Twitching Iberia

Unplanned twitch trip to Portugal and Spain with a quick stop in Amsterdam. In order to get a really high year-tick number, we don’t only have to go bird all the different countries in WP, but we must also do some twitching. So when those rare and lost vagrants appear, we must pick at least some of them. We cannot go for all of them, that is just too much. For example. the other day A White-throated Bee-eater was reported at Maghreb Ornito found at the very same hotel where we stayed in Dakhla, Western Sahara just two weeks ago. We’ll leave that Bee-eater alone.

However, we decided to go for a couple of rare ones reported from the Iberian Peninsula. First things first though, quick stop in Amsterdam for the Baikal Teal. The original plan was to take a cab from the Shiphol airport to the Teal, instead someone got the bright idea to ask our FB group for a friendly Dutch driver, Martin Miske volunteered and drove us to the Teal. We had maybe 4 hours to search for the duck in small ditches. We never found it and our first actual dip was a fact. Boring. Anyways, thanks Martin, and when we meet again, we owe you a beer.

Landed in Lisbon at midnight, and decided to skip sleeping and drove through the night to northern Spain. In the sleepy village San Cibrao in Galicia, a Thayer’s Gull has been wintering for the last couple of years.  We arrived at dawn and started to search for the Gull. It’s non trivial to locate among the thousands of Yellow-legged Gulls in the area. After a couple of hours we started to despair, however we did find an Iceland Gull which is also a good bird.

Iceland Gull
Iceland Gull

After lunch we decided to “return to the crime scene” which is always good tactics. Most sitings of the Thayer’s Gull have been at a fish farm west of San Cibrao. The farm attracts massive amounts of gulls – and then – dang. It’s there.

Thayer's Gull
Thayer’s Gull

It was clearly smaller than the Yellow-legged Gulls, and the legs are bright pink. Thank’s Canada.

Loong drive going all the way to the Algarve coast for an American Herring Gull and a Sora.

Mårten got to know Thijs Valkenburg when working in Portugal a few years ago, Thijs brother Joost Valkenburg grew up in the city where the Sora had been seen for the last couple of weeks and Joost stepped up to help with the Sora, and also show us his childhood local patch. Beautiful little city called Silves on the Arade River. When we’re two hours away from Silves, Joost text us and says that the Sora is still there. The Sora had been seen on the very same short stretch of reeds for several weeks, so it should be easy. We cannot find it though, it’s hiding. Instead we went for lunch and the American Herring Gull in Portimau. That bird – which actually didn’t look to well – was there.

American Herring Gull
American Herring Gull

It feels very good to have this species pocketed. When we visit the Azores later this year, we can then safely ignore all (I guess continuously ongoing) discussions there over gull characteristics. Gulling is hard. Fun, but sometimes it can be overwhelming.

Went back to Silves to search for the Sora. The tide was going up, and the reeds where the Sora had been seen were slowly getting under water. Finally, by pure skill and split vision, Erik sees the bird flying away. Landed on the other shore and we could get pics.

Sora
Sora

Phuwww. With 3 Yanks ready, we decided to go to Castro Verde which is a fantastic spot in southern Portugal. Vast plains with Bustards, Larks and in particular the endangered Spanish Imperial Eagle. I did a real bad choice of just stopping the car on the highway there (bird), and a police car came. Here are the tactics I recommend, just agree and repeat what they say.

Officer: Uhh, you cannot stop here.
Me: No, I know, I cannot stop here.
Officer: What were you thinking stopping here?
Me: Sorry, I wasn’t thinking at all.
Officer: It stupid to stop here, it’s dangerous.
Me: Yes, it’s stupid. We’re idiots.

At this point, officer will shake his head and just go away. It makes s small dent in your pride, but it’s worth it.

Thijs put us in contact with Bruno Herlander Martins who is a biologist at LPN. Bruno works with the protection of the Spanish Imperial Eagle and he told us about the various measures they take to aid the eagles. Ranging from fixing the branches on the eucalyptus trees which are too smooth to hold the nests, to befriending and educating the local farmers. Interesting work indeed.

We met with Bruno at dawn, and went searching for Bustards and Eagles. Before jumping into the car, Bruno asks – Do you guys need Long-eared Owl. Haha, Mårten has been bitching over that bird since we skipped a site in England. It’s one of those birds that are rare – but not sufficiently rare to make a directed effort to find. Bruno had a roosting tree in the village.

Long-eared Owl
Long-eared Owl

Bustards were easy to find, especially Greater. Also plenty of Calandra Larks on the plains. Eventually we also found the Eagle. Thanks Bruno !!

 

Spanish Imperial Eagle (mature male)
Spanish Imperial Eagle (mature male)
Little Bustard
Little Bustard

Ticked a few Category C species on the way back to Lisbon, we even grabbed a “future Cat C” – talk about future proofing the list.

Scaly-breasted Munia
Scaly-breasted Munia
Crested Myna
Crested Myna

We have a whole bunch of Cat-C remaining in Portugal, and we’ll have to spend some more time on those when we revisit in August.

 

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