Portugal 16th to 19th of December 2003

Couple of days in Portugal 16.-19.12.2003

On 16th of December 2003 alarm woke us up 3:50 a.m. We had came couple of days earlier to Janne’s parents to Kirkkonummi to wait our 4.5 months long birding trip.
4.30 a.m. Janne’s father drove us to Helsinki-Vantaa airport and couple of hours later we were in KLM plane and on our way to Amsterdam.

08.15. a.m. (local time) we landed at Amsterdam huge airfield which was in the middle of hundreds of greenhouses. While waiting for our next flight to Lisbon, we saw over the airfield some geese flying; couple of Cormorants, 100 migrating Lapwings and some Carrion Crows. After one hours wait we were again in KLM plane. This flight wasn’t a routine flight; one man got serious heart-problems, so we had to land to Paris. The landing to the Paris airfield was interesting because the plane really stopped as fast as possible! The plane went also directly next to terminal and soon we had doctor and nurses in our plane. Amyway it took at least 30 minutes before the patient was moved. It was okay for us to visit also in France. We managed to get some France-ticks and to see Eiffel-tower too.

Couple of hours late 1.55 p.m. (local time), we landed at Lisbon airfield, where we managed to find our luggage (everything expensive was with us in plane). In the hall there was a car rental officer still waiting far us. So soon we had our small Renault Micra (61€/4 days, full insurance). We still checked our next flights to Cap Verde in TACV office. And luckily so, because one of our flights had been changed 10 hours earlier.

Towards Castro Verde

Soon we were driving in a horrible traffic in Lisbon trying to find the way out of the city. Finally we found a huge A2-road, and we started to drive south.
Luckily we noticed that we were almost out of fuel, so we stopped to get gas. After couple of minutes wondering we realized we had to pay the gas first. 40 Euros was little bit too much. We also ate at McDonald’s and it was the first time waitresses couldn’t speak English in McDonald’s.

A2-road was really huge! Luckily Janne realized to stay on the middle lines, so it was easier to stay on the road. Faster cars also could pass us easily.
Of course we couldn’t se lots of birds along this road. Black Kite, Cattle Egret, White Storks ad Carrion Crows were seen anyway.

The dusk came early. It was quite cold – only 12 degrees. We drove couple of hundred of kilometers before we turned away from A2.

When we turned away from A2 we had to pay 11.30€. We continued towards Castro Verde. On 7.00 p.m. we found the only hotel of Castro Verde city. Apart Hotel do Castro (52,35€/2 persons room) was really comfortable. The garden was great so only bad thing was the price. We felt as sleep soon and started to dream about next days birding.

On Castro Verde Bustard areas

We wake about 5.30 a.m. After all we had to wait more than an hour before the sun rised. We were waiting for a dawn right outside the Castro Verde city. Right away outside the city there was beautiful farming landscapes, and lots of birds. We found already early Little Owl and saw lots of Cattle and Little Egrets flying. Meadow Pipits, Skylarks, Gold Finches, Corn Buntings and Stone Chats were absolutely everywhere! Crested Larks were running along the roads, fields were full of Lapwings and big flocks of Golden Plovers. Feral Pigeons and Stock Doves were also common like Kestrels and Southern Grey Shrikes too. Starlings which also were common weren’t normal ones but Spotless Starlings.

The best observations during the early morning were: Black-shouldered Kite, some Fan-tailed Warblers, a calling Stone Curlew, couple of Red Kites and a flock of 20 Azure Magpies – finally a lifer!

While we were driving along the roads in the middle of fields we finally arrived to the places which were told to be the places to find Great Bustards. And they really looked like the places for that bird. We had some instructions taken from the internet which helped us to find a small sandy road that turned to the fields. We drove only less than kilometre and stopped to check the area. Hanna was checking the huge area with telescope and she found a Great Bustard standing on a hill really far from us. We decided to drive closer but then we saw the same bird flying even further. The flight of this bird was extremely heavy!

Anyway we continued further that sandy road which became to come more and more muddy all the time. We managed to survive the first bad places easily, but second one was too much! Our car dropped to mud and got stuck! We were totally stuck in the middle of nowhere! We tried to dig the car even with bare hands but it didn’t help at all.

Hanna was going to go to ask help from the farm that we had passed, when we saw 4-wheel drive driving towards us. We had amazing luck once again; this driver was a man who studied Great Bustards. He had seen that we were in troubles and came help us! Soon we were back on the road again and we drove directly back to the main road. This man also told us that he had seen only one Great Bustard during the day even he had checked all the best places. He also told that it had been really rainy so it wasn’t very clever to leave the main road. He had been stuck several times with his car too! So we had been pretty lucky, we had seen enough Great Bustards to get a lifer! This man – Pedro – gave us nice feathers of Great Bustard, before we said goodbye and continued birding.

It starts to blow – we’ll keep on going

We kept on going along the asphalted road again. Because all the areas seemed to be private it was pretty frustrating to do birding only along the roads. We did see some birds again: flocks of Red-legged Partridges from the fields, Yellow Serins, a Hawfinch and Black Redstarts from the villages. White Storks were breeding on all poles, Common Buzzards and many passerines like Chaffinches, Linnets, Blackcaps and some Sardinian Warblers were seen. Some other new birds in the country were Great Spotted Woodpecker, Cormorant and some ducks including Gadwalls.

Far in one field we saw a flock of Calandra Larks. We also met Pedro again. He told he hadn’t seen any more Bustards, not even Little Bustards even last time he had seen several big flocks. Maybe the foggy and windy weather made the birds hide.

We still saw Pedro driving away when we found a flock of 10 Little Bustards flying over next field from us. So we had luck again. On the same fields we saw still some Common Buzzards, Red Kites and couple of Hen Harriers.

The weather had turned so bad that we decided to continue our way. So we started to drive towards west and Lake Santa Clara.

We had only big map of whole Portugal and it turned to be really difficult to find our way to Santa Clara. The roads were absolutely weird. We never found some roads and some of the big roads weren’t that big at all. One road was 10 kilometres just a small muddy track but then it became bigger again.

After the dusk we heard some Scops Owls calling in one stop.

After a long drive we finally found big hotel from the middle of nowhere. It wasn’t the hotel we were searching for, but anyway we tried to get a room there. Unfortunately there had been a small fire in very same day, so we couldn’t get a room. Luckily the workers helped us to contact a guesthouse in a village nearby. Now we got the room even much cheaper (30€)! We also found great restaurant where we ate as much as we just could.

To the coast

On the next morning (18th of December) we tried to find the Lake Santa Clara, but we couldn’t find a road there.

Forests were full of birds: Dunnocks, Robins, Chiffchaffs, Wrens, Blackcaps, Sardinian and Dartford Warblers and some Cetti’s Warblers. Also Wood Larks were singing on the hills, and again we saw one migrating Black-shouldered Kite.

We continued driving towards the coast. We had planned to visit a good looking seawatching point in Almograve. And the place wasn’t good looking only on map! The weather was “too good” but while a Black-shouldered Kite was flying above us and Thekla Larks were feeding close to us, we saw lots of seabirds too. We saw hundreds of Gannets and it was nice to see these fabulous birds. Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed Gulls (graelssii) were hundreds. And then we saw difficult ones, Shearwaters. Does Balearic Shearwater have a lot of variation on its colouration or were there also Manx or Yelkoyan Shearwaters? Some Razorbills were also seen.
Next we continued to north and stopped in Porto Covo to watch to the sea again. Now the sea was pretty empty. Local birds were also the same than on last stop, Black-shouldered Kite and Thekla Larks. Only new trip-tick was a Sandwiched Tern.

We continued to north again and tried to get to Sado sanctuary before the dusk. When we reached this big area Hanna found a flock of interesting looking passerines, Waxbills. We drove towards the end of dyne to Troija. On the way we saw amazing good looking wader beaches, Avocets, Godwits, Curlews, Sandpipers, Plovers, Egrets and Ducks were big numbers! Big flocks of Black-necked Grebes were also swimming there. Troija was a disappointment. So we continued closer to the Northern side of Sado, so we could begin there early in the next morning. Finally we found a comfortable hotel from the city of Alcacer do Sal. Recidental Cegonha (50€ room for two + breakfast). Before the dark we still saw a lonely Glossy Ibis flying over the city. Last birds we saw and heard were White Storks which were standing on the roof of church next to our hotel. (Cegonha=White Stork in Portuguese.)

From Sado to Lisbon

Our last morning in Portugal was started by trying to find good birding places in Sado. Oak forests offered us some Short-toed Treecreepers, Nuthatches, Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, Cirl Buntings, Wood Pigeons and so on. It was again frustrating that all the places were fenced so we had to do birding only from the roads. The Sado was a disappointment also because we couldn’t find good places. There were no signs to the birding places at all so we couldn’t find the coast. Or when we found the shore there was a fenced private area. We did see some waders but nothing special. Some Ospreys, Marsh Harriers and Black-shouldered Kites were seen. Azure Magpies were seen in many places but they (like all birds) were extremely shy! There was all the time shotgun shots heard, so no wonder.

When we left Sado, we still had couple of hours before we had to be in Lisbon airport. So we drove to Capo Espichel to do some seawatching. The weather was really calm, but 20 Gannets, some Balearic Shearwaters and one Great Skua were seen. Thekla Larks were again jumping running to us.

In the afternoon we tried to drive to Lisbon. We also stopped couple of times in small wetlands and saw a Kingfisher, some Crag Martins, Moorhens and Coots.

We managed to get to the airport alive (the traffic was again horrible) and even little bit too early. We called to the rental officer and he came to pick up the car soon. Luckily we didn’t have to pay extra even the car was extremely muddy, even the roof!

Rest of the evening we waited for our next flight to Cap Verde. The TACV flight was supposed to leave 8.30 p.m.