On the morning of 29 December 2019, I went to salgados lagoon (Algarve, south Portugal) and found a second-winter ring-billed gull. I took the oportunity to study this plumage, and take some record shots, because it´s the one I´ve seen less.
The records of Ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis) have been decresing during recent years, in Europe in general and in mainland Portugal in particular. There was a recent article on Birdwatch magazine by Josh Jones ("Rise and fall", Birdwatch November 2019, Issue 329), that analysied the declining records in Europe of this iconic Nearctic gull.
I remember, back on the early 2000´s, to go to my local patch in S. Martinho do Porto bay and see eight or nine on the beach. Now, I struggle to observe one a year. I went to ebird to check my last sighting in Portugal of this species and was in 29 January 2019, a first winter in Salgados lagoon, so most likely this is the same bird i saw eleven months ago exactly on the same place.
By late December the south coast of Portugal is swarming with Chiffchaffs (Phylloscopus collybita). Sunny days around a reedbed can be very productive if you are interested in get familiar with plumage variation of these busy birds.
Some birds, with good light and the help of a camera, can be aged by the level of wear on wing feathers, and the presence of different generations. First winter birds will show more abraded flight feathers and usually diferent generations in coverts, being the result of a partial post-juvenile moult.
In the case of the bird in the picture, it´s possible to see that some tertials and the central pair of tail feathers was replaced on the post-juvenile moult. Although, from late December onwards we need to keep in mind that adults and first years usualy do a partial pre-breeding moult, and it could simulate first winter plumage, but this new feathers would be fresh!
This afternoon I went to Lagoa dos Salgados (Silves, Algarve) to log 69 species, including this female Ring-necked duck, two first winter Common gull and, at list, 5 Barn swallows. Interesting enough was the fact of some of this birds were activily moulting mid wing, indicating the possibility of wintering in the area.
You can check the e-bird list here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S62566154
At the beggining of the afternoon of the 21st December the wind was moderately blowing from SW, as a result of a low barometric pressure that was moving towards the Bay of Biscay. When the low pressure hit the Finisterra area, there was a good weather corridor formed between the Portuguese coast and a cold-front. Looking at the weather chart, sitting at my computer, this looked promissing for some seabird movement, forced to move south by the low pressure. Before driving to Peniche, I texted Pedro Ramalho, and we arranged to meet at the usual spot, and share one car.
When we arrived to Cape Carvoeiro (Peniche), we noticed right away some regular Gannet movement, and soon after, the first flock of Black-legged kittiwakes.
With my eye glued to the scope, I noticed this pale shearwater type bird, flying just short form mid-distance. In December a bird with this jizz really stands out, due to the lack of Cory´s shearwaters! Fulmar just came to mind right away: the white underparts, grey upper body and an obvious pale head, were a giveaway. I shouted this bird to Pedro, he picked it up right away, and I jumped into the challeging task of trying to make any kind of media record. Below you can see my poor results of the Fulmar entering the field of view from the low right corner and going out the left corner of the image.
After this distraction we continued our task of tally Kittiwakes, and after one hour we finished with a total of 333! Other highlights included a flock of 6 Northern pintail, and, sadly, very few alcids and scoters.
This was a brief movement, but it´s quite rewarding when one sits at a computer and dares to predict seabird movements, just to find out that it works! But, I must say, most of the time it doesn´t!
I´m not a bird photographer. Having said that, I do take some photos of birds.
I carry binoculars and, the majority of the time, a spotting scope, so, adding a big lens and a DSLR it would be a pain on the neck, literally. When bridge cameras became available I did find those to be perfect for my needs, the portability and the big zoom made this cameras perfect for record shots.
I own a Canon SX50 HS and, if you scroll down my blog, you will find the range of photographs it produced, some with very acceptable results. Recently, I decided to test the video option in very challenging conditions, filming seabirds from land at Cape Carvoeiro. I did film a Great skua moving south, at 50x and 60x. The video was made hand held, so I belieave a tripod with a fluid head could make it even better. I was quite amazed by the capability of this small camera in a overcast day.
If you are interestd in know more about bridge Cameras, and what they can do, check my friend Stephen Ingraham blog - Point & Shoot Nature Photographer .
During the last two and a half days I guided, for Birds & Nature Tours, Geoff (Ornithology professor) and Wendy (Mammalogy professor), from Alabama, USA. Some of the highlights of this winter tour included Great bustard, Common crane, Hoopoe, Iberian imperial eagle, Black-bellied sandgrousse, Greater flamingo, Marsh, Hen and Pallid harrier. Long-eared and Eurasian eagle-owl. Here are some photos of our days out in the field:
For any information about tours in Portugal and Spain, please visit Birds & Nature Tours website - here
Through five days we're having the pleasure of guiding Tim Appleton and Penny Robbinson in the south of Portugal, starting in Lisbon wetlands and exploring the Castro Verde and Mértola semi steppe and rolling hills. Here is a short note of our first day:
We arrived at the north side of Tagus Estuary Nature Reserve (Lisbon, Portugal), under an early morning mist veil. As we drove along the gravel roads, thousands of finches (European goldfinches, Greenfinchs, Linnets, Serins), were feeding along the field edges. Out of the mist, a Stone Curlew flew past the front of the car, to land just a couple dozen meters on the field on the other side. The big yellow gazing eye, was fixed on ours for several minutes until it dissolved back into the mist again. As the sun broke throught the fog, the Black-shoulder kites and Kestrels started their morning hunting activity. The busy, and ubiquitous, Chiffchaffs were a delight to see: hundreds, inspecting every leaf and twig. The pasturelands were also swarning with Meadow pipits, Skylarks and Lapwings, disturbed often by the relentless Hen and Marsh harriers. Being a high-yielding rice production area, the north area of the Tagus Estuary Nature Reserve, by December, has partial flooded stubble rice fields. A fenomenal habitat for a good assortment of species, from Bluethroats to Glossy ibis and a numerous wintering population of White storks. The black lines of Glossy ibis on the horizont was stunning, we watched as they landed, droping erraticly from the sky to creat a dark iridecent carpet.
We stopped and scanned thorougly some rice paddys and noticed the abundance of life, Ringed-plovers, Dunlins, Redshanks, Greenshank, Black-winged stilts, Snipes, Water and Meadow pipits. Suddenly, from a field ahead, two birds flew over us: the first one was an obvious Redshank, but the second one made our hearts beat faster. A snipe like bill, on a greyish body with a well defined triangular rump patch, extending well into the back - A Dowitcher! Unfortunatly the bird did not call and the brief view made it impossible to identify the exact species.
The December blue sky was above us, and the soft autumn light made it perfect for a walk around the EVOA - a birdwatching center, right in the heart of the reserve. With three lagoons, each with a different depth, it is the perfect area to accomodate tired waders and ducks during the estuary hight tide. From the hide we could enjoy the cobalt blue of the Purple swamphens frammed by golden reedbeds. A close scrutinity with the scope revealed several probing Snipes. The biggest lagoon held several thousand Eurasian teals, and we daydreamed of a vertical white line on a drake.
We started driving back to the hotel with the sun sinking behind Lisbon and the imponent Vasco da Gama bridge, the feeling was like emerging from a dream world back into realitty, the busy and rich cultural Lisbon is just right there, so close and yet so far.
If you want to know more about Birds & Nature Tours, please click - here
He began birding at the age of 11 and has never stopped since. His involvement in bird ringing has developed over the years and he has a special interest in moult in passerines. He currently works as a bird guide for Birds & Nature Tours in Portugal and Spain.
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