Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A morning around Faro

Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator) adult male, told by black mantle feathers. First Ind. usually arrive
in early March here, depending on weather conditions. 5 or 6 Ind. where perched on- or next to the
airport-fence. Faro, 10-April-2017.
Some shots I took during a morning just west of Faro airport yesterday. Continuous sunny weather and easterly winds provide excellent conditions to find spring migrants along the coast right now. After travelling with a group last week, I just enjoyed taking some time in my own pace. Sitting quietly at a good spot is often rewarded with surprisingly good observations. Amazing what you can spot here in a single morning without even trying too hard!

Male Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra). Faro, 10-April-2017.
Wryneck (Jynx torquila). Quinta do Lago, 10-April-2017.
Hoppoe (Upupa epops) carrying food. Ludo (Faro) 10-April-2017.
Black-headed Weaver (Ploceus melanocephalus) male. Quinta do Lago, 10-April-2017. An established breeding bird in the Algarve, origin is sub-saharian Africa. Populations here are based on escapes - perhaps from the Zoo in Lagos?
Black-headed Weaver (Ploceus melanocephalus). Quinta do Lago, 10-April-2017. Male displaying at a fresh nest.

Black-headed Weaver (Ploceus melanocephalus) male and female at the nest. Quinta do Lago, 10-April-2017.

Bluethroat (Lusciana svecica) second calender year. A rather late date for this wintering species here. Quinta do Lago, 10-April-2017.

Male Little Crake (Porzana parvaQuinta do Lago, 10-April-2017. A rare but regular passage migrant in the Algarve, during March/ April and September. The status of this secretive species as well as of its relatives here is not fully known.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Sora (Porzana carolina) in the Algarve

The first ever Sora (Porzana carolina) for continental Portugal has been discovered yesterday in the town of Silves, west Algarve. The species is a very rare vagrant to the WP from North America, with most records from the UK and the Azores.

Sora (Porzana carolina) in the town of Silves, west Algarve, on 24-Jan-2017, 1st for continental Portugal.
This photo shows all the key features of the species  - black face markings and all yellow bill, speckless
ear coverts and neck sides, whitish outer undertail coverts... (Foto: Georg Schreier).

The actually story is a bit different. The bird had been seen by Luisa Sequeira more than two weeks ago already, residing between the old roman bridge and the new road bridge, on the town side river bank, where it comes out of the reed bed onto the mud flats and debris to feed during low tide. This section of the river also holds an unusual high density of Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus), besides King Fisher, Grey Wagtail, Common Sandpiper, Little Grebe, visiting Black-headed Gulls and a couple of Muscovy Ducks and other feral watervowl.
Only yesterday (24-Jan-2017) Luisa posted a photo of the bird she finally got a few days before in the facebook-group "Aves de Portugal Continental", but uncertain about the ID, as a probable Spotted Crake (Porzana porzana). I saw this post a couple of hours later and it striked me right away as a Sora - the black face markings and the all yellow bill (reddish bill base on Spotted Crake), lack of spots on head and neck, white outer undertail coverts... I wondered why nobody seemed to have noticed this and after a few friends I alerted had seen the photo and shared in my opinion, Luisa kindly gave me details about where exactely she saw the bird and an hour later I was there, watching the bird with only two or three other birders from the Algarve (in the UK for instance, I guess would have been hundreds by then!). Worth mentioning perhaps is also an adult Bonellis Eagle circling high above the town together with about a dozen of White Storks when I arrived on the roman bridge.

Sora (Porzana carolina) in the town of Silves, west Algarve, on 24-Jan-20171st for continental Portugal  
(Foto: Georg Schreier).

I have begun to take videos with my mobile phone through the telescope. I use the new Swarovski ATX 85 scope and the Iphone 5s. Adapter for other oculars and Iphone-models exist - check here.

Two rough examples of yesterdays Sora:

Talking about facebook - perhaps more interesting for you, because in English, is the public facebook-group "Algarve Portugal rare birds" to which I contribute quite often to inform about rare or scarce bird sightings in the Algarve. My (new) personal facebook account, where I show fotos and post updates much more frequent than here, is "Georg Schreier Birdwatching".

Other examples of videos I made recently:

Osprey (click to view).

Some shots taken on recent tours:

Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicicus) juvenile, with Montpelliers Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus),
Sagres "Baleeira" on 20-Dec-2017. Foto GS.

Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles orientalis) near Castro Verde, Alentejo, 14-Dec-2017. Foto: GS.

Great Bustards (Otis tarda). Castro Verde-area, 09-Jan-2017. Foto: GS. This group was so close to a public road, 
that they took off when we slowly passed by. Luckily they have lots of habitat in the area.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Kelp Gull in the Algarve today

Kelp Gull (Larus domincanus) is a southern hemisphere gull and breeds during the north winter, coastal mostly, in Southern Africa, South America, Antarctica, South Australia and New Zealand. It is a very rare vagrant to the Western Palearctic (Morocco mainly).
This bird here was found by Thijs Falkenburg on July, 5th in Olhão ("Quinta do Marim"). It belongs to the subspecies L.d. vetula ("Cape Gull") which breeds in Southern Africa. Cape Gulls are the largest among this species and they are particularly long-legged like this bird. Also the olive-green tinge to the leggs is typical, the crown is flat and the bill is heavy with a deep gonys angle, all together being jizz-wise muchcloser to a Greater black-backed Gull (Larus marinus) than to the also very dark-backed nominate form of Lesser-black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus fuscus), especially when dealing with an adult male, like in this case. An (older) article on Kelp Gull ID is here.
A curiosity is, that Thijs also found the first Kelp Gull for the Algarve (on 14-Aug-2013) only a few kms further west, at sewage works (ETAR) between Faro and Olhão (possibly the same bird?). Now this time this Kelp Gull showed up right at his work place, the recovery centre for injured birds and other wildlife (RIAS) in "Quinta do Marim", Olhão, sitting upon the cages containing chicks of Yellow-legged Gulls (Larus michahellis) and showing up there daily since about one week now. This is where I took these photos this morning (11-Aug-2016). So far this bird is the 5th record for Portugal.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Pelagic off Olhão

(all photos are clickable to enhance)
Yesterday morning, 5th of July, we went out on a boat with Passeios Ria Formosa (Fuzeta), this time departing from next to the Real Marina Hotel in Olhão and headed for the waters off Culatra Island. There was an overcast in the beginning, therefore not a hot morning, calm sea and hardly any noticeable wind. The light improved along the trip. Despite not getting any fishing vessel within reachable distance, it turned out to be a very successful trip.

Great Shearwater (Ardenna gravis) with Cory's Shearwaters (Calonectris borealis) off Culatra Island, 05-Jul-2016.

For more than one hour we were basically surrounded by a huge pod of over 100 Short-beaked Common Dolphins (Delphinus delphis) and also well over 100 Cory's Shearwaters (Calonectris borealis) among which we coud also identify and photograph at least three Scopoli's Shearwaters (Calonectris diomedea) a species (or still a subspecies, depending on systematic - but have a look here). There are only a hand full of records of this taxon in the Algarve so far anyhow and as far as I know none of them documented by photos. On the other hand, Scopoli's mainly breeds in the Mediterranean and winters in the South Atlantic, so occurance in Algarvian waters during non-breeding season at least makes sense. Identification in the field is often not straight forward (good views or better, photos of the underwing neccessary) and therefore the few Scopoli's among the majority of Cory's go easily unidentified.

Scopoli's Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea) off Culatra Island (Olhão) 05-Jul-2016. Note 
the white extending into the wing tip (web of primaries).

After searching for quite a while, we also spotted two Sooty Shearwaters (Ardenna griseus) and finally a single Great Shearwater (Ardenna gravis) - both giving great and close views and this is only the very beginning of the season for both species.

Great Shearwater (Ardenna gravis) with Cory's Shearwater (Calonectris borealis) in the background.
Off Culatra Island, 05-Jul-2016.

Cory's Shearwater (Calonectris borealis). Off Culatra Island, 05-Jul-2016.

We also encountered Storm Petrels, among them Wilson's SP and European SP - perhaps three or four Ind. of each species, but did not get the best views, because without the birds foraging (next to a fishing boat pulling in the net, for instance) but only travelling, even photographing them is not an easy task. However, we managed at least record shots and thought to have found also one "Band-rumped Storm Petrel". The now potentially 4 species in this species-complex (compare Robb et al., 2008) were previously all lumped as Madeiran Storm Petrel (Oceanodroma castro or Hydrobates castro). Systematic here is not uniform and field-ID within the "Band-rumped SP -complex" is very difficult if not impossible, but have a look  here). Interesting is that also the recently published "Atlas of Marine birds in Portugal" (in Portuguese) shows the occurence of this species in Algarvian waters.
However, after reviewing the ID and getting expert opinions, it turned out to be "just" a Wilson's SP flying with feet retracted and therefore completely lacking feet projection over the tail, one of the most usefull fetaures to ID Wilson's in the field. The Storm Petrel in question also shows a too short arm and too weak bill to be a possible "Band-rumped". We will keep looking....

Wilson's Storm Petrel (Oceanites oceanicus) off Culatra Island (Olhão) 05-Jul-2016.

The following five photos show a potential "Band-rumped Storm Petrel" we saw during the trip. But for the reasons explained above, it turned out to be another Wilson's Storm Petrel in the end.

Expert opinion on the above Storm Petrel by Bob Flood is here:

In my opinion, this is a Wilson's Storm-petrel. It has a small squarish head and slim bill (Band-rumped has bulkier head and deeper bill, even the smaller forms). The arms are short and broad, hands medium length, and wing tips pointed (Band-rumps have medium-length arms, long hands, while some forms do have fairly pointed wing tips). The leading edge of the wing is moderately angular, but the trailing edge is fairly straight in most shots (typically angular in Band-rumps). I don't think the tail is really forked; this may be an impression given by a toe projection. It has a long caudal projection (rear carriage behind wing, longer than Band-rumps). The head, body and tail are fairly sleek (unlike Band-rumps). The white 'rump patch' folds over to the underside and joins the thigh patches (depth greater than N Atlantic Band-rumps). The upperwing ulnar bars are variable in intensity in Wilson's and we see quite a few with dullish bars, as this bird (affected by wear and bleaching). Second-year and older Wilson's start moult by early June, but juveniles do not start the complete preformative moult until at least mid July, most later, so presumably this is a juvenile (plumage looks pretty fresh). By the way, it always helps if you describe flight behaviour, because this can be very important in storm-petrel ID.
Hope this is of use.

Robert L. Flood DSc, PhD, BSc (1st Hons)
Twitter: @Scillypelagics

Naturally we saw many Northern Gannets and also had one immature Pomarine Skua (Stercorarius pomarinus) flying over.

New dates for Pelagics have been scheduled on my website here. Available dates are: July, 22nd; August, 2nd; August 12th; August 25th; September 6th; September 30th; October, 13th. We can organize a pelagic at any time between June and October/November when the participation of min. 4 people is assured.

 Pomarine Skua (Stercorarius pomarinus) pale morph juvenile flying over. C. 3 miles off Culatra Island, 5th of July 2016.

Fresh juvenile Audouin's Gull (Ichthyaetus audouinii) in Ria Formosa, next to Olhão on the way back in. In the background: Caspian Tern, Sandwich Terns and an adult Yellow-legged Gull. July, 5th, 2016.

Fresh juvenile Audouin's Gull (Ichthyaetus audouinii) in Ria Formosa, next to Olhão on the way back in. In the background: Caspian Tern, Sandwich Terns and an adult Yellow-legged Gull. July, 5th, 2016.

And the Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia) turned out to be color-ringed. Red: FY2. Still looking for the program...

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater in the Algarve

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater / Abelharuco-persa / Blauwangenspint (Merops persicus) in Fuzeta-saltpans (Algarve)
on April 18th, 2016. Foto: Georg Schreier.  This is only the 2nd record for Portugal.

It was Monday, late afternoon, when I sat in a bird hide near Faro for some "easy birding" in my own pace, to relax after an eight days group-journey I had been guiding. The phone rang and my friend João Tiago Tavares brought me the news, that a Blue-cheeked Bee-eater had just been found by João Ferreira (whom I do not know) west of Fuzeta, near the saltpans. After making shure I got the directions to the exact location, I was on my way. Shortly after I parked my car near the spot, other observers familiar to me arrived. We spread out over the area - a mix of arid farmland and gardens, abandoned fruit orchards and a small sand pit with two- or three nest tunnels of European Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) which were feeding in the area and perched occasionally on the telegraph wires. But no sign of the bird. Soon it was clear to me, that the Bee-eaters present were only the local breeding birds and "our" bird must have been with Bee-eaters still on migration and therefore already passed on. I informed the others, that I would go and try my luck on the other (east) side of the village, where I was going to look out for flocks of Bee-eaters in the salt pans. After a little search there, I found a gathering of about 15 Ind. on the east side of the saltpans, close to Arroteia de Baixo, feeding and perching on wires. I approached the area on foot and finally - was that Bee-eater catching the insect just now and perching on the wire not greener than the others?? A look in the Bins confirmed - Yes, here it was! Quickly taking a few photos ( I was perhaps still 100m away) and calling the others. Still on the phone, the entire flock got up in the air and came my way. The marvellous "Green" Bee-eater with them flying by now in about half of the distance, showing its red underwing and the extremely long tail skimmers. Me, still on the phone, missing the third hand to get the flight shot and having to let the bird pass by and moving on...
The following search for the flock that have seemed to move on eastwards, following the coast line and stopping over in suitable habitat from time to time, for feeding, did not produce any result.
So I remained the one lucky guy, who was able to get a photo of this bird and the only one, who saw it after the finder.
Earlier that day, Western Orphean Warbler (Sylvia hortensis) and Melodious Warbler (Hippolais polyglotta) both near my home near São Brâs de Alportel, had been new birds for this year for me. The rather wet and windy April so far had not been great for spring migrants and birds arrived rather late. But some strong southwesterlies were responsible for bringing this "green jewel" into these parts, overshooting on its spring migration to its northernmost breeding grounds in Marokko supposedly. A good candidate for the bird of the year!

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater / Abelharuco-persa / Blauwangenspint (Merops persicus) in Fuzeta-saltpans (Algarve) 
on April 18th, 2016. Foto: Georg Schreier.  This is only the 2nd record for Portugal. One of only a few record shots I managed to take out of some distance, before the flock (of European Bee-eaters) moved on further east and disappeared with this bird. 
European Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) at the same site. The "carrier species".

Summer is almost here now and in June, the season for Pelagic Boat-trips will start. I have a number of trips scheduled already and first people have booked. Please send me an e-mail to reserve your seat(s). All the necessary Info is on my website here:

Monday, March 28, 2016

Spring migrants keep arriving

Great Spotted Cuckoo (Clamator glandarius) near Lagoa dos Salgados (Silves) on 19-03-2016. The species arrives as early as mid February in South Portugal, but adults already head back to Africa during May. Since their favourite host species is the Common Magpie (Pica pica) the distribution of the two species pretty much merges in the Algarve and the Baixo Alentejo-region. The species is very vocal and often can be detected by their giggling calls.

Adult male Spectecled Warbler (Sylvia conspicillata) near Sagres (Vila do Bispo) on 26-03-2016. This small Sylvian Warbler, somewhat resembling a miniature Common Whitethroat, is only locally distributed along the Algarve coast, basically in the extreme west- and east of the region. It favours very low shrub and open countryside, such as dry salt marsh or the Garigue of the hinterland of the Cape of Sagres and São Vicente. 

Male Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) over its breeding territory in a reed bed in Portimão-area on 26-03-2016.

Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus (2nd calender year) near Vilamoura (Parque Ambiental) on March 7th, 2016. The species is a wintering bird in the area and prefers open country side like marhes, fields or steppe land.

Male Great Bustards (Otis tarda) in the "pseudosteppe" of the Baixo Alentejo-region in Castro Verde-area. I took this photo out of the car during a tour in the region on March 9th, 2016.

Regarding rarities over the past weeks in the Algarve, this first winter Bonaparte's Gull (Croicocephalus philadelphia) I found at Lagoa dos Salgados (Silves) on March 19th, 2016 has been one of the most interesting birds. Might be overlooked among Black-headed Gulls, but note the more delicate and blackish bill and grey head- and necksides, as well as light pinkish legs on this digiscoping shot I took on a second visit at the site on March, 26th.
Other rarities included an adult male Citrine Wagtail, also near Lagoa dos Salgados. Unfortunately the information about the presence of this very rare vagrant to Portugal (3 records so far) had been passed on after days only and the bird was gone before it was made public...  the male Bufflehead is still present at "Altura-reservoir" (near Monte Gordo) as today.

First winter Bonaparte's Gull (Croicocephalus philadelphia) at Lagoa dos Salgados (Silves), March 19th, 2016 (left) in comparison to Black-headed Gull (also late first winter) on the right. Compare upperwing-pattern - note the evenly fine and well defined trailing edge of the wing on the Bonaparte's Gull on the left. [You can always click the photos to blow them up a bit].

Another record shot of the same bird as above -first winter Bonaparte's Gull (Croicocephalus philadelphia) in flight (the bird below) - note the all white underwing with dark trailing edge and compare to the underwing (primaries) of a Black-headed Gull Croicocephalus ridibundus. Feeding action of Bonaparte's Gull also resembling a Marsh Tern Sp. / Little Gullat times. (Video: click here ).

One more rare visitor from North America present at Lagoa dos Salgados the same day as the above Gull and also self-found a couple of days before - Ring-necked Duck (Athya collaris) adult male, with Common Pochard. (March, 19th, 2016).