Wednesday, 13 April 2016

2nd April - Rota Vicentina Circuit, Carrapateira Headland, Algarve, Portugal

The morning was quite overcast, and there were signs that there had been some rain overnight.  We had two possible walks we could tackle from our hotel, one was to take an inland route to the north, and then come around to the coast and cross the Bordeira Beach.  Alternatively we could follow a circuit  that takes in the Carrapateira Headland following the Rota Vicentina Circuit.  We decided on the latter as the forecast for the following day was not good and I wanted to be able to appreciate the coastline at its best.

After breakfast we left the hotel following the path we had arrived on yesterday, as we passed the front gates a male Blackcap was singing in the bushes by the side of the river.

Coming around the bend in the track there is a marshy area and as we approached it a juvenile Grey Heron flew up from beneath a Willow tree and headed up into the valley.  A little further on and the male Stonechat demanded yet another photograph, they are very self obsessed birds.

The cattle were in the field as we walked towards the village, their cow bells rattling continuously as they were herded by one man and his two German Shepherds.  Around the cattle was a large flock of Jackdaws, and on the wires above the cattle were lots of birds, and from the calls there were definitely Bee Eaters among them.  The call is very distinctive a sort of melodic liquid trill, that once heard is never forgotten.  I remember the first time I heard it as a small flock flew overhead in fog when I was in the south of Spain.  It has stayed with me.

We watched the birds as we walked and they moved from above the cattle to the wires by the side of the hill where the planned route would take us.  The sky was very white and to get a good shot required experimentation with over exposing.  

Then the flock was the off, all calling as they headed off in their swallow like flight.  They made their way across the field and perched up once again on the wires above the cattle.  Rather than carry on into the village we went after the Bee Eaters.  Thye were now perched on the wires along with Spotless Starlings.  I would try and get as close as I could to them, taking pictures as I eased slowly forward.

The European Bee Eater for me is a lot more colourful than some of the more recent Bee Eaters I have been lucky to see and photograph.  They are very social birds, calling all the time and gathering in numbers.  They will slide up to each other and chatter away, then slowly move away again still chattering.

Interestingly, how is the above  bird perched on the wire?

Easy, two wires!

Perched on the same wires were a small flock of Spotless Starlings.  The adult Spotless Starling is very similar to the common Starling, but marginally larger, and has darker, oily-looking black plumage, slightly purple- or green-glossed in bright light, which is entirely spotless in the spring and summer, and only with very small pale spots, formed by the pale tips of the feathers, in winter plumage,. It also differs in having conspicuously longer throat feathers (twice the length of those on common Starlings), forming a shaggy "beard" which is particularly obvious when the bird is singing. 

We finally left the Bee Eaters and headed along the road, pausing briefly to try and determine if these doves were true Rock Doves or feral pigeons.  There unfortunately is no answer to the question, but they do look quite smart.

We turned off the main road and headed past some old house in the direction of the dunes.  At the end of the road before turning onto the dunes, a Sardinian Warbler rattled at us and for once gave some good views.

It dropped down into the Fig-Hottentot only to appear once again.

We passed a concrete well where a pair of Red-rumped Swallows were circling, and as we watched we noticed that there was a pattern.  The birds would circle and then make an approach to the well, if this was not quite right they would go around again before all was right to be able to drop in, and visit what we assumed was a nest.  Once out they would wait for each other and head off beyond the distant reeds to probably a puddle where they were collecting mud.  

This was the perfect opportunity for photographing them, we could judge where they were going to be, and as seen before they are relatively slower flyers.  However it wasn't that easy, and it took many attempts to get this shot which does support the theory that they were nest building and collecting mud.

When you see a Red-rumped Swallow you realise that it is completely different from the Barn Swallow, not just in colour and the pinkish red rump, but in the overall shape.  For me the tail looks like it has been stuck on separately.

The flying technique was fascinating to watch, adjusting the approach and the ability to swoop into the well,and then up and perch on the nest.  They would come out at a much faster speed, and no matter that you knew where they would appear it was impossible to get a better shot than this in the time we had.

We made our way back to the path through the dunes, it was sandy, flanked more Hottentot with both yellow and purple flowers.  On one of the dead trees a Crested Lark was singing.

on reaching a road the path crossed over to a board walk that  stretched down to the river where a large lagoon was created by the blocking of the river by sand dunes closer to the sea.  In the shallow water a group of Lesser Black-backed and Yellow-legged Gulls were roosting and bathing.

On the far bank we found only our second wader of the trip a couple of Kentish Plovers feeding close to the water edge.  This is the female as she came closer to us

We walked around the side of the river and then up the side of the dune which gave us some wonderful views across Borderia Beach.  First the wind swept dunes.

Then from higher up a view further north of the cliffs and surf.

We now reached the road that leads alongside the cliffs, and at various points there were boardwalks that lead to viewpoints over the cliffs.  From here we could see local fishermen perched at various heights on the cliffs, oblivious it would seem to the danger from the height and the waves that would crash into the cliff beneath them.  We were looking for a White Stork's nest that was supposed to be here on one of the offshore islands but we could not find it.  

We missed out one or two of the view points, but on one we did visit we came across the lovely male Black Redstart.

This rocky habitat is more typical for the Black Redstart but they have adapted to use high buildings and ruins as nesting site, arriving in the UK in London after world war two and nesting in old bomb sites.  Sadly they no longer are there, and are usually a winter visitor or passage migrant.

We watched this bird fly of and drop below the cliff only to turn up a little further along.

As we watched the Redstart, Helen also found another lizard, this is the Sand Racer, another common lizard of the dunes and cliffs.

As i watched the sea, Helen was looking in land, and she called me urgently and pointed at a White Stork that had just appeared and was now flying away from us.  Not the best picture but at least a record shot of an unmistakeable bird.

We now had to decide what to do.  The presence of the bird meant that there was probably a nest nearby and that we had missed it.  Did we go back now or head to the restaurant for lunch?  We decided to make our way to the cafe first, thinking at the time it wasn't too far away.

We continued to follow the dirt track, heading off it when cars passed to miss the dust that would kick up.  There was also the chance to get closer to the edge of the cliffs to take in the amazing geology of the cliffs.  The rock was sandstone and this softer rock has been eroded spectacularly in places by the Atlantic Ocean.

The rock here reminded us of the same type of rock in Yellowstone Canyon, a place we had visited last year

Looking back there were island and small stacks created where the sea had exploited the weaker places.

the dominate plant of the cliff tops was Juniper, and these was attracting the butterflies now in the sunshine.  These are two Black-eyed Blues getting it on in the Juniper and sunshine.

Looking down on the islands there were Yellow-legged Gulls and Jackdaws, and if you looked closer the odd Shag lower down close to the sea.

We finally reached the restaurant where we stopped for lunch along with WiFi and the chance to share the wonderful views we had as we ate.  Decision time once again, do we go back now and look for the storks or should we head on.  We wanted to check out a restaurant close to Borderia beach, and hopefully reserve a table for the evening, and this plus the fact that it was a lot longer walk back than we had imagined when we saw the stork decided our action for us.  

So we left the restaurant and took the same route we had taken the day before when we arrived, but this time not walking through the village but around the outside, and then down the main road towards the dunes once again.  It was about 800 metres to the restaurant Sitio do Forno, where we arranged to eat later tonight.  On the way back there were better views of the windmill that is situated on a hill just outside Carrapateira, and dominates the views of the village.

On one side of the road there were houses with small pieces of land that were cultivated and in places ploughed fields.  As we passed one of the houses Helen stopped and just said "there is a Stork in the field".  And sure enough there was.

As we watched it you could sense it was aware of us and very soon it opened its wings and jumped up.

And with great effort the large wings lifted the bird up as it wheeled around to get height/

Eventually finding sufficient lift to gain the necessary height to soar away from us.

So we had seen that the storks were probably about on the cliffs, and now we had just had some excellent views.  It was exactly what I had hoped for.  We made our way back to Casa Farja along the valley track in the sunshine.

It was possible that the White Storks were using the lush valley as a feeding ground, but they were not there now.  

Back at Casa Farja we spent a more peaceful afternoon by the pool, and that was not because there was no sound of the Scops Owl.  We made our way to the Sitio do Forno for dinner, and on our way back in the half life we saw and heard a little Owl on the overhead cable poles.

Back at the hotel we settled down for the night, not knowing then that our plans were going to drastically change for the next day.

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