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A week in Portugal.

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Old Monday 14th August 2006, 08:56   #1
John Butler
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Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Doñana, Spain
Posts: 432
A week in Portugal.

A week in Portugal. August 5th - 12th.

Having completed a very busy season with my guided birding tour business, my wife Rebecca, and I, booked a three day stay at the Casa Rosa at Moncarapacho, near Faro in Portugal, mainly for a relaxing rest, but also to check out some of the local birding sites.

I had heard quite a bit about the Casa Rosa and the owners, Roger and Hanny, and we were very impressed by the friendly welcome we received when we arrived at 12.30 hrs on Saturday. We were shown to our apartment, which was large, comfortable, airy and fully equipped for self-catering , although we ate Hanny´s fabulous meals each evening. After quickly unpacking, we changed into our bathing gear and spent 4 hours lazing in the sun and enjoying the benefits of the excellent swimming pool.

As this was the hottest time of the year, we waited until 17.30 before venturing out to do a little birding. A 10 minute drive got us to the town of Fuseta, on the bank of the Ría Formosa. It was low tide and we parked just beside the river and salinas to the east of the town. In just 25 minutes we recorded B-headed, Y-legged and LBB Gulls, Little Terns, Whiskered Terns, Whimbrels, Turnstones, Dunlins, Sanderlings, Redshanks, Avocets, Black-winged Stilts, Grey Plovers, Ringed Plovers, Black-tailed Godwits, Grey Herons, Little Egrets, White Storks, Crested Larks, Bee-eaters, Zitting Cisticolas, Spotless Starlings, Pallid Swifts, House Martins and Barn Swallows. The temperature was still 35ºC (95ºF) so we drove back to the Casa Rosa for a final swim before our evening meal at 19.30 hrs, stopping on the way for some wine, bacardi and other essential liquids to go with the meal which was served by Hanny on the terrace outside of the bistro, where we were joined by 7 other guests. The food this night (and every other night) was of a very high quality and the combination of good food, drink and casual, friendly conversation with Roger, Hanny and the other guests, convinced us that we wanted to stay for the whole week, not just the for three nights we had originally planned. Luckily, our apartment was available until the 12th and we made the decision to stay.

Early on Sunday morning, we took a 45 minute walk along the donkey track that starts from just outside the Casa Rosa. Several bird species were seen, but the only ones of note were Common Kestrels and a pair of Orphean Warblers. We then drove the 7 kms to the Ría Formosa Nature Park, intending to spend just an hour looking around the site before the heat increased. However, there were so many birds present that we ended up spending three hours there, using the two bird hides and numerous stone pine trees for shade.

At the salinas, we saw Little-ringed Plovers, Dunlins, Redshanks, Common Sandpipers, Crested Larks, Sardinian Warblers, House Sparrows, Bee-eaters and Hoopoes.

Two hundred metres away, in the lagoons beside the ancient Tide-mill there were White Storks, Little and Cattle Egrets, 500+ Black-tailed Godwits, 100´s of Dunlins, Avocets, Greenshanks, Black-winged Stilts, Ruff, Sanderlings, Red Knots, Green Sandpipers, Gull-billed Terns, Little Stints and Curlew Sandpipers.

We moved on to the reed-fringed lake and from the shelter of the bird hide we spotted Grey, Purple and Black-crowned Night Herons, Purple Swamp-hens, Moorhens, Coots, Little Grebes, Mallards, Gadwalls and Little Terns.

In the forested and scrub areas there were Southern Grey and Woodchat Shrikes, Corn Buntings, Great and Blue Tits, Melodious Warblers, Zitting Cisticolas, Goldfinches, Tree Sparrows and Blackbirds.

We had lunch at a nearby restaurant and then spent the rest of the day beside the pool at the Casa Rosa, where a Short-toed Eagle, Buzzards, Iberian (Azure-winged) Magpies, Bee-eaters, Hoopoes, Little Owls, Sardinian Warblers, Collared Doves, Common Swifts, House Martins, Barn Swallows and Serins were recorded.

On Monday, we made an early start and drove the 140 kms to Cabo Sáo Vicente (1 hour 25 minutes), which is the most westerly point of mainland Europe. As we got out of the car, I immediately noticed a large flock of Pallid Swifts circling over the lighthouse. Even before using the binoculars I could make out at least three Alpine Swifts in amongst the flock. From the point, we could see the three common species of gulls, Yellow-legged, Black-headed and LBB´s out at sea and a few Sandwich Terns passed along the coastline below us.

We then took a rather bumpy road towards Vale do Bispo, spotting two Red-billed Choughs, Stonechats, Crested and Thekla Larks, several sizeable flocks of Greater Short-toed Larks, Hoopoes, Kestrels, Bee-eaters, Melodious Warblers, Corn Buntings, Red-rumped Swallows and both Southern Grey and Woodchat Shrikes.

On the Tuesday, we spent the whole day either sightseeing or lazing beside the pool. During our evening meal we were treated to a fly-over by one of the Red-necked Nightjars that breed near the Casa Rosa . Nightjars were seen on four of the evenings as we ate our meals or sat around talking afterwards. At least one (often two) Little Owls were seen every night. Both Barn and Tawny Owls were heard calling close by on several evenings, but went unseen.

Early on Wednesday morning, Rebecca and I headed back to Fuseta and drove right in to the salinas and mudflats a kilometre to the west of the town. Once more, we found many wader species, which included Kentish Plovers, Little-ringed Plovers, Whimbrels, Green, Common and Curlew Sandpipers, Greenshanks, Redshanks, Turnstones and Sanderlings. We also had very close-up views of a Kingfisher and a flock of Sand Martins.

Next on the itinerary were the Ría Formosa and the salinas just behind Faro airport. Thousands of birds were seen, all of which we had previously recorded, but the highlight was a female Kentish Plover with three young chicks that were probably only a few days old. We were able to get the car to within a few metres of the chicks, who stood very still whilst the mother went into her “broken wing” act to try to lure us away from her brood. Gripping stuff for Rebecca, who had not seen this behaviour before.

The last site on our list was the Ría Formosa at Quinta do Lago and the golf course. All of the usual waders were seen along the mudflats, along with a good number of Spoonbills and Greater Flamingos, but we also found a single Caspian Tern. From the elevated bird hide that overlooks the reedy lagoon on the golf course, we saw a Little Bittern, a Water Rail, Great Crested Grebes, a Black-headed Grebe, Glossy Ibis, Purple Swamp-hens, Shovelers, Common and Red-crested Pochards, Chiffchaffs, Yellow Wagtails, Long-tailed Tits and a Cetti´s Warbler.

On the way back to Faro, we drove down the road to Ludo and at the bridge where the ancient Arab road crosses over, we saw a Golden Oriole, Iberian Magpies, Black-billed Magpies, Greenfinches, a Spotted Flycatcher and a Great Spotted Cuckoo.

Thursday and Friday were non-birding days, spent on the island beach just across the river from Fuseta, just soaking up the sun and swimming in the cool Atlantic Ocean. Before setting off on Thursday morning, we saw a Crested Tit in a pine tree just outside our apartment window. Numerous gulls, terns and waders were seen at the beach, but the only new birds we saw were a flock of eleven Oystercatchers.

We left Casa Rosa on Saturday morning and headed back to Spain, stopping on the way at the Sapal nature reserve at Castro Marim. Here there were Greater Flamingos, White Storks, Grey Herons, Spoonbills, Avocets, Black-winged Stilts, Black-tailed Godwits, Whimbrels, Redshanks, Dunlins, Sanderlings, Common, Green and Curlew Sandpipers, Ringed, Little-ringed and Kentish Plovers, Woodchat Shrikes, Stonechats, Zitting Cisticolas, Pallid Swifts, Barn Swallows, a Booted Eagle and a Marsh Harrier

Although this was mid-summer, with temperatures regularly over 100ºF, there were plenty of bird species to be seen, and in good numbers. This was not planned as a birding holiday and our birding was confined to a total of about twelve hours, spread over four days and yet we still managed to record 93 species.

The Casa Rosa lived up to everything we had heard about it and had anticipated it to be. The accommodation is first class, the food is excellent, the location is very quiet and peaceful, the hosts are friendly and very helpful and the large gardens are a haven for many birds. Daily visitors (well seen) at the casa were Iberian Magpies, Hoopoes, Bee-eaters, Sardinian Warblers, Red-necked Nightjars, Little Owls, Serins, Collared Doves, Blackbirds, Spotless Starlings, swifts, swallows and martins.
If you are visiting Portugal for a birding holiday, you could not find a better spot to base yourself and we strongly recommend it.

All of the sites mentioned, plus numerous others in the Algarve, and the inland sites of Castro Verde, Mertola and the steppe lands of the Alentejo region (where Great and Little Bustards, Pin-tailed and Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Black-shouldered Kites, Lesser Kestrels, Montagu´s and Hen Harriers, Rollers, Calandra Larks and various vultures and eagles can be found) feature in our bird tours to Portugal. Hopefully, from now on (depending on availability), the Casa Rosa will be our base in that country for our two-centered Doñana/Portugal package tours.

John and Rebecca Butler
Doñana Bird Tours.
Regards from Doñana.


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Old Monday 14th August 2006, 11:05   #2
Steve Lister
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A great advert for Casa Rosa John. Strangely enough I had made enquiries and got their brochure a couple of weeks ago but then decided to got to Turkey!

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Old Monday 14th August 2006, 21:53   #3
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Sounds like a great trip, it is a great area to bird.

Best wishes

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Old Tuesday 15th August 2006, 09:51   #4
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Agreed !

Invaluable updates in your thread John.

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