Thursday, October 16, 2008

Quinta do Lago

Most visiting birders to the Algarve will be aware of the presence of the lagoon at the edge of the São Lourenço golf course on the Qta do Lago development. The 'orrible (and way out of date) "Gosney Guide" gives directions as to how to find this 'little gem' amidst the disgusting opulence of this up-market estate (all of the many traffic round-abouts play piped music, and the mobile telecommunications masts have been diguised as trees!!).

No matter, this quite large lagoon with its numerous reedbeds is well maintained and, being at the edge of the Ria Formosa natural park attracts a large number of resident and migrant birds. There has been a raised hide there for many years but this fell into dis-repair but has now been replaced by a super (and very well constructed) two tier hide. Well worth a visit - you will meet many of the "upper crust" but in fact most of them are very nice people and always worth talking to and explaining your birding hobby.

One good thing from the point of view of photography is that many birds are very used to human presence (I have watched golfers "shooing-off" Purple Swamp Hens from the greens in the early morning so that they can proceed with their game).

Rarities and scarcities do turn up here (seven Black-crowned Night Heron this summer, almost certainly breeding), and in September an adult and juvenile Little Crake (Porzana parva) were found. I spent two mornings there trying to photograph these birds - it is on the "Rarities" list in Portugal and would be a "lifer" for me. I did manage to see the adult bird but it was feeding within the reed beds and photographs were impossible; the Portuguese name for this species is Franga-d'água-bastarda, and certainly was being a real "bastarda" for not coming out into the open which it apparently had the day before!

A consolation prize was being able to photograph a female Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus); I counted at least eight birds, adult males, females and juveniles (this species also breeds here), but this bird landed in a reedbed just in front of the hide and then emerged to feed on the abundant dragonflies.

Female Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus)

(click on photos for larger images)

Salgados Appeal

Good news and bad news!!

First the bad: the lagoon has again been drained in late September and remains dry. Despite rumours to the contrary, it does look like this was a natural event due to very heavy rain over-filling the lagoon combined with high tides and strong southerly winds. The retaining sand bar simply gave way and resulting outflow has destroyed it completely. Aguas Algarve are currently laying underground pipes from the new Etar (sewage treatment works) to discharge primary treated water directly into the sea; they might take advantage of the recent drainage to dig the proposed conduit across the bed of the lagoon to bury this pipe.

A few birds remain in the puddles and damp reed beds at the southern edge of the lagoon. Of note have been eight Bald Ibis (Geronticus eremita), all ringed and radio-tagged and presumed to be from the reintroduction programme in Spain and driven west by the horrendous easterly gales and torrential rain which southern Spain has experienced recently. Of a more "natural" occurrence is a sub-adult Spotted Crake (Porzana porzana) which is still present and showing well at the edge of the juncus vegetation 200 metres west of the hide:

Spotted Crake

(click on photos for larger image)

The good news: I received an interim update from José Tavares very recently saying that "they" (I presume he means RSPB and SPEA) have agreed to pay for a future supply of tertiary treated water from Aguas Algarve which will keep the lagoon "topped up" during the summer months. This is great news since without this supply (and there has been much debate on who, if anyone, was going to pay for it) the lagoon would simply disappear. He also said that further urgent talks are going on with ICNB (the government environmental department) regarding SPA status for this site. More information will come in an official bulletin in due course.

On the 26th October José is going to run in the Istanbul Intercontinental Marathon and is asking for sponsorship to raise money for an engineering project to build a manageable sluice-gate at the outflow point of the lagoon so that in future the water level can be more accurately controlled. This will negate the current "all or nothing" method where the sandbar is mechanically breached (as happened several times during the breeding season this year) and the lagoon runs dry.

*If you have enjoyed visiting Salgados in the past and want to help retain it for the future please consider making an on-line donation:

Many thanks to all, and especially to José for this enormous personal effort.