Saturday, December 05, 2009

Parque Ambiental de Vilamoura

This giant reed-bed with pools and watercourses fed by the adjacent ETAR (sewage treatment works) is one of the Algarve's best-kept secrets. It is near the horrible marina town of Vilamora and next to the even more horrible golf complexes and I still managed to get lost trying to find the entrance, such is the rate at which new blocks of apartments are being built and new roads and roundabouts installed between my visits. There used to be a visitor centre at the northern end but that is now closed, but there are currently two bird-watching hides and a third elevated hide overlooking the sewage works (a magnet for gull, terns and ducks) is planned.

On 30th November I decided to have a bash at photographing the Penduline Tits which over-winter in quite large numbers (I have seen flocks of a dozen birds or more). I entered on the east side by the ETAR and immediately flushed an adult male Little Bittern and adult Squacco Heron from the old circular tank to the right of the track. A little further along this track and a juvenile Purple Heron flew out of the ditch which seperates the track from the ETAR (very late in the year for this species to be around).

Suddenly every gull and duck roosting on the treatment pools took flight, the result of a low-flying pale-phase Booted Eagle

What happened next was one of the most amazing birding sights I have witnessed: as the eagle skimmed over the top of a row of rather ugly, dense conifers which line the edge of the ETAR a flock of Black-crowned Night Herons erupted from the trees and circled above my head. I counted eleven birds, all apparently adults, and managed to get a few usable shots despite the low, bright sunlight making things rather difficult.

I did not find the Penduline Tits, and the weather rapidly deteriorated from bright, hot sunshine to grey cloud, a strong icy wind and a brief hailstorm so I departed, again pondering on just how long this wild, beautiful place can exist before it becomes engulfed by the shit which surrounds it.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Image Quality

I have just noticed that "Blogger" is seriously down-rezzing embedded images. For example, the Black-tailed Godwit image in my previous post has an "on page" (thumbnail) file size of 14.4KB, the enlarged version (after "clicking" on image) is 58.27KB, but the image linked to on my PBase website is actually 329.38KB. This means that even the enlarged image on "Blogspot" is a load of crap!! Why are they so mean with storage space?

To view the PBase image look here:

*Click on headless image for full-size photo

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) at the Salinas da Tavira ("salt pans") - one of my favourite birds in a most tranquil setting.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

White-rumped Sandpiper

Yet another "Yank" (vagrant bird from America) has turned up in the Algarve; on 22nd November Simon Wates and the "Tavira Gang" (Peter Dedicoat, June Taylor and Ray Tipper) found a White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis) - its Portuguese name is "Pilrito-de-uroprígio-branco" - at a small inlet near the beach at Martinhal, Sagres.

I went the following day (after Peter kindly phoned me to let me know about the bird) and found the bird straight away (it was the only bird there to begin with) and managed to get 200+ photographs. Unfortunately the light was very harsh and the bird was feeding actively and for most of the time faced away from me.

Unfortunately three Common Sandpipers (Actitis hypoleucos), a resident breeding species in the Algarve, turned up and one took exception to the presence of the American bird and began attacking it quite aggressively:

*Postscript: Like all Calidris waders, this small bird breeds in the northern hemisphere (often within the Arctic Circle) and then migrates south for the winter, often into the southern hemisphere (although some will linger in the southern regions of the northern hemisphere if weather conditions are not too harsh). This bird would normally winter in South America but has been blown off-course and carried across the Atlantic by severe westerly winds and cyclonic conditions. That is an amazing journey (more so when you consider that the plumage of this bird shows that it is a juvenile 1st winter bird born this summer) - what is even more amazing is that another bird of the same species turned up at the same locality on the 26th November, making these only the 7th and 8th records for this species in mainland Portugal; there are better 'odds' of winning the lottery than this happening!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Salgados Fiasco

Where do I start with this? I could write an entire book, but am tempted to write nothing at all - perhaps a few poignant words are in order.

It is now almost seven years since Derek Honnor, Michael Benington and myself began the campaign to save Lagoa dos Salgados (“Pêra Marsh”) when we realised the threat it was under. Derek actually visited The Lodge at Sandy, Bedfordshire (RSPB HQ) and did a bit of “table banging”, after which their International Division became involved and José Tavares (RSPB Country Programmes Officer for Portugal, Greece and Turkey) began to liaise with SPEA, “Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves”, the Portuguese “Birdlife” partner.

Hunting dogs on the loose just after the lagoon was drained

View of the drained lagoon from the "Eco-Via"

There were moments of optimism a few years ago when “Finalgarve” (the company who are due to develop a new golf academy and a large amount of residential property on the western side of the lagoon) announced that they would pull back their development from the very edge of lagoon (I believe that their initial intention was to drain it completely), retain the wetland as a part of their development (in much the same way as the lagoon at Qta do Lago is an integral part of the São Laurenço golf complex), and they even offered the ruined farm buildings at the NE corner of the lagoon as a potential “Visitor/Interpretation Centre” (for which the RSPB actually commissioned architectural plans).

This is now all history and with so many different “parties” involved nothing, as is usual in Portugal, has been achieved. This year has been the worst for breeding birds at Salgados, mainly due to the frequent draining of the lagoon in the spring by Herdade de Salgados Golfe. The installation of the “Ecovia” (the walkway - cycle track funded by the E.U. and planned to run from Vila Real on the Spanish border to Cabo de São Vicente) has brought in a mass of undesirable tourists and dog walkers from the eastern side, and other human disturbance has been jet skiers, para-planers, quad bikers and horse riders in addition to the usual “Sunday afternoon riff-raff”.
A fund-raising charity to specifically pay for a controlled outflow sluice which would negate the “all or nothing” method of draining the lagoon has failed miserably, despite accumulating more than the target figure - the money, collected by the “Just Giving” organisation over twelve months ago has still not been passed on to the RSPB. The whole business has degenerated into a circus and shown all the parties involved to be totally incompetent at planning, implementing and completing a business proposition.

In short, they are totally f*****g useless at what they are supposed to be doing. As a result I have cancelled my long-standing membership of RSPB and will take no further part in supporting or campaigning for the preservation of Lagoa dos Salgados. The RSPB should be deeply ashamed of their dilatory performance in this matter.

Three views of how the "lagoon" looks now (Nov 2009)

It has taken almost seven years for this bunch of incompetents to achieve absolutely nothing - this superb birding locality is now worse-off, and in greater danger from human disturbance, than it was when the campaign to save it began.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Lunch with the Bustards

I spent a couple of hours at Cabranoso, the raptor watch-point near Sagres, one morning hoping to see hundreds if not thousands of birds - nothing. Despite perfect conditions and a northerly breeze the birds were just not coming through. So, I decided to "trawl" around the tracks near Vale Santo in search of Dotterel and Red-throated Pipit which had been recently reported. I was slowly edging my way along dirt tracks which no other vehicle than my Land Rover Defender would be able to cope with, with my 1DMk3 and 500mm lens cradled on my lap. Not much doing so I stopped to have my lunch (cheese butty with crisps and a banana and apple) and just reveled in the warmth of the autumn sunshine and the spectacular scenery of this beautiful but harsh landscape. Something moving amidst the low vegetation caught my eye - a Little Bustard, about 50 metres away.

Then more, and more - I counted twenty birds on the ground.
The light was harsh and rather against me so I started up the Land Rover and in ultra-low gear slowly crept around this grazing flock. I took many shots with the lens resting on the lowered window, but had to keep turning the engine off (the vibration causes a lot of blur). I tried to get closer, starting the engine and inching further forward, but they knew I was there and for every metre I gained the birds slowly idled a similar distance away. In the end I pressed it too much and they took flight - I counted 28 birds in total which I believe is a record for a single flock here. A magnificent sight.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


My beloved dog Bodi has just turned twelve years old. She, and her sister, were rescued by a friend of mine from the beach at Alvor; we later discovered that their mother was a fisherman's dog which had had a litter of seven, five dogs and two bitches. The two female pups were abandoned because these ignorant peasants do not want any more females producing litters and refuse to pay to have them spayed. The Algarve is full of abandoned dogs - it is a disgrace and very distressing.

However, Bodi has had a good home for the past twelve years and is not doing badly for her age; she has arthritis in her front paws (as do I) and also a touch of spinal spondylosis. She has a fair bit of Border Collie in her genes which makes her intelligent, athletic and very obedient to her master. She has the best personality of any dog I have ever known.

As a youngster she would take me out for my morning walk at the crack of dawn (8 kms), and then again in the afternoon for a more leisurely stroll around the "Ria". In between she would also have a shorter "pee-wee" walk at midday and then again just before bedtime - goodness only knows how many kilometres we have walked together.

I love her dearly, and dread the day when she is not with me - she is the second greatest love in my life.

Sunday, November 01, 2009


Perhaps mis-named since these evil devices are used during autumn at the peak migration time of passerines through southern Europe.

Whenever I see the locals digging with their "enchadas" out in the countryside it means only one thing - they are looking for the adults and larvae of flying ants which are just emerging from their underground nests. These are used to bait the spring traps (tiny versions of pole or gin traps) which are either laid on the ground under bushes or hung in the bushes themselves. The bird goes for the bait and triggers the trap and has its neck broken. These traps are available in bundles of 50 or 100 at local markets and at government-funded "Co-operativas". It is not illegal to manufacturer these (most are made by the gypsies), to own them or to sell them but it is illegal to use them (how is that for sensible Portuguese bureaucracy?).

(Photo taken by a German resident near Lagos)

One man with a hundred traps can catch several hundred birds a day and, since they are not mutilated like shot birds, they are currently worth €2 per head on the open market as the ingredient of "Empadas de Passarinhos" (Songbird Pie) or simple plucked and grilled and eaten whole (innards and all) - a local delicacy.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Taste of Summer

Today is the 31st of October and the temperature in the shade just after midday was 30℃. It is like summer here and this morning I heard (but did not see) a Bee-eater calling; my friend Roger saw nine here just over a week ago. This is very late for this species to be here, they normally leave before the end of August. Perhaps the northern expansion into Britain as a breeding bird might mean that in future years these most northern birds might over-winter in the Algarve? For me, the arrival of these birds is the start of summer (end April or early May) so I thought a "medley" of Bee-eater photos was in order:

This last image is "junior" in the nest hole waiting for lunch. He left the following day.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Yanks at Salgados

For about a week, from 23rd to 30th September, a Buff-breasted Sandpiper and Long-billed Dowitcher were residing at Lagoa dos Salgados; both birds were originally found and photographed by a local Dutch birder Thijs Valkenberg.

I manged to connect with the sandpiper and got some reasonable shots (from the Land Rover) in rather harsh lighting, but no sign of the dowitcher:

*(Click on image for larger view)

It is quite amazing that this little vagrant from N. America (hence the term "Yank") has been blown off-course on its southerly migration and ended up in western Europe - what a journey!!

It is now over twelve months since I have made a new entry here. The reason is that information on Lagoa dos Salgados (for which I began this blog) has "dried up", rather like the lagoon itself! There will be more information (together with vitriolic criticism of the RSPB) in the near future.

I decided to change the format of the blog with a new background and colour-scheme which has unfortunately resulted in some text now being illegible - this will also be sorted out soon, and at the same time I intend to remove a lot of the long text sections relating to Salgados since the updates from RSPB in English are all now available on the SPEA website as PDF documents; I will link to these in due course.