Monday, February 22, 2010

Red-rumped Swallows

Not much "birdy" news at the moment (weather in Algarve is still appalling and looking to get worse for the next ten days  -  never seen so much rain, and I come from the Lake District in Cumbria!!), except that my Red-rumped Swallows returned on Friday the 19th February (my earliest record for this species).

I do not hold out much hope for their breeding success since an army of House Sparrows have taken over every available nest site.

What happened to the Cavalry?

The guy with the red asterisk above his head (no, it is not a halo and he is certainly not Simon Templar  -  aka "The Saint") is Aidan Lonergan, formerly Regional Director of RSPB Northern Ireland (posing with a bunch of grinning colleagues who are looking very smug for probably not having achieved anything at all).

The "top brass" at RSPB are allowed what is called a "sabbatical" every now and then in which they go off and do something totally different in order to refresh the brain cells and keep them motivated  -  you and I call it a "holliday".

Aidan Lonergan (formerly involved in RSPB "Overseas Operations") decided to take his sabbatical for a month (May 2008) to visit the Algarve with the intention of  "looking" at the problems facing Lagoa dos Salgados. He had been well briefed and managed to make contact with most people involved, including myself. I, and an equally involved friend of mine, received an email from Lonergan requesting an on-site meeting at Salgados. We honestly thought it was a joke: the man cannot write English, his grammar is appalling and use of  punctuation and upper and lower case letters non-existent. He came over as an idiot, and when we met him we were not disappointed.

This is the resumé of José Tavares' (RSPB Country Programmes Officer for Portugal) report on Lonergan's visit in his official update published in September 2008 on the SPEA website:

 RSPB sabbatical

In May, Aidan Lonergan, the Director of RSPB Northern Ireland, spent one month at
Salgados as part of his RSPB sabbatical, mostly working on two issues

a) Development of a concept for the interpretation centre (target audiences, mains
messages, types of exhibits, etc). 

b) Fundraising for Salgados Meeting with several company owners and wealthy
individuals, mostly British expatriates, who are very committed to Salgados, and
discuss and implement with them fundraising plans and strategies to get some
money for SPEA to continue with this campaign.

Aidan has met several of you. He is continuing to work on the issue, has made
connections with Academics from UCC in Ireland who have agreed to provide the
data from their field visits over many years and is currently working on getting more
RSPB staff out to Salgados to help with the work. 

Aidan Lonergan stated in subsequent emails that he thought that Lagoa dos Salgados was one of the best birding sites in southern Europe and most certainly worth fighting to preserve (i.e. to try and get SPA status). He vowed to return with a "task force" in the near future to resolve the problems. I could almost hear the trumpet sounding "Boots & Saddles" and expected the cavalry to ride in in a cloud of dust to save the lagoon from all the ills of the world.

That was almost two years ago now. In the meantime Aidan Lonergan has been promoted to "Director of Futurescapes" and is now based at RSPB HQ at The Lodge at Sandy, Bedfordshire. Salgados has been forgotten.

Need I say more?

Monday, February 15, 2010


In November 2009 my wife and I both resigned from the  RSPB because of their total incompetence over the Lagoa dos Salgados preservation affair. We had been members for a very long time and retained our membership after moving to Portugal thirteen years ago, even though we no longer partook of any RSPB facilities. There is no doubt that the RSPB has done some sterling work in the past, and may well do so again in the future (if they can stop Boris Johnson building another London airport in the Thames estuary I will applaud them again), but these are all "big ticket" campaigns and I now feel that the RSPB is neglecting more mundane projects.

I was incandescent with rage when I learned that Graham Wynne, RSPB Chief Executive Officer since 1998, was awarded a Knighthood in this year's New Year's Honours List; had I not already resigned, I would have done so immediately.


What has this odious non-entity done to deserve this honour? The "speil" states that it is "for services to conservation"  -  my arse it is. When he came into post the RSPB was growing (as it has since its formation) and had over 1.3 million members and was boasting of achieving 1.5 million in the near future. The membership now stands at just over one million, so what the grinning Sir Graham has actually achieved is to lose a third of the membership  -   and Her Majesty gave him a knighthood for it (remember it is the ROYAL Society for the Protection of Birds). What a f*****g disgrace!!

The RSPB do nothing to earn money, they rely on membership subscriptions, special appeals and legacies (the latter has been their largest income in most years). They should be much more accountable to their members but they are not. The society is "top heavy" with Presidents, Vice Presidents, CEO, Directors, Deputy Directors, Regional Directors, etc. all concerned with preserving their posts and final-salary pensions. As someone said recently: "The RSPB and the BBC have similar problems  -  if they were run as a business, more than 50% of them would get the sack".

The writing is on the wall for them; the legions of "old dears" who had nothing better to do with their money than leave it to the RSPB in their will are quickly dying out and the current membership is rapidly jumping ship.

Do a "Google" for Graham Wynne to see what the general consensus of opinion is on this man.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sociable Lapwing

On 17th December I received an SMS text from Peter Dedicoat and June Taylor saying that they had found a Sociable Lapwing (Vanellus gregarious) amongst a flock of Northern Lapwing  close to the village of Benviudo, just south of the EN.123 near Mertola.

I could not go at the time (lack of urgency since the bird was not a "lifer" or even a Portuguese "tick" for me) and following this find the weather in southern Portugal has been absolute crap  -  we have now had two months of almost continuous rain.

On 28th January we had a sunny but very cold day  -  I decided to put all my gear in the Land Rover and "go for it"  -  I had not been out  birding or doing any photography for weeks. The 140 km drive was well worth it, and I was onto the bird within minutes of arriving at the location (thanks to Google Earth, SatNav and Peter's directions).

The bird was about 80 metres away down a slope feeding actively with a Norther Lapwing with which it seems to have a close affinity (some interesting speculation there!!). I positioned myself with the sun behind me and, with the rig (Canon 1DMk3 with 500mm f/4 + 1.4TC) on my lap turned off the engine and began to gently roll downhill towards the bird.


 Sociable Lapwing (Vanellus gregarious)  -  1st winter juvenile

The bird was not too bothered by my presence as I got closer, but was mostly facing away from me. I decided to play the call on my MP3 player and the bird became very interested and not only turned around but actually began walking towards me. The shots I got were at about 35 metres range, but I was confident that at this rate I was going to get some frame-filling shots at 15 metres which would produce stunning images.

I had not reckoned on the local farmer pulling up behind me in his pick-up, tooting the horn and slamming the car door  -  the birds buggered-off across the main road into a fenced field and disappeared into foot-high crops.

What was ironic is that the farmer had just come to make sure that I had actually seen "his famous bird"!!!  What I said to him was not quite what was going through my mind.

Year of the Ibis

2009 was something of an outstanding year for the ibis genus; in the U.K. and other parts of Northern Europe the Glossy Ibis was seen in unprecedented numbers and this was reflected in a marked increase in large flocks of this species in Portugal. 


Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus)

Lagoa dos Salgados had numbers in the 40+ region, trumped by 400 or so on the rice fields north of Alcantarilha. On 13th December a flock of ca. 1,200 birds was recorded at Ponte do Zambujal in Palmela, near Lisbon.

Early in 2009 a group of nine Northern Bald Ibis (Geronticus eremita) turned up at the Herdade de Salgados golf course. These birds then vanished and re-emerged at a golf course at Vilamoura, but shortly afterwards six of the birds returned to Salgados where they took up residence with a flock of Common Coot close to the club-house and first "T".

Northern Bald Ibis (Geronticus eremita)

It became apparent that these birds were not only ringed but had satellite transmitters attached (notice the patch of ruffled feathers on the 'shoulder' of the bird in the above photo), and that they had been released from the Spanish "Proyecto Eremita" reintroduction programme in Càdiz Province. The birds had been hand-reared and proved to be very approachable, if not tame  -  I have seen visitors hand feeding the birds with sandwiches and on one occasion several birds actually wandered into the reception area of the golf club-house and crapped all over the floor!

One of the six birds was found dead on the golf course and the long-staying five are now reduced to two birds. The fact that they were so tame and were fed a load of unsuitable food might have been their undoing.



Let us just hope that the two remaining birds are male and female and that they manage to strike up more than just a "friendship" (and also lose their interest in golf!!).

Lagoa dos Salgados has also hosted a Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus) during 2009, an un-ringed bird which might be the same as the one seen further north, but undoubtedly an "escape" from a collection.

Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus)

This last species, White Ibis (Eudocimus albus), conveniently hiding its ringed left leg, is courtesy of Parque Zoologica de Lagos.

White Ibis (Eudocimus alba)