A dawnish rise with Hoopoes adding to the breakfast
entourage of Iberian Magpies, Spotless Starlings, Bee-eaters and Fan-tailed
Warblers before heading back west to the proper Steppe that we did not get to
visit yesterday. It was grey and
actually quite cool but this meant that visibility was much improved and our
chances of finding Bustards and the like was all the better for it.
|Iberian Magpie - youngster|
Our route took us back through Mertola where several Lesser
Kestrels were perched on the wires by the old bridge and a male Hawfinch flew
up from a town centre car park as we drove past calling loudly as it did so.
A brief stop to look at tree very fine buck Fallow Deer
added three Woodlarks to the day list.
It took about an hour to reach our Steppe start point at
Figuerinha and enter the very different rolling grassland landscape with
interspersed wild patches of cistus maquis and not five minutes to come across
our first Great Bustards with three of these imposing beasts sedately walking
along the interface between the different vegetation.
The next few hours were spent driving slowly between here
and the private gate to the national park area at Guerreiro with regular stops
to either watch Great Bustards from the car or have a good scan round and by the time
we called it a morning we had seen at least 26 of these mega gamebirds along
with 24 Black-bellied Sandgrouse as they speedily flew around in tight little
|Great Bustard - Shaun Harvey|
Spanish Sparrows predominated with a huge colony in the
Eucalyptus grove at the end and Larks were ever present with Crested, Thekla
and Short-toed singing around us with a few scattered Calandras. However, large flocks of the latter were
already gathering and I suspect that the three groups we saw totalled over 300
|Spanish Sparrow nests|
|A flock of Spoonbills incongruously flew over|
|Thekla's Lark - short stubby bill and heavily spotted breast|
|Crested Lark - long pointy bill and lightly spotted breast|
|Crested Lark - and huge crest!|
A male and two female Montagu’s Harriers quartered the dusty
grassland with Buzzards, Kestrels, Lesser Kestrels, Short-toed, Booted and even
an adult Golden Eagle over the plains with a few Griffons for loose
|Short-toed Eagle - they do not show quite as well here as I am used to!|
|female Montagu's Harrier |
|Griffon - Shaun Harvey|
Iberian and Woodchat Shrikes
dotted wires and three Black-eared Wheatears were seen while Golden Orioles, Quail and
Red-legged Partridge were encountered.
|Iberian Shrike - same shot from Shaun but with the DSLR rather than my Bridge|
|Woodchat Shrike - this one loved hovering|
|Western Black-eared Wheatear - the males would not pose|
And all of this was experienced in splendid isolation; we
did not see one other person, or hear one car or plane. There was no wind and just the sound of
comingled Lark song, chattering Sparrows and bubbling Sandgrouse and the flat
light and coolness made it even more pleasurable.
A few spots in the air suggested that we move on and a
random pull over to check a ridge for vultures rewarded us handsomely with a
monstrous Black lazily cruising amongst the Griffs. Twenty-four of the latter
gradually appeared and headed off presumably after all receiving a group
WhatsApp message about a carcass somewhere yonder.
Suddenly I picked up two plummeting big Aquila eagles diving
in unison down through the Vultures. We presumed Golden but when they hammered
into another raptor on the ground near the base of a solitary tree, they banked
and revealed a mass of shimmering white on the forewings! We had only gone and found a pair of Spanish
Over the next hour we enjoyed superb views and this
territorial pair cruised the ridge line and did battle with passing and perched
Griffs. They always returned to near the
tree and landed in it on three occasions; one on top and one going deep inside
so it looks like we had stumbled on a nest site too.
Portuguese Imperial Eagle
|Portuguese Imperial Eagles|
|Portuguese Imperial Eagles - you can see the forewings flashing and tail bands|
This species is still a very rare breeder in Portugal with
just a handful of pairs at the moment and was not even really on our radar for
this short trip.
Alvares was our next destination and nestling amongst the
olive groves was a rapidly drying lagoon that was home to about ten pairs of
nesting Collared Pratincoles. They were
tottering around the muddy margins and we found several nests further up the
dried mud where they blended in incredibly well. Every now and then one would
return from a hunting foray and the wickering from them as they met filled the
air to be joined by the angry kiking of the Black-winged Stilts also nesting
here. They never need an excuse for a barney and both tiny and well grown young
were present. Little Ringed Plover and Little Grebe families were also seen and
a male Montagu’s Harrier floated over the trees. Eight Fan Tailed Warblers erupted from the
dried plants bordering the lagoon and a single Black-bellied Sandgrouse flew
straight through. I was really hoping it would come down for a drink.
|Collared Pratincole and Black-winged Stilt|
| Black-winged Stilt - Shaun Harvey|
|This Little Owl was encountered on the drive back out|
Late lunch was taken back at the bridge in Mertola where the
rain became temporarily persistent and the Lesser Kestrels refused to play but
it was still a good spot for lunch and despite the traffic we still saw seven
Hawfinch, Crag Martin, two Golden Orioles and a male Blue Rock Thrush whilst
|Blue Rock Thrush |
|Mertola Castle |
Some real coffee was required so we moved to the other side
of the bridge and parked where we saw the Hawfinch in the morning and ambled
into this fortified town. A suitable
little cafe overlooking the river was found and Espresso and another Portuguese
tart was consumed while heaps of House Martins swirled in and out of their
multi-generational nest condos. A Grey
Wagtail sang as he bounced over the wall and down to the Guadiana below.
|House Martin condo |
Souvenir shopping and then veering off again towards
Moinho de Canais several miles up river. I am still trying to work out where we turned off the main
road to get there but at the village of Corte Pequena there was a helpful sign
to get you on the next dirt track to lead us down to Moinho de Canais.
David had seen a pair of Golden Eagles here earlier in the
spring and although the adults were awol we were lucky enough to see a very
well grown youngster in the eerie, sitting on his haunches and showing off a
set of enormous yellow feet.
Three stag Red Deer were seen resting under a Cork Oak and
Iberian Magpies were all around while up above in the now blue sky Pallid
Swifts positively shone.
|Genista sp - a Broom but not one I have seen before|
|Wild Pear I suspect but again not sure of species|
|Despite the dryness there were a surprisng number of lichens|
|and some more|
|Red Deer with Spotless Starling|
Down in the valley bottom we parked up at the end of the
track opposite a small weir and enjoyed an hour poking around the shoreline
with occasional glances up for the adult eagles. Four Common Sandpipers
teetered on the rocks – apparently they do breed this far south – and a Green
Sandpiper flew up and out of the valley.
Kingfishers zoomed around and both Grey and White Wagtails were catching
insects around the margins while Grey Herons kept an eye on us and waited for
us to leave.
|Quality folding in these thin mudstones|
This habitat was so unlike any we had been in so far and the birds
could all have been from a Scottish river up until the point that a Rock
Bunting hopped into view! It was good to
get some better views of this species and I think that it was my first for
about ten years.
There were no dragonflies at all which was disappointing but
I did eventually find a large damselfly that was identified by Roy when I got
home as a White Featherleg (Platycnemis latipes). The only butterflies that
settled turned out to be a Common Blue and Brown Argus (as usual) but I did find a superb
Hemipenthes sp. which is a seriously funky fly.
|Iberian Water Frog|
|Hemipenthes sp - related to Beeflies|
|White Featherleg - Platycnemis latipes|
There were even a few flowering plants – something that had
been in short supply so far and I am still trying to work out what some of them
are but will give it my best shot! I am usually able to sort things out with my copy of Gey-Wilson and Blamey but it has been more problematical this time for some reason!
|Shrub tabacco - Nicotiana glauca|
|Spiny Restharrow - Ononis campestris|
|A yellow thistle but stumped at the moment|
With one last look at the Eaglet we wended our way back up
to Corte Pequena where three Golden Orioles and several Iberian Magpies greeted
us in the same garden fig tree where they were tucking onto some succulent
figgyness. The views of the Orioles were
some of the best I have ever had.
|male Golden Oriole|
|female Golden Oriole|
We popped back into Mertola to pick up something for dinner
and marvelled at their local wildlife sculptures on the roundabout before
heading back to Bens for a pasta meatball dinner.
|Tasted better than it looked|
The beers were put on hold as there was still plenty of
daylight to play with so we hopped back it eh car and went back to Achada da
Gama for White Rumped Swift seconds. The
birdlife was almost the same but the light was even better and we were able to
position ourselves to be on eye level with the birds as they approached the
tunnel which gave Shaun (rather than me) the best opportunity to merrily pap
away. The ensuing results were superb.
|White Rumped Swift- Shaun Harvey|
|White Rumped Swift- Shaun Harvey|
The Red-rumped Swallows and Crag Martins were using the same
slope to hunt from, drifting in lazy circles and occasionally resting up and
casting long shadows.
|Red-rumped Swallow - Shaun Harvey|
|Red-rumped Swallow |
|Red-rumped Swallow |
Black-eared Wheatears fizzed but remained aloof and the
Bee-eaters were again hunting around the main building near the entrance where
White Storks clattered on their nests with young begging for a last evening
|White Stork - nearly fledged - there were over 30 consecutive telegraph poles with active nests|
We were keen to get back to Salgueiros and the site of our
Red-necked Nightjar glory from yesterday and we had almost made it to the
turning when a juvenile Great Spotted Cuckoo flew noisily across the road. It
circled the car and landed frustratingly straight into the light and we
subsequently watched it with its sibling following around their beleaguered
I could see the trees where we had the single last night and
it was conceivable that they were the same family unit. Up the road we settled
in for a short wait but would the Nightjars perform once again?
|Great Spotted Cuckoo|
Corn Buntings moved through to roost once again but we
counted them this time and got to 229 and the Iberian Shrikes were still very
active and making loads of noise. The
Little Owls were dotted all about and Stone Curlews circled us and then bang on
cue at 9:05pm the first Nightjar appeared and we were then treated once again
to a mesmerising display for the next twenty minutes or so.
Our phones were dragging in more light than our bins or
cameras and we found that we could find them further away with our phones and
then switch to bins when they came closer.
Being prepared this time even meant that I managed a few short video
|Red-necked Nightjar video grab|
|Red-necked Nightjar video grab|
Two short little videos taken with my Galaxy S9+ phone in near darkness...
The Eagle Owl started up again and good guessing from David
allowed him to pick it out sat on top of the old chimney up on the hill about a
mile away. Even from here you could see
those ear tufts!
|Eagle Owl - David Bradnum|
Not quite believing our luck for the second night running we
headed back to Bens for our delayed post dinner beers.
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