Tuesday, May 24, 2011


In the Spring of 2005 (see post "Garden Breeders 2005" - September 11th 2005) a swallow's nest began being constructed in the passageway between the house and the garage/workshop. Both Barn Swallows and Red-rumped Swallows had been observed investigating this site but when we realised that it was the latter which were building we were 'over the moon'. Twenty years ago the only reliable breeding site for Red-rumped Swallows in this area was beneath the lip of the dam at "Barragem da Bravura" north of Odiáxere, but with the building of the A22 "Via do Infante" motorway and all its viaducts in this undulating terrain this species seems to have increased in numbers due to suitable nest sites.

The "Rumpies" have nested every year since then, in some years producing three broods and an estimated seventeen chicks in a single year  -  the "crooning" sound of these birds (two metres from one of our bedroom windows) has been magic to the ear.

Last year the ubiquitous House Sparrows (I have several dozen nesting around the house) took over the nest and broke off the "entrance tube" (this has happened to several neighbours who also had Red-rumped Swallows nesting at their properties); I "evicted" several broods (eggs as well as young) but these tenacious blighters are irrepressible.

Eventually the nest crumbled (helped, I think, by Azure-winged Magpies attacking the sparrows) and fell to the ground.

This year the nest site was again investigated by both Red-rumped and Barn Swallows but it was the latter that began to reconstruct the nest. Four adults (presumably non-breeding siblings of the breeding pair) built the half-cup nest in a few days (actually adding mud while the female was laying and sitting) and although we had one mortality (just fell out of the nest) the pair have produced three healthy offspring which have just fledged and flown.

So, they are only Barn Swallows instead of "Posh Swallows", but it has been nice to observe and I hope they produce another brood.

As a post-script, the Blackbirds which have nested in the Brugmansia just by my front door seem to have produced two healthy, fast-growing chicks; I fear that some of them might have fallen prey to the Azure-winged Magpies when they were much younger.


Monday, May 02, 2011


Despite the vile weather, the three bird species which for me characterise the Algarve and herald the onset of Spring and early Summer have arrived here from their wintering grounds in Africa.

Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator) first seen on 11th March

Bee-eater (Merops apiaster)  heard on 29th March and seen the following day in large numbers

Golden Oriole (Oriolus oriolus)  -  the unmistakable song first heard on 13th April

The order of appearance of these three "jewels" is always the same but this year the dates were about one week to ten days later than normal. There is a huge supporting cast of other species such as Iberian Yellow Wagtail, Melodious Warbler, Little Tern and many rarer species, but these "three" are not only beautiful birds but so typical of the Algarve  -  when they leave their breeding ground here in the autumn to return to Africa I feel a real sense of sadness.

Sunday, May 01, 2011


Today is the first day of May, supposedly the beginning of summer in Algarve;  we have thunderstorms, torrential rain and it is cold (we have had the wood-burning stove on for the past two days). Maximum daytime temperature today was 15℃. Last weekend (Easter weekend) London was 27℃, the hottest capital in Europe.  What is going on?

Storm clouds over Ria de Alvor

The winter of 2009/10 was the wettest on record (i.e. for 160 years) with almost three times the average annual rainfall. The past winter (2010/11) has not had the same volume of rain but there have been more rainy days  -  in fact, with the exception of a fine spell of weather at the end of February when temperatures reached 25℃, we have had precipitation almost every day since last October.

The reservoirs ("Barragem da Bravura" at Odiáxere) are full........

..... to overflowing

The land cannot take any more water  -  my gardener José João tells me that most of the spring crops (beans, peas, garlic and onions) have failed because they have just rotted in the ground.

Birding and photography have been "off the menu" for the past six months  -  I lose interest when the weather is like this and the light has been abysmal for photography. I believe that the end of this horrendous weather is in sight  -  let us hope so.