Saturday, 18 October 2014

Portugal - Tagus Estuary and Castro Verde

A brief respite from desk-based work and the boys football this week with a couple of days in the field on a press trip based in Lisbon, Portugal and aimed at exploring areas to the south around the Tagus Estuary and Castro Verde. Both areas I have visited before but a great opportunity in the company of João Jara from Birds and Nature Tours Portugal to explore these great habitats in excellent company. With only one other participant Niall Hatch from Birdwatch Ireland we birded at a comfortable and relaxed pace and some great birds with stunning backdrops. This isn't a 'full' trip report but hopefully provides a flavour of what can be achieved in a couple of days from a city centre hotel with fairly minimum driving.

Day 1 Tagus Estuary

A mere twenty minutes from the hustle and bustle of Portugal's capital across the huge Vasco de Gama bridge  and you're into a different world of saltpans and big estuary landscapes. Huge numbers of Greater Flamingo peppered with small flocks of Spoonbills and the odd Great White Egret.  Highlights of the day included the Marsh Sandpiper that has been around a few days, several Black-winged Kites, distant views of two Bonelli's Eagles and a distant soaring Black Stork. Superb close-encounter with a Squacco Heron, two adult Night Herons and rather good views of two or three male Yellow-crowned Bishops. Thousands of commoner species, Cirl Bunting, Hen Harrier, Ospreys and Marsh Harriers in abundance, Hoopoe, Wood Sandpipers made up the quality end of close to 100 species of bird. Egyptian Mongoose was a bonus mammal tick!

Day 2 Castro Verde

First stop of the morning after the cloud of Corn Buntings had cleared produced 13 Great Bustards in a typically high vista, quickly followed by a couple of well-hidden Stone-curlews. A little further on we flushed a roadside Little Bustard that flew a short distance before pitching in and sitting tight for a while, amazingly while scanning for the Little Bustard I picked up three adult Dotterel  just 20m away well camouflaged against the stony steppe. As we enjoyed great views of the Dotterel, we were periodically entertained with Black-bellied Sandgrouse hurtling through the nearby skies. A few metres further on and our attention was grabbed by a 100+ flock of Calandra Larks filling the nearby hillside.
Further on up the road, not too far from one of Portugal's best Lesser Kestrel colonies, as the morning warmed we had a steady procession of impressive raptors kicked off with an Iberian Imperial Eagle on the deck, quickly followed by an approaching Black Vulture that was shadowed by three Griffon Vultures. By far the highlight of the day was an incredible sequence of hare-hunting Bonelli's Eagles.

After the obligatory 'Black Pig' lunch we headed for the Guadiana Valley and spent the afternoon relishing a further three Iberian Imperial Eagles and four Golden Eagles as well as another (juvenile) Bonelli's Eagle and a cracking kettle of over 50 Griffons. Close views of singing Thekla Larks and a couple of Ferruginous Ducks added variety to the day's haul.

Friday morning back on the Tagus was quiet by comparison with a couple of Garganey the best of the birds, though the sight of Lesser Black-backed Gulls lining the road to devour passing Louisiana Crayfish was a memory that will live long.

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