Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus 7691Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)

It may not seem like it yet to most but here in Portugal Spring is definitely in the air. The first migrants are in and our Barn Swallows are already nesting in the eves outside the Quinta's dining room, though we daren't let them actually inside yet just in case we have a squall and have to shut the window again. That'll happen towards the end of April and then we'll have their constant chatter over dinner - can't wait!

Something else that we're looking forward to again this year is welcoming the winners of the BTO's Raffle. We offered the BTO a stay at the Quinta as their first prize last year and they managed to rais over £34,000 on the back of it which was, as they say, a Right Royal Result!

The winners were Chris and Derek Allnutt and we had them to stay during June and took them birding a couple of times as part of the prize during one of which we snapped their picture ...

Chris Derek Allnutt 6805

It wasn't the only time we raised funds for education and conservation either, as we repeated our regular offer to the Birdfair of a week's stay at the Quinta for their auction. This has always been a hit, and not just with the auction winners but with us too as the winners are often past guests who return again, and so it was last year with a special couple, Debbie and Ian Durie, returning for some more Birding, Nature Watching and Photography.

Debby Ian Durie 9140063

All in all we helped raise close to £40,000 and were obviously over the moon - so chuffed in fact that we're offering both prizes again and we obviously hope to raise just as much this year. For the Birdfair auction you'll have to wait till August and then bid for the week at Rutland, but the BTO's Raffle is live now so click on this link - you never know, someone's got to win and your ticket price is all going towards the best of causes!

Just to give you a taste of what those four saw last year while they were with us, here're a few pictures in alphabetical order taken while we were out with them during those two weeks 

Black Stork Ciconia nigra 9120353Black Stork (Ciconia nigra)

Black bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles orientalis 7101Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles orientalis)

Black headed Weaver Ploceus melanocephalus 9140142Black-headed Weaver (Ploceus melanocephalus)

Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 6636Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)

Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus 9140074Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus)

Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 8055Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)

Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus 7984Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus)

Northern Gannet Morus bassanus 9110624Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus)

Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus 7449Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)

Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio 9140162Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio)

Red billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 9711Red-billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax)

Rufous Bush Robin Cercotrichas galactotes 7255Rufous Bush Robin (Cercotrichas galactotes)

Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris 7031Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris)

Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis 7201Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis)

But it was only the birds that stopped at Z, for there was lots more - yes, I know we're called "Birding in Portugal", but we're so much more! There were butterflies like this lovely Southern Gatekeeper, (Pyronia cecilia),

Southern Gatekeeper Pyronia cecilia 6905

and Dragonflies like this Southern Skimmer, (Orthetrum brunneum), 

Southern Skimmer Orthetrum brunneum 6913

and to top one of the weeks off, a species that I wish I could find every time we had friends to stay, a Common Chameleon, (Chamaeleo chamaeleon)!

Common Chameleon Chamaeleo chamaeleon 9140240

Yes, it's worth the effort! Go on, click on the link and have a go! We'll look forward to welcoming you!

Sloth 7188

Have you been hanging around wondering whether you've won?

Well, the first prize drawn wasn't claimed so here's the second attempt to give away the 1st prize of a week's free accommodation for two people in a double or twin bedded room anytime during mid season 2019 or 2020 at Quinta do Barranco da Estrada. Congratulations Rachel Cross. 

All you have to do is to contact me through the Quinta's website by 25th September using the same email address you entered at the raffle.

Flying 2321

It seems like only yesterday that we were saying “Até logo” to the last of the bird species on their way south on their Autumn migration, so it’ll surprise you to be told that the first species has already returned north!

The Great Spotted Cuckoo, (Clamator glandarius), is a bird that few people outside the birding fraternity either notice or care about, but it has returned north again and is a spectacular individual, both in looks and behavior. For its migration pattern alone I make no bones about bringing it to a wider audience.

Its call is a harsh and loud cackle heard only during the breeding season, characteristically restricted to ten weeks or so from mid-February to the end of April, though there are records of European individuals breeding twice during the year, once in the Spring in Europe and then again in the Sahel during the Autumn. During the breeding period it is not a particularly difficult bird to see, but at other times of the year, even when present, it is much more secretive, and one can be forgiven for thinking it completely absent.

The core body is approximately the size of a Blackbird and both adults and juveniles are long-tailed with grey, spotted, wings, a white belly and fawn neck and chin, but whereas the adult has a lilac cap and crest, juveniles have a black one as well as sporting a brown panel in the outer wing and a red surround to the eye.

Juvenile Adult Great Spotted Cuckoo small

Juvenile & Adult Great Spotted Cuckoo

It is an insect-eater, specializing in caterpillars and focusing in particular upon long-haired caterpillars which are often toxic and therefore untouched by other insect-eaters. It deals with the toxicity by knocking and scraping off the hairs on a perch before consumption. Mating is a particularly interesting spectacle as this can only take place when the male offers the female a caterpillar offering as in this picture.

Great Spotted Cuckoo 7738

Mating Great Spotted Cuckoos

In the greater scheme of things it is not a rare bird at all, though it is uncommon north of the Mediterranean as its geographical stronghold is south of the Sahara, and in most of its range it doesn’t even bother to migrate at all. Its range in Europe is restricted for the most part to the Iberian Peninsula with a small resident population along the southern coast, so if you’re very lucky you can find them all year round in the Algarve.

As with the more widely recognized Common Cuckoo, (Cuculus canorus), it is a brood parasite, (i.e. it relies upon another species to raise its young), but unlike the Common Cuckoo, which has a broad range of hosts, in Europe the Great Spotted almost exclusively targets Common Magpies, (Pica pica), and the recent expansion of this Magpie in southern Europe is helping in the expansion of the Great Spotted too – as with all things Nature, these things are inter-connected even if we humans have yet to figure out the whys and wherefores.

However, its migration strategy is what makes the Great Spotted Cuckoo really stand out from the crowd, as it is pretty well the opposite of any other species that visits Europe.

Whereas other species head south for the winter, typically leaving the continent during September and October, the Great Spotted Cuckoo arrives back here from Africa during December and stays till June when the adults head south again, followed by the juveniles a month or so later.

Of course one could easily dismiss this with a throw-away, “Surely they’re tied to the breeding cycle of their host species”, but this doesn’t cut the mustard; Common Magpies breed at the same time as the myriad host species’ of the Common Cuckoo, which has a “Spring/Autumn” migration pattern, so why the four month aberration for the Great Spotted?

I am not so much of a bird-nut that the question keeps me awake at nights, but it is an intriguing mystery and one day I hope that someone will tell me the answer.

Despite the sterling work being carried out throughout the world by organisations such as the BTO, (British Trust for Ornithology), and SPEA, (Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves), and despite the leaps in knowledge that have been achieved over the last fifty years, the answer to this question awaits discovery!

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Birding in Portugal

Quinta do Barranco da Estrada
7665-880 Santa Clara a Velha
Portugal

Email :
Phone : +351 283 933 065
Mobile : +351 938 386 326