Thursday, 14 April 2016

3rd April - Rota Vicentina Circuit, Carrapateira Headland Day 2, Algarve, Portugal

Overnight Helen fell ill and was in no condition to walk in the morning, and she stayed in the hotel room.  She insisted that I go out, and I reluctantly left her asleep as I went for a short walk before breakfast.  There had been rain overnight, but as I walked around the hotel, down by the river it was sunny if a little cool.  I headed first to see if the Bee Eaters were about, but as I came around the corner I was startled by a White Stork coming around the corner quite low in front of me.

I watched as it flew down into the valley, and landed in the field opposite the hotel.  

I decided to walk on around the corner, and as I did so I heard a Nightingale singing from the scrub at the back of this marshy area.  Needless to say I did not try to get any closer.  The song is so distinctive it could not be anything else.

I could see the flock of Bee Eaters but decided to turn back and try and find the stork once again.  I could see it in the field, and walked on to see if I could get a better and closer view as it walked around the field using its formidable bill to pick up worms and maybe frogs in the damp grass.

My theory that the storks use the valley to feed had been proven right, and they probably like it better when the rains come and bring out the frogs and worms.

As I watched the stork a Blue Tit nearby demanded that I take its photograph as it perched high, singing, on a bush in the morning sunshine.

A little further on there was a marshy area of bullrushes over which Swallows, House Martins and a couple of Sand Martins were feeding on the midges that appear after the rain when everything is damp.  My efforts here to photograph them were appalling.

It was now time for breakfast, and after this I checked in with Helen, she was still not feeling well and was in no condition to walk, so I set off on my own.  I decided not to do the suggested Northern Circuit, wanting to stay closer to the hotel, so I walked down the track once again heading for the overhead wires and hopefully the Bee Eaters.

I could see the Bee Eaters but before I reached them there was a Corn Bunting singing from one of the dead Agave flowers, I love the song and the way the bird throws its head back with a wide bill as it delivers the jangling notes.  Unfortunately I wasn't able to capture that behaviour with this bird.

The Bee Eaters were once again wary as I approached them as they perched on the wires.

But if I got too close they would drop of and glide away, the colours looking transparent against the white clouded sky.

While they were all flying around calling I turned my attention to the Spotless Starlings that were gathering on the wires as well.

One Bee Eater came back, and I was able to get quite close to this one as it watched my approach.

But as I got too close it was off leaving the Bee Eaters flying around and heading off back towards the far side of the valley.  

I decided to walk along the road we walked last night heading towards the dunes.  I noticed one or two ruined buildings on the ground where we had seen the owls last night (it seemed such a long time ago).  I decided to return later to explore them, they may be where the owls are hiding out.

In the fields close to the road Starlings were feeding, and a pair of Red-rumped Swallows were collecting mud from the edge of the puddles formed by the overnight rain.  One settled on a slab of concrete.

When I reached the board walk that led to the lagoon I walked down to see if there was anything on the shore or water.  It was completely empty, with no sign of yesterday's plovers.  I returned to the road and started to climb up through the dunes.  From the south I noticed one or two Swifts moving through, and as I watched them it became clear that there was quite a significant movement and that these were Alpine Swifts.  They came low over the dunes using the slacks to get height and clearly hawking insects just above the Hottentot Figs.  Every so often they would pull up in the air and bank which was the best time to photograph them.

Larger than the common Swift they have also a distinct white throat and a band on the chest with a white chest and belly.

Amongst the swifts were both Common and Pallid Swifts, the latter showing really clearly as the two birds flew along side each other.  The Pallid being a much paler brown with a more distinct throat patch.

Interestingly I seemed to have more luck photographing the Swifts than I did with the hirundines.

Although I didn't manage to get a common Swift.

As well as the swifts there was a constant passage of Swallows and House Martins which indicated quite a definite passage through the morning.  The dunes obviously being the perfect place to fuel up after moving up from continental Africa.

From the road I had a different view of Borderia Beach to that we saw yesterday, it takes in the lagoon created by the river as it meets the sea.

The path then reached the cliff top, and from here I could see the fishermen once again.  Even those fishing right at the top of the cliffs were in danger from the sea today, as the waves broke over the top of the cliffs.  

I did see several of the fishermen get totally soaked as huge waves crashed in, pulling there coats over their heads in a vain attempt to stay dry.

Rather than return from the board walk to the road I continued over the rocks checking the coast line as I went.  Gannets passed away off shore and Yellow-legged Gulls drifted past just above the cliffs.  I disturbed what I thought was a Black Redstart and watched where it flew and then followed the path to see if I could get relocate it.  As I did so I came around a cliff edge and was faced with this.

I had found the White Stork's nest on a stack just offshore.  The amazing structure of sticks built at the top of the stack in what seemed a completely exposed spot.  After watching the waves hitting the cliffs a little earlier I was amazed at the location of this nest, but all seemed well with the Stork settled down sitting on what  must be eggs.

If you look closer in the above photograph in the bottom left hand area of the nest you will notice a male House Sparrow.  He was chirping away all the time I was watching the Stork, and must have a nest in amongst the sticks of the Stork's nest.

I settled down to watch the nest.  The time was around the same time we had seen the Stork yesterday, would the partner come in?  Looking into the nest I could see that it was lined with all sorts of rubbish, plastic, rope and cloth being used.

Just to the right of the nest a pair of Yellow-legged Gulls were on the rocks.  At this time of year the gulls look very smart, and the yellow legs and feet stand out on the rocks and against the blue of the sea.

This next photograph gives some perspective on the precarious position of the nest.

I sat watching the nest for awhile, then I heard a call from behind, and what I had hoped could happen, did happen, the mate arrived and was carrying a present.

At first I thought it might be food, but I could then see that it was in fact a piece of material, maybe a scarf.  The bird landed on the corner of the nest and the sitting bird called, bill clapped and threw back the head.

As the sitting bird displayed the arriving bird carefully deposited the material in the nest beside the sitting bird.

It was at this moment I wondered if it was possible to determine the sex of the White Stork in the field, and after some research it would appear not.  Other than seeing the mating process the only real way is through DNA, although there is some research that says it can be done through biometric measurement.  So I have to be careful, and not refer to he or she with these birds.

Once the material had been put in place the arriving bird went through its display, calling and bill clapping and throwing the head back and shaking the wings

It was one of those privileged moments and it was a real shame that Helen wasn't there to see it.

Having completed the display to reinforce the bond between the two, the arriving bird then started an extensive preen.  Finally the sitting bird moved and lifted itself up off the nest and i could see the eggs in the base of the nest

It moved to the left hand side of the nest and the bird recently arrived moved over to inspect the eggs and i could see it turn them gently with its bill, I counted at least three eggs maybe four.

Having turned the eggs it then settled down to brood them while the other bird moved around to take its place on the left side of the nest, and immediately started to preen its feathers, clearly to be in the best condition to set off in search of food.

I sat watching them both taking the whole scene in, it was wonderful to watch the interaction of these iconic birds.  Because of their size they have a special place in human culture, being seen as the soul, and merciful animals.  They are also recognised for their parental skills, and are seen to bring harmony to those in contact with them.  In Europe it is considered lucky to have White Storks nest on your house.

I can understand the respect, there is something about them in both flight and on the ground (or in this case on the cliff).  It was a privilege to have seen the interaction.

The storks were not doing an awful lot now, but I was reluctant to leave.  My attention though did shift to the passing Gannets, one coming very close just over the cliffs.

The other attraction was the waves hitting the cliffs.  As they rolled back you could see a dome shape worn from within the cliff.  When the waves hit you could see how the water rolled around the shape, and had probably worn it in the first place.  The power with which the waves hit was quite impressive.

I reluctantly pulled myself away from the storks, I am not sure why I felt this way, but i also realised that I had to move on.  It was once I made my way back to the road that I realised we were very close to them yesterday, if we hadn't have stuck to the road we probably would have seen them then.

I walked around to where we had followed the Black Redstart yesterday, and sure enough it was there again sitting on wheat seemed to be a favourite stone.

I had a choice now do I continue around the edge of the cliffs or head back to the easier walk along the road.  Looking back the decision was made for me as I could see Swifts flying around one of dune slacks, so decided to head their to see what was moving through.

Once again all three species were present, but the easier birds to photograph were the larger Alpine Swifts.

They cut an impressive sight with the long sickle shaped wings and the white chin and belly.

The swifts continued to pass through and I headed back along the road, and then cut in once again to get a better look at the cliffs.  Yesterday I described them as yellowstone, but in truth there were other colours in the sandstone, leached there by the minerals of mostly iron and laid down over millions of years

Interestingly the cliffs to the south of those with the sandstone layers look completely different.  Still with the reddish sand but lacking the demarcation of the layers.

From here I walked on to the restaurant where I stopped for lunch and to check in with Helen.

After lunch which was under overcast skies and a cool wind for once, I set off past the old fishing sheds and along the now very familiar path into Carrapaeira.  There was little about as I walked down through the Agave, but a pair of Collared Doves sitting on the dead flowers completed the set of birds I have seen sitting in the Agave.

I skirted the village once again (I was becoming very familiar with he area now), and set off to explore the ruined buildings I had referred to earlier, but with no success.  There wasn't even any signs of owls in any of them, so I am not sure where they came from last night.

So it was back to the dirt road leading to Casa Fajara once again, and of course the flock of Bee Eaters.  They were much more flighty this afternoon hawking after insects just above the ground.  The photographs then are a little different, flight shots of rainbow coloured wings against the grey white sky.

Showing the agility to change direction or break to catch the insects and of course bees.

As I came around by the marshy bit two male Stonechats vied for my attention, one on a cable, and one perched on a bush.  I preferred the bokum from the one perched on the cable.

I walked past the hotel, and followed the river or stream.  In places there were open areas flanked by reeds, and in exploring I found that behind these were ponds with lily pads and at the back a couple of terrapins.

From the trees around the back of the ponds I could hear another Iberian Chiffchaff calling, but I couldn't see it.  I continued to follow the river, in places it would open up, and from somewhere behind the vegetation and reeds I could hear the calls and song of the Marsh Frog, but I was never able to see them.

I reached the point where the river is possible to be crossed, but it was very muddy and I decided to not try.  A little further on another Iberian Chiffchaff was singing, and this time I could see it, but it eluded the camera.  I decided then it was time to turn around and as I passed a group of Oak Trees I heard the son of a Firecrest, and with a little persuasion I was able to get some lovely views of what is one of my favourite birds.

And finally this, one of my favourite shots.

One constant annoyance as I walked along side the river was the continual song flight calls of the Zitting Cisticolas, they were everywhere, and not necessarily where you thought they were as they seem to be able to throw the voice and confuse you.

Another Iberian Chiffchaff sang from the bushes and I managed finally to get a photograph as it came out into the open, not one of my best!

Yet another Cisticola flew high above me and I watched it drop calling annoyingly, but this time it settled in the reed and did not disappear.  As a result I was able to get the perfect shot of the annoying little LBJ.

I had heard Raven earlier but not seen it, yet another call alerted me to two birds over the hills in the distance.  There were in fact two Ravens mobbing a Buzzard, but as I watched there was a slightly smaller bird present, a falcon, in fact a Peregrine Falcon.  At one point I could see all four as they seemed to interact which they probably weren't doing as they were a long way off.

There have not been as many raptors as I expected to see so it was good to get a Peregrine on the last day.  This is a very distant record shot, along with the Buzzard.

I then made my way back to the hotel, where Helen was feeling a bit better.  Back in the room I was telling her about the storks when out along the valley one drifted in to land in the field.

To start feeding again.

Apart from the last day the trip has been wonderful.  Our favourite place had to be Salema as a village, but apart from some initial misunderstanding here at Casa Farja the hotel and staff have been wonderful.  In between we enjoyed our one night stays.  In general the location is beautiful, with stunning coastal scenery, wonderful pastoral and arable farmland with the added beauty of all the wild flowers.  Everywhere we have been the people have been so friendly, and the food and drink excellent.  

As usual the preparation and walking notes from Inntravel have been excellent, the properties we have used of a high standard, and all the recommendations have been shown to be spot on.

This has been our first experience of an extended stay in Portugal, and I would definitely consider coming back again.  A lovely country, one that is very much under estimated in the UK.

Birds Seen on the Trip:

Red-legged Partridge
Cattle Egret
Little Egret
Great White Egret
Grey Heron
White Stork
Kentish Plover
Common Sandpiper
Black-headed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Sandwich Tern
Rock Dove / Feral Pigeon
Collared Dove
Scops Owl
Little Owl
Pallid Swift
Alpine Swift
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Southern Grey Shrike
Woodchat Shrike
Azure-winged magpie

ButterBlue Tit
Great Tit
Crested Tit
Crested Lark
Thekla Lark
Sand Martin
House Martin
Red-rumped Swallow
Cetti’s Warbler
Long-tailed Tit
Iberian Chiffchaff
Dartford Warbler
Sardinian Warbler
Savi’s Warbler
Fan-tailed Warbler
Spotless Starling
Black Redstart
Blue Rock Thrush
House Sparrow
Grey Wagtail
Meadow Pipit
Cirl Bunting
Corn Bunting


Black-eyed Blue
Spanish Marbled White
Wall Brown
Clouded Yellow
Large White
Painted lady
Speckled Wood
Spanish Festoon
Green-striped White
Green Hairstreak

Bumblebee Orchid
Yellow Bee Orchid
Mirror Orchid
Pyramidal Orchid
Champagne Orchid
Naked man Orchid
Heart-flowered Tongue Orchid
Southern Early Purple Orchid

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