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.
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I was born in west Portugal and began birding at the age of 11. I have particular interest in bird ringing (banding), moult, seabirds and rarities. Currently I work as a guide for Birds & Nature Tours.
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