Back in early October I was asked to head off to Southern Portugal by the good folks at Bird Watching magazine to spend five days in the company of top Portugese birder and guide Joáo Jara and then produce an article about the area for the magazine. The February issue of Bird Watching, on sale now, has a 'Portugal Special' and my small contribution features in amongst several others.
As well as the piece in Bird Watching I've also drawn on my experiences in that trip to write about a fantastic site in the Alentejo region called Noudar Nature Park over at 10000birds. An incredible place on so many levels and not just the birds, if anyone gets the chance to go and stay there do as it is has a tremendously relaxed and peaceful ambience (as well as some fantastic birds).
As I hadn't added anything here about that trip, I though I would post a few images and highlight just a few of the great birds we saw whilst there.
No time to waste, we had barely touched the tarmac in Lisbon and the birding started in earnest. The Tagus Estuary is a hugely important wetland reserve just south of Portugal's capital. We headed for one area of the reserve known as the Giganta Rice Fields to sample what the area had to offer.
These fields teemed with life, some crowded with Greater Flamingoes others with large flocks of waders, Glossy Ibis wandered on the periphery of many flocks, whilst a field corner here and there seemed to be especially attractive to Black-winged Stilts. Armies of White Storks rose and fell from one field to the next.
Amongst the massed ranks of waders, flamingoes and flights of egrets, dotted around the bars of idle agricultural apparatus, sheltering from the glare and heat of the afternoon sun, a small number of Black-winged Kites. We were never close to these attractive raptors but we saw enough at this site and at following stops as we made our way south to ensure that everyone tumbled from the transport every time there was the hint of a sighting.
Our lunch taken in a small crowded restaurant providing fresh locally caught fish and local speciality dishes was somewhat fitting after the hectic vistas of the rice fields. After lunch the inevitable post-lunch lethargy was mirrored at the local saltpans, the causeways crammed with Kentish Plovers and lounging Lesser Black-backed Gulls. The journey south was slow but not from traffic, paced to allow us time to visit several small sites and add much more Mediterranean flavour to the day with Hoopoes gently lifting from dusty tracks and Azure-winged Magpies lurking in shady Eucalyptus. Squacco Herons and some of Portugal's established exotica such as Black-headed Weaver and Yellow-crowned Bishop provided further interest as the sun headed west. Beyond dusk when we arrived at our 'base' for the next few days, the white-washed walls of the town of Mertola lit and reflecting in the Guadiana river below.