Sunday, July 29, 2007

Dragonflies and Damselflies of the Algarve, Portugal 18-26 July 2007

The Dragonflies and Damsleflies of the Algarve, Portugal 18-26 July 2007, M.J.McGill
Small Pincertail, Ribera de Boina
During a 8 day family trip to the Western Algarve based in Alvor I managed to spend some time searching for dragonflies and damselflies. Before the trip I tried various searches to source info on odonata in this area but did not come up with much. I hope this report helps any future searchers.

I visited a number of sites just using my hunches and studying maps, and by arming myself with Nikon Coolpix 995 and 4500 plus Leica 32x 62 scope and Swarovski binoculars. For dragonfly i.d the Swarovski scopes and bins are the closest focussing. By taking images of the subjects I tried to i.d them without capture, inevitably a few got away but I did very well using this method. Many of the ribeiras were completely dried up but I found a few sites that were very good with good water quality. Dijksrta and Lewingtons Dragonflies of Britain and Europe made all i.d possible.

Broad or Scarlet Darter, Ribera de Boina

20, 22 and 25 July 2007 I visited the small clear stream of Ribera de Boina. A short twenty minute debut at midday here was great as there were so many species on show. The subsequent visits were around 1400-1600 and 1500-1600 and the temperature was much hotter. Many species were sheltering in shade. The water quality appeared to be good as found Water Crowfoot and a Water Vole. I noted 2-3 Red-veined Darter, 3 Scarlet Darter, 30 Epaulet Skimmer, 4 Southern Skimmer, Small Pincertail, 40 Copper Demoiselle and the highlight was watching a Western Spectre (Dusk Hawker) hunting along the shady stream by quartering and looking under the banks for prey. This beast was too quick to get any images of. The productive stretch was between KM markers 53 and 55 on the N266 S of Barracao. I also got images of what appears to be a Scarce Chaser and a damselfly sp that I have yet to i.d.

Male Copper Demoiselle displaying, Ribera de Boina
I checked a few other sites, one was further downstream at the bridge. This road leads west from the N266 to Casas Velhas?. More Copper Demoiselle (20) and both Red-veined (2) and Broad Darters (10) were noted as well as a few Epaulet Skimmers. It is the first left when heading N on the N266 after the roundabout that also offers the exit for Silves N124.

Epaulet Skimmer, Ribera de Boina

Mating Epaulet Skimmers, Ribera de Boina
Southern Skimmer, Ribera de Boina

24 and 25 July 2007 The salt marshes and lagoon at the Abicada/Alvor area produced at least 10 and 20 Red-veined Darters on each visit.

Male Red-veined Darter, Abicada lagoon

25 July 2007 Only 30 minutes spent in the stream below the dam (Barragem de Arade) near Silves proved very productive. On arrival a hawker sp was on the wing but dissapeared by the time I parked. I found a male Emperor, 2-3 Small Red Damselfy, an Iberian Bluetail a few male Keeled Skimmers.

Iberian Bluetail, Barragem de Arade Male Keeled Skimmer, Barragem de Arade

26 July 2007 I visited the Quinta de Lago area and headed to a lake that I have birded at a few times before. I only had an hour before catching my flight home but managed to find a Black Pennant, Broad (Scarlet Darters), a hawker sp, Iberian Bluetail, a male Black-tailed Skimmer.

Black Pennant look for the large head, equals sign pterostigma and broad hindwing.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Anser Birding Extremedura 5-11 June 2007 trip report

Extremadura, Spain
June 5 - 11 2007
Lead Guide - James Lees
Co-Guide - Neil Smart

Monfragüe National Park

5 and 6 June
We landed in Madrid after an early morning flight on 5th, transferred to our nine-seat bus and stayed overnight ready for the morning. On the 6th we collected everyone and headed for Extremadura which was just under a three hour drive. Arriving at mid day, we allowed ourselves time to settle into the wonderful hotel near the National park and enjoyed our first taste of Spanish bocadillos. After lunch we headed straight out for the remainder of the day.

This first afternoon was spent in the world-renowned and stunningly beautiful Monfragüe National Park. En route, the group got their first views of Azure-winged Magpies and the very numerous Crested Larks. The group was dazzled by the sheer number of birds and found it very difficult to choose one to look at for any length of time. We spent the remainder of the afternoon enjoying the heat and watching 350 Griffon Vultures cruise over the spectacular scenery.

Also seen: 6 Monk Vultures, 2 Booted Eagles, 1 Short-toed Eagle, Black Stork, Southern Grey Shrike, 25 Woodchat Shrikes, 2 Hawfinches, Rock Bunting, Cirl Bunting, 15 Bee-eaters, 3 Alpine Swifts, 30 Crag Martins, 10 Red-rumped Swallows, 8 Blue Rock Thrushes, 12 Azure-winged Magpies and a single Blackcap. After a great afternoon of birding we retired to the hotel and enjoyed some more traditional Spanish food.
Griffon Vulture, Monfragüe J.S.Lees

7 June
An early morning visit to the Cerralbos Plains near Trujillo produced a stunning sunrise and a great selection of birds. A flock of 11 male Great Bustards was good enough but when they began displaying it was a real treat. In the same field a male Little Bustard stood on a boulder displaying his puffed-out neck across the plains. Three different female Great Bustards all had fairly small juveniles with them in the nearby fields. One field alone had over 100 Black Kites sat on the floor and at least 80 White Storks. We were then treated to good views of 7 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and 7 Hoopoes. Also seen here: 6 Southern Grey Shrikes, 15 Calandra Larks, a female Montague’s Harrier and a calling Quail.

After breakfast we headed towards the Sierra De La Ortijuela Mountains. En route we had cracking views of a male Black-eared Wheatear perched on the roadside. In the Mountains we had at least 10 Monk Vultures and very close views of 6 Egyptian Vultures. We enjoyed some quite spectacular views and managed to add Subalpine Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Serin, Raven and Short-toed Treecreeper to the trip list.

The Mountains now behind us, we headed back on to the lowlands and soon came across a stunning roadside Roller. Upon leaving the main road we began to see many Azure-winged Magpies and some very close White Storks on their nests. To everyone’s delight, there was an even closer Roller and several Zitting Cisticolas feeding close to the track. After these wonderful birds came what had to be bird sighting of the day - a superb view of an adult Short-toed Eagle perched on a fence!

Roller Cjo de Hito J.S.Lees

We later arrived at Cjo de Hito and were very pleased to see that the farmers had flooded the area, creating an oasis for birds. Here we had great looks at 2 Whiskered Terns, 6 Black Terns, 2 Gull-billed Terns and 3 Collared Pratincoles hawking over the floods. At least 100 Black-winged Stilts, 1 Spoonbill, 30 Cattle Egrets, 100 White Storks, 3 Moorhens, 1 Green Sandpiper, 10 Yellow-legged Gulls and lots of Black-headed Gulls fed on the floods. In the trees behind us we had good looks at 5 Little Owls and 2 Marsh and a single Montagu’s Harrier floating over. Two Great Reed Warblers eventually showed very well, although we had all enjoyed listening to their loud song during the wait. We saw at least 14 more Rollers all feeding close to the track and nesting on the nearby pylons.

The route home took us across the Campo Lugar plains where we had 6 Great Bustards and a Marsh Harrier. And after a full days birding in the sun we enjoyed sitting outside the hotel with a nice cold beer and some olives. But even as we sat here we noted 4 Pallid Swifts amongst the nesting Common Swifts, and 2 Booted Eagles, 2 Red Kites, 1 Black kite and 6 Griffon Vultures flew over.

Talavan Plains - 8 June
En route we stopped for our picnic breakfast and watched two adult Spanish Imperial Eagles guarding their two nearly fully grown young on a nest. And we had very close views of roosting Griffon Vultures on the roadside pylons. Finally arriving on the plains, we were instantly greeted by one of many very showy Calandra Larks. Also present were 2 Short-toed Larks, 15 Bee-eaters and a Hoopoe on the roadside and a small pool held a Green Sandpiper and a Little-ringed Plover. We then had a stunning view of 2 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse close to the roadside. Amazingly enough, a European Tree Frog was found hopping around the ditch at the same location!

Further down the road we came across a Bee-eater colony and spent some time observing these fantastic birds. As well as the colourful Bee-eaters, we spotted a large Schreiber’s Green Lizard sunning itself by one of the Bee-eater’s nests and a flock of 150 Spanish Sparrows. These little sparrows were fun to watch while they went about their daily business. And finally, what turned out to be “bird of the trip”, we spotted a female Great Bustard who stood for nearly 30 minutes on top of a close ridge. This magnificent bird gave superb views through the telescopes and certainly left its mark on the group.

Great Bustard Talavan J.S.Lees

We spent most of the afternoon exploring the classic Spanish town of Trujillo. Of course, we still saw plenty of birds from the outdoor café tables including: 50 Lesser Kestrels, 10 Crag Martins, 4 Red-rumped Swallows, 8 Serins and 40 White Storks.
Most of the group decided to spend the rest of the late afternoon relaxing at the hotel. However, I went at on a recce to Casas de Miravete where I had some fine views of at least 5 Golden Orioles out in the open. Also at this location: a male Melodious Warbler showed well singing from an isolated bush, as did 6 Dartford Warblers and 10 Sardinian Warblers, 2 Woodlarks, 2 Thekla Larks, 2 Nightingales, 3 Hoopoes, 8 Stonechats, 1 Rock Sparrow, 50 Red-rumped Swallows and a Monk Vulture.

After dinner we spent an hour in the fields just behind the hotel where we heard 2 Red-necked Nightjars and a Scops Owl before darkness finally settled.

Monfragüe National Park - 9 June
Our day began with a picnic breakfast whilst watching Griffon, Monk and Egyptian Vultures roosting on the cliffs. While we waited for them to fly, we were very happy to watch 2 White-rumped swifts feeding in front of us with many House Martins, Crag Martins and Red-rumped Swallows. After spending good time watching these birds, we climbed up towards the castle and were rewarded with a Nuthatch and 20 Hawfinches feeding at close range on the path much to the delight of the group. From the castle we had good looks at Subalpine Warblers and Red-rumped Swallow. The real excitement was however the abundance of lizards including a stunning bright green Oscillated Lizard that showed very well while sunning itself. We also saw a Moorish Gecko and Spanish Wall Lizards. We then stopped at the large road bridge and had great views of Rock Sparrows and Alpine swifts.

During one of our daily coffee stops we managed to see 3 types of Vultures and a possible Bonelli’s Eagle. A small pond near the coffee house had many Iberian Pool Frogs and European Pond Terrapins and many Dragonflies. We then carried on to some higher and more open habitat where we had a pair of Black-eared Wheatears, 6 Thekla Larks and 4 Wood Larks. We also had some very close looks at 4 Red Deer and a flock of 7 Egyptian Vultures and were seen play- fighting in the air right over our heads. Further down the road, at Mirador de la Trajadilla, it was our privilege to see right down into a Black Kites nest when one of the adults was feeding two small fluffy young. Along with the Black Kite nest, this area also had several Griffon Vulture nests.

Our next stop was Portilla del tie`tar which was another good location to watch Griffon Vulture feeding young and flying over our heads. An adult Spanish Imperial Eagle also gave good flight views for 5 minutes and to the group’s delight a Black Stork flew by and began to thermal above us for some time.

We also saw: Great-spotted Woodpeckers, Cettis Warbler, Nightingale, Hoopoe, Bee-eaters, Dartford Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Serins, Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Bunting, Cirl Bunting, Black Redstart, Mistle thrush, Grey wagtail, Stonechat, Woodchat Shrikes, Southern Grey Shrikes, Azure-winged Magpies, Jays, Spotless Starlings, Linnet, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Red-legged Partridge, Grey Heron, Cattle Egrets, Mallard, White Storks, Booted Eagles, Short-toed Eagles, Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Lesser Kestrel, and Raven.

After a full day in the National park we returned to our Hotel and enjoyed another pleasant evening birding from the bar and restaurant!!

Casas de Miravete- 10 June
After breakfast at the Hotel we returned to an area near Casas de Miravete and relocated the Melodious Warbler. The Warbler sang briefly before feeding over a large area of bright yellow and beautifully fragrant Spanish Broom. We also had a brief Orphean Warbler and at least 3 Dartford Warblers. Our excellent run of Egyptian Vultures also continued with at least another 3 individuals including a juvenile. Two Golden Orioles sang from the Cork Oaks and showed a few times and we had some good views of the ever present Woodchat Shrikes. On the Reptile front, a Spiny-footed Lizard was very obliging as it sunned itself under a Spanish Broom.

Returning to the Hotel for lunch, we sat outside and enjoyed some fine local food and some good lunch-time birding with Black Stork, White Storks, Griffon Vultures, Monk Vulture, Booted Eagle, Short-toed Eagle and Pallid Swifts all flying over the table! We then headed off on our final afternoon of birding. This time we headed to an area of plains just North West of Trujillo called Santa Marta de Magasca. Here we enjoyed very close views of Calandra Larks, Hoopoes and Southern Grey Shrikes on the roadsides. At one stop, there were 6 Montague’s Harriers in the same field including two stunning males. A little further down the road a stack of 60 Griffon Vultures, 1 Monk Vulture, 1 Red Kite and at least 70 Black Kites were a very welcome site.

While in this area we stopped by an abandoned building in the middle of nowhere. On this one building alone there was a staggering 37 nesting pairs of White Storks! The roof was an absolute hubbub of activity and everywhere you looked storks were greeting each other and going about their daily lives. After leaving the storks, we encountered our first and only Snake of the trip as it made quick dash across the road and was visible for mere seconds. In the Cork Oak/Olive groves we had plenty of Azure-winged Magpies and a nice flock of 100 Spanish Sparrows and a single red-legged Partridge. The drive back to the Hotel added another Black Stork, 4 Ravens and a Booted Eagle.

The final evening was spent enjoying the local food and wine while discussing what was “bird of the trip”. This was a hard choice for everyone as we had seen so many excellent birds. To make things even more difficult, the views we did have were all well beyond our expectations. After creating a ‘short list’, (with great difficulty), the unanimous winner was the female Great Bustard at Talavan because it showed very well and it represented the trip perfectly. The best ‘bird spot’ of the week was awarded to Sarah who spotted the brilliant Pin-tailed Sandgrouse in amongst the tall grass and flowers of the plains. The whole trip was accompanied by very pleasant weather during the week with plenty of sun. In total, 105 species of bird were recorded on this thoroughly enjoyable trip.

Egyptian Vultures, Monfrague NP J.S.Lees