Thursday, October 28, 2010

Black Vulture

On Saturday 23rd October I was on my daily afternoon walk around the Ria when I became aware of a huge commotion amongst the several hundred roosting gulls on the 'salinas'. These birds were in the air and savagely attacking a huge raptor which I immediately recognised as a Black Vulture (Aegypius monachus). I have seen many before in the Alentejo and on the Portugal/Spain border but always soaring effortlessly at a height with no hint of a wing-beat.

Why this bird was here I do not know; it was a juvenile/1st winter bird well away from its normal territory and may have just become disorientated. Whether it had descended after seeing a carcass I do not know but the gulls were giving it a really hard time and the vulture was having to perform extreme aerobatics to evade them. The vulture eventually landed on the Ria about 100 metres off-shore and was a rather pathetic sight  -  flapping its wings which were getting more and more waterlogged to the extent that I thought it was going to drown. 
I took my dog home and quickly returned with the camera to find that the vulture had made it to the shore and was spread-winged drying itself in the afternoon sunshine:

Whilst I had been away a small group of onlookers had assembled and someone had had the sense to actually call a vet. My concern was that the bird might have eaten some poisened animal, but I think that the "fight" with the gulls had simply rendered it exhausted (it might also have been starving and weak as a novice youngster).

It dried off very quickly and was obviously "perking up" by the minute and was seen to fly off before the vet arrived.

To be this close to such a magnificent bird (and it really is HUGE!) is both frightening and humbling.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Autumn Migration

The Spring migration in SW Iberia is always very poor except for birds which are arriving to breed here. Those moving into central and northern Europe tend to cross the Straits of Gibraltar at Tarifa and move on immediately propelled by hormones and the urge to breed. The autumn migration is normally much better with huge numbers of both passerines and raptors drifting more slowly down the west coast of Spain and Portugal towards Cabo de São Vicente (the most south-westerly tip of Europe) where they tend to linger and feed before moving east to Tarifa for the final "jump" to N Africa. In previous years the raptor movement (from the traditional watch-point at Cabranosa) has been fantastic  -  I recall being there one day in October a few years ago and seeing 1,900 Griffon Vultures in one flock with a supporting cast of flocks of Short-toed Eagles, Booted Eagles, Honey Buzzards, etc all in good numbers.

Shots of two juvenile Winchats (taken through the window while sitting at my desk!).

This autumn the migration has been the worst I can recall in fourteen years here. I spent two mornings at "The Cape" searching for the elusive Dotterel which I knew were there (but failed to find) and during that time the only raptors I saw were Common Kestrels (probably resident, although migrants from N Europe do pass through). Closer to home (my garden, and local "patch" at Ria de Alvor) there has been a dearth of passerines. Pied Flycatcher is usually the commonest passerine at this time, but this year there were very few. The low numbers is confirmed by the captures at the ringing station at A Rocha.

Northern Wheatear in agressive posture  -  I was too close.

Northern Wheatear, probably of the Greenland/Iceland race leucorhoa.

There was a brief "window" at the beginning of October when there was a rush of Pied Flycatchers (I counted about twenty in my garden one morning) and a very large number of Northern Wheatears. Whinchats (mainly juveniles) were present in smaller numbers, and what a delight they are.

This marked reduction in numbers of birds compared to previous years is a cause for concern  -  I wonder what the cause is?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mid-summer Madness

Like many birding Bloggers I am overcome with a sense of apathy with the arrival of summer (late June to end of August here in Algarve).  Birdlife has more or less been replaced by human (and often inhuman) activities. The past year has had the most extreme weather conditions since records began 160 years ago; after the wettest winter, with almost three times the average annual rainfall (we had four months when it rained every single day) we then had the hottest summer with temperatures hovering around 40 ℃ for much of July and August (I recorded shade temperatures of 42 ℃ on several days in my garden). To go out birding in these temperatures is crazy, and photography is impossible because of the heat haze.

A Dornier (DO80 - WWII cargo plane), one of the noisiest machines in the world, transporting sky-divers to jump over Ria de Alvor; one of the best "bird scarers" ever invented.

It was anticipated that this year tourism in the Algarve would be much reduced due to the recession. There was a notable decrease in British, German and Dutch visitors but this was more than made up for by a huge invasion of Spaniards as well as larger numbers of people from the north of Portugal who would have holidayed in more exotic places such as Brasil in better times. Congestion on the roads was unbelievable and since most of these people were sun-seekers the beaches looked like Blackpool on a sunny Bank Holiday.

Wind-surfers and Kite-Surfers are O.K. in small numbers but having 100+ racing around the Ria at the same time causes considerable stress to gulls and waders roosting on the sandbanks. Worst of all are the Jet-Skiers who should be shot on sight.

The last weekend in August is blissful relief  -  all of these human intruders disappear virtually overnight and the Ria de Alvor begins a slow recovery to its tranquil normality.

One of the most recent scourges to the Algarve  -  "Para-planing". A mindless moron with an inflatable kite and a petrol-engined propeller strapped to his arse enables him about 30 minutes airbourne in which to "buzz" flocks of roosting birds  -  Greater Flamingos are a favourite target. And speaking of targets....!!!!!!!!!!!