Friday, 2 January 2015

Portugal at Christmas


I was fortunate that over the Christmas period there was an opportunity for some birding in the Algarve region of Portugal, co-leading a tour on behalf of Naturetrek. This was the first time I had been away at Christmas and our base was the south-west coastal 'town' of Sagres, a few miles east of Cape St Vincent. The week-long trip included trips to coastal lagoons and marshes, beaches, scrubby plains, woodland, the highest peak in the Algarve and the rolling fields and plateau of the Castro Verde district. Some 134 species of birds were observed and we even managed to find 8 species of butterfly on the wing! We were very fortunate with the weather as it was sunny every day and we experienced no meaningful rain, despite December supposedly being about the wettest month in this part of Portugal. 

Wintering warblers in good numbers included Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Fan-tailed Warbler, Cetti's and Sardinian and we saw Dartford Warbler too. Raptors were relatively few but we saw Hen Harrier, Marsh Harrier, Red Kite, Peregrine and Black-winged Kite among the more common Kestrels and Common Buzzards. Stonechats were particularly common and Black Redstarts numerous, and it is likely that many of the finches, common warblers and waders had at some stage moved down from the UK and other countries north of Portugal.

Regional specialities are few but we saw Audouin's Gull, Little Bustard, Great Bustard, Azure-winged Magpie, Richard's Pipit, Spotless Starling, Crag Martin and Purple Swamp-hen.

With the pleasant temperatures, stunning coasts, dramatic sunrises and sunsets, good transport infrastructure and quiet, laid-back culture admixed with a pride for producing excellent food from home produce and the sea, it's no wonder that many people from Europe head for the south of Portugal in the winter.

Adeus and Obrigado!

Neil M

Purple Swamp-hen

Approaching sunset, Cape St
Vincent, Portugal.
Courtesy of Barbara Lovell

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