Thursday, May 27, 2010

Breeding Flamingos in Algarve?

The Algarve is host to large numbers of Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) which are mainly juveniles and sub-adults (Flamingo take four or five years to reach breeding age). Many birds are ringed proving that they come from southern Spain (a lot from Doñana) and the Camargue, and one dead bird from as far away as Iran.  These birds are highly mobile depending on water levels and food sources at appropriate Algarve wetlands, with most occurring at Castro Marim in the east, adjacent to the border with Spain, with lesser numbers at Lagoa dos Sagados (1,000+) and Ria de Alvor (300+ in autumn).

In 1987 a Dutch friend of mine and frequent visitor to Algarve, Willem Scheres,  found and described two "nearly fledged" chicks on the salinas at Castro Marim; the record, which would have been the first proven breeding of Greater Flamingo in Portugal, was rejected.

A couple of years ago I was told by Joã Ministro (Almargem) that the salt workers at Castro Marim had found a cold, abandoned egg. The vastness of the salinas at Castro Marim and the lack of public access (and therefore disturbance) was always considered to be the prime possible nesting locality of this species.

On 6th May this year I met a visiting birder, Dennis Wilby, who told me that there were two adult Flamingos apparently sitting on nests at Lagoa dos Salgados. I visited Salgados two days later, 8th May, and saw both of these birds clearly sitting on nest mounds  -  one of the two briefly stood up to reveal a single egg.

A resident birder Rudolf Muller took these two photos (I am posting these without his permission  -  I hope you do not mind Rudolf, they were forwarded to me in an email by Frank McC.):


The two "sitting" adults

Unfortunately, five days later, the nests were abandoned and the egg, or eggs, had disappeared. I do not know the precise cause but I predicted that the number of feral dogs running loose at this site would be a major problem.

This potential first proven breeding of Flamingo in Portugal made headline news in both local and national press as well as on television, but as far as I know no attempts were made to protect these birds. Compare this to the level of protection currently being given to a pair of Purple Heron breeding at Dungeness RSPB reserve in the U.K.   -   not only are wardens continuously monitoring the site but the Kent Police are giving round the clock protection to keep away egg collectors.

We have a long way to go in Portugal!!!

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