowering Oleander-bushes (Nerium oleander), are good areas to look for this species. Fruit orchards and gardens also make part of its habitat, essential is the access to water. The birds of South Iberia differ from those found in south-eastern Europe (Greece and Turkey, mainly). The latter, usually treated as a subspecies ("syriacus"), shows a greyish color tone over the head, neck, mantle, back and in the wing, while "our" western birds (subspecies "galactotes") are more uniformly rufous- or buff-orange colored. The species is rarely seen on migration, but there are records from the Cape-area near Sagres (September) and ringing-records made near Faro-airport, for instance. Impressive is the territorial display, shown in the pictures below, including fanning the magnificent tail and dropping the wings.

These two were the main target species for yesterday's day tour and we got really good views (and photos) of both. Other species seen during the day-tour included: Spanish Imperial Eagles (two immatures), Black- and Griffon Vultures, Short-toed Eagle, Montagu's Harrier, Lesser Kestrel, Collared Pratincole, Golden Oriole, Great Spotted Cuckoo (juv.), Woodchat- and Southern Grey Shrikes, Great Bustards and back at the coast- Little Bittern (feeding fledged juveniles), Purple Swamphen, Black-crowned Night Heron, Black-headed Weaver, Azur-winged Magpie, Hoppoe, Wryneck, Audouin's Gulls and many more.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A morning around Faro

Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator) adult male, told by black mantle feathers. First Ind. usually arrive
in early March here, depending on weather conditions. 5 or 6 Ind. where perched on- or next to the
airport-fence. Faro, 10-April-2017.
Some shots I took during a morning just west of Faro airport yesterday. Continuous sunny weather and easterly winds provide excellent conditions to find spring migrants along the coast right now. After travelling with a group last week, I just enjoyed taking some time in my own pace. Sitting quietly at a good spot is often rewarded with surprisingly good observations. Amazing what you can spot here in a single morning without even trying too hard!

Male Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra). Faro, 10-April-2017.
Wryneck (Jynx torquila). Quinta do Lago, 10-April-2017.
Hoppoe (Upupa epops) carrying food. Ludo (Faro) 10-April-2017.
Black-headed Weaver (Ploceus melanocephalus) male. Quinta do Lago, 10-April-2017. An established breeding bird in the Algarve, origin is sub-saharian Africa. Populations here are based on escapes - perhaps from the Zoo in Lagos?
Black-headed Weaver (Ploceus melanocephalus). Quinta do Lago, 10-April-2017. Male displaying at a fresh nest.

Black-headed Weaver (Ploceus melanocephalus) male and female at the nest. Quinta do Lago, 10-April-2017.

Bluethroat (Lusciana svecica) second calender year. A rather late date for this wintering species here. Quinta do Lago, 10-April-2017.

Male Little Crake (Porzana parvaQuinta do Lago, 10-April-2017. A rare but regular passage migrant in the Algarve, during March/ April and September. The status of this secretive species as well as of its relatives here is not fully known.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Sora (Porzana carolina) in the Algarve

The first ever Sora (Porzana carolina) for continental Portugal has been discovered yesterday in the town of Silves, west Algarve. The species is a very rare vagrant to the WP from North America, with most records from the UK and the Azores.

Sora (Porzana carolina) in the town of Silves, west Algarve, on 24-Jan-2017, 1st for continental Portugal.
This photo shows all the key features of the species  - black face markings and all yellow bill, speckless
ear coverts and neck sides, whitish outer undertail coverts... (Foto: Georg Schreier).

The actually story is a bit different. The bird had been seen by Luisa Sequeira more than two weeks ago already, residing between the old roman bridge and the new road bridge, on the town side river bank, where it comes out of the reed bed onto the mud flats and debris to feed during low tide. This section of the river also holds an unusual high density of Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus), besides King Fisher, Grey Wagtail, Common Sandpiper, Little Grebe, visiting Black-headed Gulls and a couple of Muscovy Ducks and other feral watervowl.
Only yesterday (24-Jan-2017) Luisa posted a photo of the bird she finally got a few days before in the facebook-group "Aves de Portugal Continental", but uncertain about the ID, as a probable Spotted Crake (Porzana porzana). I saw this post a couple of hours later and it striked me right away as a Sora - the black face markings and the all yellow bill (reddish bill base on Spotted Crake), lack of spots on head and neck, white outer undertail coverts... I wondered why nobody seemed to have noticed this and after a few friends I alerted had seen the photo and shared in my opinion, Luisa kindly gave me details about where exactely she saw the bird and an hour later I was there, watching the bird with only two or three other birders from the Algarve (in the UK for instance, I guess would have been hundreds by then!). Worth mentioning perhaps is also an adult Bonellis Eagle circling high above the town together with about a dozen of White Storks when I arrived on the roman bridge.

Sora (Porzana carolina) in the town of Silves, west Algarve, on 24-Jan-20171st for continental Portugal  
(Foto: Georg Schreier).

I have begun to take videos with my mobile phone through the telescope. I use the new Swarovski ATX 85 scope and the Iphone 5s. Adapter for other oculars and Iphone-models exist - check here.

Two rough examples of yesterdays Sora:

Talking about facebook - perhaps more interesting for you, because in English, is the public facebook-group "Algarve Portugal rare birds" to which I contribute quite often to inform about rare or scarce bird sightings in the Algarve. My (new) personal facebook account, where I show fotos and post updates much more frequent than here, is "Georg Schreier Birdwatching".

Other examples of videos I made recently:

Osprey (click to view).

Some shots taken on recent tours:

Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicicus) juvenile, with Montpelliers Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus),
Sagres "Baleeira" on 20-Dec-2017. Foto GS.

Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles orientalis) near Castro Verde, Alentejo, 14-Dec-2017. Foto: GS.

Great Bustards (Otis tarda). Castro Verde-area, 09-Jan-2017. Foto: GS. This group was so close to a public road, 
that they took off when we slowly passed by. Luckily they have lots of habitat in the area.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Kelp Gull in the Algarve today

Kelp Gull (Larus domincanus) is a southern hemisphere gull and breeds during the north winter, coastal mostly, in Southern Africa, South America, Antarctica, South Australia and New Zealand. It is a very rare vagrant to the Western Palearctic (Morocco mainly).
This bird here was found by Thijs Falkenburg on July, 5th in Olhão ("Quinta do Marim"). It belongs to the subspecies L.d. vetula ("Cape Gull") which breeds in Southern Africa. Cape Gulls are the largest among this species and they are particularly long-legged like this bird. Also the olive-green tinge to the leggs is typical, the crown is flat and the bill is heavy with a deep gonys angle, all together being jizz-wise muchcloser to a Greater black-backed Gull (Larus marinus) than to the also very dark-backed nominate form of Lesser-black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus fuscus), especially when dealing with an adult male, like in this case. An (older) article on Kelp Gull ID is here.
A curiosity is, that Thijs also found the first Kelp Gull for the Algarve (on 14-Aug-2013) only a few kms further west, at sewage works (ETAR) between Faro and Olhão (possibly the same bird?). Now this time this Kelp Gull showed up right at his work place, the recovery centre for injured birds and other wildlife (RIAS) in "Quinta do Marim", Olhão, sitting upon the cages containing chicks of Yellow-legged Gulls (Larus michahellis) and showing up there daily since about one week now. This is where I took these photos this morning (11-Aug-2016). So far this bird is the 5th record for Portugal.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Pelagic off Olhão

(all photos are clickable to enhance)
Yesterday morning, 5th of July, we went out on a boat with Passeios Ria Formosa (Fuzeta), this time departing from next to the Real Marina Hotel in Olhão and headed for the waters off Culatra Island. There was an overcast in the beginning, therefore not a hot morning, calm sea and hardly any noticeable wind. The light improved along the trip. Despite not getting any fishing vessel within reachable distance, it turned out to be a very successful trip.

Great Shearwater (Ardenna gravis) with Cory's Shearwaters (Calonectris borealis) off Culatra Island, 05-Jul-2016.

For more than one hour we were basically surrounded by a huge pod of over 100 Short-beaked Common Dolphins (Delphinus delphis) and also well over 100 Cory's Shearwaters (Calonectris borealis) among which we coud also identify and photograph at least three Scopoli's Shearwaters (Calonectris diomedea) a species (or still a subspecies, depending on systematic - but have a look here). There are only a hand full of records of this taxon in the Algarve so far anyhow and as far as I know none of them documented by photos. On the other hand, Scopoli's mainly breeds in the Mediterranean and winters in the South Atlantic, so occurance in Algarvian waters during non-breeding season at least makes sense. Identification in the field is often not straight forward (good views or better, photos of the underwing neccessary) and therefore the few Scopoli's among the majority of Cory's go easily unidentified.

Scopoli's Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea) off Culatra Island (Olhão) 05-Jul-2016. Note 
the white extending into the wing tip (web of primaries).

After searching for quite a while, we also spotted two Sooty Shearwaters (Ardenna griseus) and finally a single Great Shearwater (Ardenna gravis) - both giving great and close views and this is only the very beginning of the season for both species.

Great Shearwater (Ardenna gravis) with Cory's Shearwater (Calonectris borealis) in the background.
Off Culatra Island, 05-Jul-2016.

Cory's Shearwater (Calonectris borealis). Off Culatra Island, 05-Jul-2016.

We also encountered Storm Petrels, among them Wilson's SP and European SP - perhaps three or four Ind. of each species, but did not get the best views, because without the birds foraging (next to a fishing boat pulling in the net, for instance) but only travelling, even photographing them is not an easy task. However, we managed at least record shots and thought to have found also one "Band-rumped Storm Petrel". The now potentially 4 species in this species-complex (compare Robb et al., 2008) were previously all lumped as Madeiran Storm Petrel (Oceanodroma castro or Hydrobates castro). Systematic here is not uniform and field-ID within the "Band-rumped SP -complex" is very difficult if not impossible, but have a look  here). Interesting is that also the recently published "Atlas of Marine birds in Portugal" (in Portuguese) shows the occurence of this species in Algarvian waters.
However, after reviewing the ID and getting expert opinions, it turned out to be "just" a Wilson's SP flying with feet retracted and therefore completely lacking feet projection over the tail, one of the most usefull fetaures to ID Wilson's in the field. The Storm Petrel in question also shows a too short arm and too weak bill to be a possible "Band-rumped". We will keep looking....

Wilson's Storm Petrel (Oceanites oceanicus) off Culatra Island (Olhão) 05-Jul-2016.

The following five photos show a potential "Band-rumped Storm Petrel" we saw during the trip. But for the reasons explained above, it turned out to be another Wilson's Storm Petrel in the end.

Expert opinion on the above Storm Petrel by Bob Flood is here:

In my opinion, this is a Wilson's Storm-petrel. It has a small squarish head and slim bill (Band-rumped has bulkier head and deeper bill, even the smaller forms). The arms are short and broad, hands medium length, and wing tips pointed (Band-rumps have medium-length arms, long hands, while some forms do have fairly pointed wing tips). The leading edge of the wing is moderately angular, but the trailing edge is fairly straight in most shots (typically angular in Band-rumps). I don't think the tail is really forked; this may be an impression given by a toe projection. It has a long caudal projection (rear carriage behind wing, longer than Band-rumps). The head, body and tail are fairly sleek (unlike Band-rumps). The white 'rump patch' folds over to the underside and joins the thigh patches (depth greater than N Atlantic Band-rumps). The upperwing ulnar bars are variable in intensity in Wilson's and we see quite a few with dullish bars, as this bird (affected by wear and bleaching). Second-year and older Wilson's start moult by early June, but juveniles do not start the complete preformative moult until at least mid July, most later, so presumably this is a juvenile (plumage looks pretty fresh). By the way, it always helps if you describe flight behaviour, because this can be very important in storm-petrel ID.
Hope this is of use.

Robert L. Flood DSc, PhD, BSc (1st Hons)
Twitter: @Scillypelagics

Naturally we saw many Northern Gannets and also had one immature Pomarine Skua (Stercorarius pomarinus) flying over.

New dates for Pelagics have been scheduled on my website here. Available dates are: July, 22nd; August, 2nd; August 12th; August 25th; September 6th; September 30th; October, 13th. We can organize a pelagic at any time between June and October/November when the participation of min. 4 people is assured.

 Pomarine Skua (Stercorarius pomarinus) pale morph juvenile flying over. C. 3 miles off Culatra Island, 5th of July 2016.

Fresh juvenile Audouin's Gull (Ichthyaetus audouinii) in Ria Formosa, next to Olhão on the way back in. In the background: Caspian Tern, Sandwich Terns and an adult Yellow-legged Gull. July, 5th, 2016.

Fresh juvenile Audouin's Gull (Ichthyaetus audouinii) in Ria Formosa, next to Olhão on the way back in. In the background: Caspian Tern, Sandwich Terns and an adult Yellow-legged Gull. July, 5th, 2016.

And the Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia) turned out to be color-ringed. Red: FY2. Still looking for the program...