A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Portugal Birding - Monday 15th February 2016 (Day 2 - Aljezur, Monchique and Lagos)

With the weather forecast to be considerably more promising for our second day in Portugal, we decided to head back up to Aljezur to see if the sun would tempt out the Snowfinch. Arriving back on site early the next morning, the conditions were a huge improvement on the day before – glorious blue skies and puffy white clouds met us as we pulled up at the side of the fields. Several Hoopoes soaked up the sun on the sandy banks lining the road, while the Iberian Grey Shrikes from Sunday again gave excellent views perched out in the open.
Hoopoe - Portugal
Hoopoe - always a welcome sight in the Med
Iberian Grey Shrike - Portugal
Iberian Grey Shrike
Iberian Grey Shrike - Portugal
The increase in bird life from the day before was soon apparent, with a greater number of Crested Larks happily feeding in the short grass at the side of the road, along with the familiar Meadow Pipits and Goldfinches. On closer inspection, we managed to unearth a Thekla Lark amongst them, the white eyering, distinct dark lores, and shorter bill distinguishing it from the similar Cresteds. 
Thekla Lark - Portugal
Thekla Lark - note the clear black lores and distinct eyering
Thekla Lark - Portugal
Several Corn Buntings foraging amongst the straw in one of the fields were also new in from yesterday, offering some hope that the Snowfinch may still make an appearance. Sadly it wasn’t to be, and a rather confiding male Sardinian Warbler was the best new bird we could manage.
Sardinian Warbler - Portugal
Male Sardinian Warbler - one of my favourite Mediterranean warblers
Sardinian Warbler - Portugal
With the Snowfinch having been present for around a week prior to our visit and apparently favouring the field where a large bull had been kept (according to reports it liked to feed in the straw), the fact the bull had now been taken away may have played a factor in the Snowfinch’s untimely departure. Disappointing to say the least, but after searching the entire surrounding area it was clear that the Snowfinch had most definitely moved on.
Ribeira de Aljezur - Portugal
The dreaded Snowfinch fields
With the rain threatening to dampen our day once again and having seen enough of the same patch of daisies to last a lifetime, we decided enough was enough and headed out further in to the Portuguese countryside in an effort to locate some of our other targets for the trip. Travelling east inland towards the Serra de Monchique mountain range, we scanned the wires, fences and trees scattered throughout the lush green farmland in an effort to locate any Black-shouldered Kites, a species I was especially keen to see.
Several Common Buzzards and Red Kites soared through the now clear blue sky, and it wasn’t long until a considerably larger raptor caught my eye. Driving closer and stopping the car to look through our bins, we could clearly see all the key identification features that confirmed this as my first Bonelli’s Eagle, another species I had missed while in Spain. 
Bonelli's Eagle - Portugal
My first Bonelli's Eagle
In flight, the combination of a whitish body and dark wings and tail is unique, and despite me never having seen one before, there was no doubt at all over the ID – it was instantly recognisable. 
Bonelli's Eagle - Portugal
The white mantle patch is a key identifying feature of Bonelli's Eagles
Bonelli's Eagle - Portugal
As is the white belly paired with dark wings
With the Bonelli’s Eagle flying closer towards us, I managed a few record shots, capturing both the white patch on the bird’s mantle and the pale streaked belly coupled with the dark underwings and black carpal patches.

With relatively few records of Bonelli’s Eagles in Portugal during January and February on e-bird, we weren’t expecting to come across this species as easily as we did, so it was a huge bonus and a further surprise when we came across a second individual 20 minutes later in the Monchique mountain range itself, this time much closer and soaring over the car before disappearing over one of the ridges.
The Monchique Mountains
The Monchique mountain range
The Monchique Mountains - Portugal
Heading further through the mountains, the surrounding scenery was stunning, and we were treated to fabulous views of the Portuguese landscape. A touch too early for any Griffon or Black Vultures when we visited, in several weeks’ time the ridges and slopes would be filled with these majestic birds soaring on the thermals. Stopping at a roadside bridge we also encountered an extremely confiding flock of Crag Martins, swooping low over our heads and showing off the small white windows lining the edge of the tail feathers.
Crag Martin - Portugal
Crag Martins were common throughout
Crag Martin - Portugal
Note the obvious white windows in the tail
The Monchique Mountains
With the mountains not being the most ideal habitat for Black-shouldered Kites and having already encountered our Bonelli’s Eagles, we lost altitude and drove back down to the farmlands below to have another crack at finding this most attractive of raptors. Having decided against going to Cape Saint Vincent to search for the wintering Alpine Accentors due to the fierce winds that morning, we later learnt that another individual had actually been found at the summit visitor centre at Monchique (and was probably there whilst we were driving past) – if only we’d have known! 

Scouring the farmlands to the west of Monchique proved fruitless yet again however, and we only managed several Common Kestrels hovering over the fields. Deciding to head back to the previous evenings Iberian Magpie roost just south of Mexilhoeira Grande, we travelled along the dusty back roads in the hopes of locating any Black-shouldered Kites, but despite it being ideal habitat for them, we again drew a blank.
Cattle Egrets - Portugal
Cattle Egrets with cattle!
Iberian Grey Shrike - Portugal
Iberian Grey Shrikes were a common sight along the roads wherever we travelled
Arriving at the Iberian Magpie roost site, there were significantly less birds than the day before despite it being a similar time to yesterday’s bonanza, so we headed further up the track in the search for any that may have been feeding. With the late afternoon sun illuminating the fields and small Portuguese villages, we managed to locate a couple of individuals in the gardens, their bright blue wings standing out at a distance.
Iberian Magpie - Portugal
Iberian Magpie - still couldn't manage a decent shot!
Iberian Magpie - Portugal
Several more male Serins called from the treetops, while Corn Buntings and finches moved through the grass in large flocks. The distinctive call of a Fan-tailed Warbler performing its display flight tested our spotting skills once it returned back on to the ground, and we eventually located this skulking species at the base of a grass tussock, giving relatively good views of what is often an incredibly elusive bird on the deck. 

Turning a bend, I immediately locked on to a medium sized raptor hovering in a field to our left. Too big to be a Kestrel, I was confident we had finally found our target, and sure enough, getting out of the car to get a closer look revealed the ghostly figure of a magnificent Black-shouldered Kite. Hovering next to the road and on the lookout for prey, we both got excellent views of this most beautiful of raptors, the pale white underside and black wing patches clear to see in the perfect evening sunlight after what must have been miles and miles of driving by Alex. 
Black-shouldered Kite - Portugal
Black-shouldered Kite - my favourite bird of the trip
Black-shouldered Kite - Portugal
Whilst the Kite had two admirers in the form of me and Alex, a local Kestrel had other ideas, and immediately took issue with this graceful raptor. Proceeding to harass it, the two bombed through the fields at speed in an aerial display of cat and mouse. At one point, the Kite attempted to land on a post, but the persistent Kestrel was having none of it, instead forcing the larger Kite to move on. 
Black-shouldered Kite - Portugal
Black-shouldered Kite - Portugal
Turning the car around we tried to relocate it, scanning the fields for any flashes of white. With no sign, Alex suddenly banged on the car and pointed up – the Kite was powering directly over our heads. Getting amazing views as this elegant raptor flew just a few metres above, we could even make out the shining scarlet eye as it passed overhead, flying strongly in the direction of the Iberian Magpie roost and disappearing over the road. An incredible experience and most definitely my bird of the trip.
Black-shouldered Kite - Portugal
The Black-shouldered Kite hovering
With the Iberian Magpies not arriving in any good numbers and the light now starting to fade once again, we decided to head back to our hotel in Lagos, where after perhaps the most unappetising ‘pizza’ ever (a mixture of cold slimy ham and cold lumps of wet buffalo mozzarella on bread) we returned to the excellent Japanese restaurant from the previous evening for some much needed delicious breaded chicken and spring rolls, fuelled up ready for our final day exploring Portugal. 
Lagos

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