logo

Algarve Wildlife - Sightings and Prospects Archive, 2013

Back to current year...

December 2013 - Christmas in the Algarve

Clathrus ruber
Above: Red Cage fungus is rare in northern Europe but common in the Algarve. They first appear in November but thereafter they can be found well into the New Year.

It has been a dry autumn in the Algarve but recent rain will stimulate more of the region's fungi to appear especially in cooler and damper areas, such as the woodlands up in the hills around Monchique. Resembling a bizarre Christmas decoration, Red Cage Fungus Clathrus ruber, which is a member of the Stinkhorn family of fungi, doesn't smell anywhere near as good as it looks. In fact, the obnoxious smell may be the first thing to tell you that you are close to a fruiting specimen. Taking closeup photographs is not for the faint hearted!

The blooming of the first spring flowers here is often accompanied by numerous species of mushrooms and it is still possible to find some of the most delicious of the edible species including Ceps Boletus edulis, Chanterelles Canthatellus cibarius and Horn of Plenty Craterellus cornucopioides among them.

Pat O'Reilly is the author of Fascinated by Fungi

More on Algarve fungi species....

RIAS – a centre of excellence - Ray Tipper visits an unusual hospital

8th November 2013. Today I visited for the first time RIAS, the wildlife rehabilitation centre, located in the grounds of Quinta de Marim, the headquarters of the Parque Natural de Ria Formosa. The centre has been in existence for more than 20 years and has as its aims the care and treatment of injured and sick wild animals with a view to returning them to full health and their eventual release back into the wild. Its facilities are meagre; a small reception area, an operating ‘theatre’, a room full of cages for the really sick that require solitude or constant attention, a store room or two and then, outside, several enormous aviaries housing the largest raptors.

A Eurasian Vulture
Above: one of the more unusual patients - a juvenile Eurasian Black Vulture

Each year the centre handles almost 1,000 animals that arrive in all manner of conditions. November is a busy time. It is the end of the raptor migration season, a period when birds of prey are brought to the centre in considerable numbers. Currently, at least four Griffon Vultures, a juvenile Eurasian Black Vulture, a young Booted Eagle, a Black Kite, an immature Montagu’s Harrier, a Common Buzzard and several Common and Lesser Kestrels are in the process of recuperating.

The vultures are usually suffering from exhaustion and recover and can be released relatively quickly. Others, though, are victims of the hunter’s gun and need to be operated upon and nursed back to health.

The Montagu’s Harrier had been taken into captivity, the flight feathers of its left wing amputated, and it was fortunate indeed to have been brought to the centre where it will regrow wing feathers and be ready for release next spring when its kin will be returning to breeding grounds in Portugal having spent the winter in Africa.

Another young Black Kite was outside, standing on top of the aviary wire. It was fully fit and had been released and had flown away some weeks ago only to return after a few days and seems to have taken up residence at least for the time being.

Another on-going project RIAS has undertaken is the breeding and release of the Near Threatened European Pond Turtle. The turtles are reared from eggs and kept for two years before being released. In that time they avoid the dangers associated with being small and defenceless and grow to a size where their carapace offers them real protection.

RIAS exists on a shoe-string, yet it performs admirably. Its funding, or at least a good proportion of it, is secure for the next four years under arrangements agreed with ANZ Aeroportos de Portugal. Money, inevitably, is a constant concern, however, and an innovative method of fund-raising has been developed. Individual animals in the centre can be sponsored in return for a Sponsorship Certificate, photographs of the sponsored animal, news of its progress and an invitation to its release.

To sponsor an animal or make a donation contact RIAS at rias.aldeia@gmail.com

Ray Tipper is co-author of Algarve Wildlife - the natural year

More about Ray Tipper...

September migration at Sagres - Ray Tipper reports on the autumn migration

Whinchat - picture Ray Tipper
Above: Migrant Whinchat Saxicola rubetra Sagres, September 2013

12th September 2013 - Sagres (with Cape St. Vincent) is justly famed as an autumn migration watch point as might be expected of its location at the most south-westerly point of continental Europe. Today there was a strong wind blowing from a southerly quarter producing conditions that were likely to deter migrants from setting out on a sea crossing to North Africa. This was not the only reason for being in Sagres, though. Over the past several days a trip of Dotterels had grown from two to five individuals; bound for the stony steppes of central Morocco they had paused their migration to ‘re-fuel’ at the species’ only regular site in the Algarve. Annual numbers are tiny so it is a bird prized not only for its stunning beauty but also for its scarcity. So, in a mood of excited expectancy we drove away from Tavira well before dawn to be at Sagres as the light grew bright enough for photography. For three hours we searched every patch of short grassland we could find, seeing nine Little Bustards in the process but no Dotterels. Anticipation turned to disappointment – the Dotterels had clearly left overnight for North Africa.

There was nothing for it but to concede defeat and switch our attention to raptors, a light passage of which was evident from the most famous watch site, the trig point on the rise at Cabranosa. Here, there were sporadic passages of Honey Buzzards to watch along with ones and twos of Short-toed Eagle, Montagu’s Harrier, Northern Goshawk, Osprey and Peregrine Falcon. The many Common Kestrels were probably a mixture of resident birds and migrants.

Dotterel picture Ray Tipper
Juvenile Dotterel Charadrius molinellus Sagres, September 2013

Elsewhere, migrant passerines were much in evidence. Most numerous were Yellow Wagtails that were busy feeding on the sward but were flighty in the windy conditions and difficult to approach. With a little patience, though, it was possible to scrutinize the groups and determine that there were at least four races present – nominate flava, iberiae, a single adult male thunbergi and the British breeding flavissima. Tawny Pipits, too, were moving through and there were good numbers of Northern Wheatears, Willow Warblers, Common Chiffchaffs, Spotted Flycatchers, juvenile Woodchat Shrikes as well as a few Whinchats.

In the early afternoon, more in desperation than hope, we returned to Vale Santo to look once again for Dotterels. More searching revealed nothing until we finally accepted failure and were driving away when, to our utter astonishment, one stood up and showed itself. Later we found two more hunkered down against the wind where they were virtually invisible. Our joy was palpable and deservedly so because, in the end, we enjoyed stunning views of one of Europe’s most handsome waders.

Ray Tipper is co-author of Algarve Wildlife - the natural year

More about Ray Tipper...

Start of the Fungi Season

September 2013 - Pat O'Reilly looks at the first fungi of the season

Hygrocybe acutoconica

As the last of the Algarve's floral fireworks fade, so another paintbox colours the countryside with more than a rainbow of hues and shades. Fungi! Up they pop when the autumn rain arrives, and off to work they go recycling the deadwood of forests and the frazzled plants of pastures and parks, and playing other important and sometimes troublesome roles too.

Many lawn mushrooms are fickle, here-today-gone-tomorrow types, but one group. known as waxcaps, tends to hang around. Most persistent of all is a beautiful yellow-orange conical mushroom known as, er... the Persistent Waxcap. Its scientific name is Hygrocybe acutoconica. The cap of this mushroom always feels damp, and in shape it is accutely conical - there, we have translated that latinised (scientific) name with no great difficulty. They're not always so obvious.

Gymnopilus junonius

Into the woods now, and what have we got here?. Spectacular smooth-capped orange mushrooms sprout from the stumps of felled trees and occasionally from the trunks of living (but poorly) trees. They are very fond of oaks, but if oak trees are not on the menu these hungry mushrooms will make do with pines. Their scientific name is Gymnopilus junonius.

The prefix Gymn- means bald, while -pilus means a head. It does have a bald (smooth, that is) head or cap, but what about junonius? It is not description; it's a dedication to the Roman goddess Juno. Don't ask why... Until quite recently this spectacular mushroom with rusty-brown gills went by the scientific name of Gymnopilus spectabilis. Much clearer! Oh... its common name is Spectacular Rustgill.

Pisolithus arrhizus

One more for the road... although I hope it doesn't pop up in any road you have to drive along. When it first emerges above ground Pisolithus arrhizus (let's not fret over the meaning of the scientific name!) looks like a ball of horse dung. Inside it are hundreds of white chunks of fungal material looking like grains of rice packed tightly together, and over a month or two they turn olive-green and then reddish-brown until the fungus splits open to reveal (and release) a powdery mass of spores. In the past this fungus was used to dye fabrics - that's why its common name is the Dye Ball - but it has a much more important role nowadays. This is one of the so-called 'mycorrhizal' fungi that link up with the roots of trees and supply them with water and nutrients essential for their healthy growth. In return the fungus receives some of the sugar that the tree produces by photosynthesis. The Dyeball fungus is highly valued by foresters because it can enable young trees to grow on soil so poor or contaminated that few plants could survive there. Pisolithus arrhizus has one other special characteristic: it is tough eniough to tear up tarmac roads and even to crack concrete pavements.

Pat O'Reilly is the author of Fascinated by Fungi

More on Algarve fungi species....

Rarity or out of jail?

Just eight days on from my photographic session at a temporary pool, the leaking pipe that had produced lying water had been repaired and the pool is now rapidly drying up and will soon disappear completely. Still, that was always going to happen and there are plenty of other things to keep the naturalist occupied in the Algarve.

Lesser Flamingo
Above: Lesser Flamingo (left) with Greater Flamingo at Castro Marim Nature Reserve

On Saturday, for example, as one of several volunteers who help with the monthly waterbird counts there, I was at Castro Marim nature reserve, in the core area of the salt pans of Cerro do Bufo. September regularly records one of the highest counts of the year. Gulls are at their peak and on Saturday included no less than 1,347 Audouin’s Gulls and sixteen Slender-billed Gulls.

Fifteen years ago seeing just one of either of these species would have been regarded as something special. Audouin’s Gull numbers were easily surpassed by Lesser Black-backed and Yellow-legged Gulls, the combined total of which was 5,573. Other high species counts (exceeding 200) were recorded for Shoveler, Eurasian Spoonbill, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit and Black-headed Gull. Most numerous, after the large gulls, however, were the

1,763 Greater Flamingos that were spread out around the salt pans. A high percentage were adults recently arrived probably from breeding colonies in France and Spain. Counting this number of birds is a time-consuming task but it can hold some surprises. The single Lesser Flamingo present would almost certainly have been overlooked had it not been for the fact that the birds were being counted one by one.

Lesser Flamingo is not, of course, native to Portugal, or anywhere else in Europe for that matter. Its natural world range is the African continent south of the Sahara with outlying posts in the Persian Gulf and north-west India. To find one in the Algarve was, therefore, very pleasing even though one or two are recorded among Portugal’s Greater Flamingo flocks in most years. Their provenance, however, is suspect and they are generally regarded as escapes from captive collections. Interestingly, a pair bred this year in Spain in the massive Greater Flamingo colony at Fuente de Piedra lagoon in Andalucía. Perhaps, then, it is not too far-fetched to contemplate a small self-sustaining population establishing itself in Iberia in the not too distant future in the same way as Chilean Flamingo has done in Germany.

Ray Tipper is co-author of Algarve Wildlife - the natural year

More about Ray Tipper...

When the Algarve is parched birdwatchers should do what the birds do - look for water!

Young Stonechat
A young Stonechat drawn into the open by the promise of a drink

Algarve - 30th August 2013

Towards the end of a long, hot summer the Algarve countryside lies parched. What grass remains, long ago turned buffy-brown. Streams are completely dry, only their rock-strewn beds defining where water once flowed. At this time of year any lying water acts like a magnet to birds and bird photographers.

This morning I sat in front of a small pool that owed its existence to a leaking water main for a classic session of 'wait-and-see' photography. Although the range of species was small, light conditions were excellent so this was an opportunity to enlarge a portfolio of stock images.

Over the course of three hours, just five species came to the pool yet there was something there for the majority of the time. Members of a family of Common Stonechats were constantly visiting and young Crested Larks ran down the slope, warily, to drink. Several Yellow Wagtails of the Iberian race iberiae found the pool very much to their liking and there were brief visits by a young Little Ringed Plover and Common Sandpiper. Just once a Southern Grey Shrike perched on a nearby small conifer and was considerate enough not to hide behind too much foliage.

With not even a hint of a breeze, it was hot in my car, which I was using as a photographic hide, but that was a small inconvenience on a fascinating morning.

Yellow Wagtail
A Yellow Wagtail takes advantage of a small pool created by a leaking watermain

Until the leak is repaired, I shall regularly return to the pool to 'wait-and-see'. Perhaps, on another day the Western Marsh Harrier that patrolled in the distance will pass much closer or, as it is now prime migration time, something more unusual will drop in. The pool looks ideal for a Temminck's Stint!

Ray Tipper is co-author of Algarve Wildlife - the natural year

More about Ray Tipper...

Wild Orchid Reports for April 2013

Following the devastating 3 month drought which lasted until the end of March in 2012 wreaking havoc with wildflower and wild orchid populations in the Algarve, the cool wet spring of 2013 has more than restored the natural balance: the wildflowers have been stunning and the wild orchids have appeared in numbers and diversity of species that I have not seen in 13 years of study in the area. In particular, the walks through the Algibre Valley and Fonte da Benemola described on this website have been exceptional. The lists of orchid species seen there in April 2013 are below:

Ophrys dyris
Above: Omega Ophrys Ophrys dyris - this orchid often flowers as early as February in sheltered habitats in the Algarve

Fonte da Benemola:

Ophrys scolopax - Woodcock Orchid
Ophrys lutea - Yellow Bee Orchid
Ophrys bombyliflora - Bumblebee Orchid
Ophrys speculum - Mirror Orchid
Ophrys lusitanica
Ophrys fusca - Sombre Bee Orchid
Ophrys dyris/omegaifera - Omega Ophrys
Cephalanthera longifolia - Sword-leaved Helleborine
Epipactis helleborine - Broad-leaved Helleborine
Orchis italica - Naked Man Orchid
Orchis intacta - Dense-flowered Orchid
Orchis morio - Green-winged Orchid
Orchis anthropophora - Man Orchid
Serapias parviflora - Small-flowered Tongue Orchid
More about this walk...

Orchis intacta
Above: Dense-flowered Orchid Orchis intacta - this rare orchid was particularly numerous in the spring of 2013

Algibre Valley:

Anacamptis pyramidalis - Pyramidal Orchid
Ophrys scolopax - Woodcock Orchid
Ophrys lutea - Yellow Bee Orchid
Ophrys bombyliflora - Bumblebee Orchid
Ophrys speculum - Mirror Orchid
Ophrys lusitanica
Ophrys fusca - Sombre Bee Orchid
Ophrys dyris/omegaifera - Omega Ophrys
Epipactis helleborine - Broad-leaved Helleborine
Orchis conica - Conical Orchid (found in mid-February)
Orchis italica - Naked Man Orchid
Orchis intacta - Dense-flowered Orchid
Orchis morio - Green-winged Orchid
Orchis anthropophora - Man Orchid
Serapias parviflora - Small-flowered Tongue Orchid
Serapias lingua - Tongue Orchid
More about this walk...

All the Algarve wild orchid species returned in greater numbers than before the drought and we found many species in places where we had not found them before. The plateau on the top of the limestone escarpment of Rocha da Pena had large numbers of Early Purple Orchids - Orchis mascula during March, and the Woodcock Orchid - Ophrys scolopax has been much more numerous in its usual stations than usual, as well as appearing in many places where we had not found them previously.

Sue Parker is author of Wild Orchids in the Algarve

Ring Ouzel
Photographic proof that the guide books don't always get it right!

The guide books have got it wrong - small numbers of Ring Ouzels are regular winter visitors to favoured sites in the Algarve

The Song Thrush Turdus philomelos does not breed in the Algarve but it is a common winter visitor from northern Europe. This winter it seems to have arrived in particularly large numbers judging by how easy it is to see currently. Being a shy species in the Algarve, it is not especially easy to photograph so news of parties coming to drink, along with Redwings Turdus iliacus, at several puddles at Sagres was of considerable interest.

On a sunny day in mid-February we spent more than six hours beside the puddles using a car as a hide. As we manoeuvred into position it was clear there were plenty of thrushes around and in perfect light we were soon totally immersed in our photography.

It was a memorable session not least because the first species to be photographed was neither a Song Thrush nor a Redwing but a Ring Ouzel, three different individuals coming to drink during the course of the day.

Song Thrushes
The puddles at Sagres are a big attraction for Song Thrushes and Redwings in February.

Distribution maps in the popular field guides and even the authoritative Handbook of Birds of Britain, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa would have one believe that the Ring Ouzel is not to be found in Portugal. They are all wrong. In fact, Ring Ouzels are a regular winter visitor in very small numbers to favoured sites in the Algarve and the windswept coastal scrub of Cape St. Vincent is probably the best place to look for them.

Ray Tipper is co-author of Algarve Wildlife - the natural year

More about Ray Tipper...

Spring comes early to the Algarve - Sue Parker

Conical Orchid near River Algibre
Above: The Conical Orchid - Orchis conica - is widespread but rare and very localised in the Algarve

February 7th 2013 - The more benign weather of the 2012 autumn has continued into the early part of spring 2013. With plenty of rain and exceptionally mild weather the spring promises to be particularly flowery, and in sheltered spots some of the early-flowering orchids are already in full bloom.

An exciting and rare find in old pastures above the River Algibre valley yesterday (February 6th) was Orchis conica - Conical Orchid. Populations of this orchid are centred in the western Mediterranean, but the true extent of its territory is the subject of much confusion due to its similarity with Orchis Lactea - Milky Orchid - and Orchis tridentata - Toothed Orchid. The Algarve is one of its more reliable strongholds and there are reports from across the region during most years.

Sue Parker is author of Wild Orchids in the Algarve

Optimism for Orchids - Sue Parker

Gennaria diphylla
Gennaria diphylla is the first wild orchid to flower in the Algarve, but is difficult to spot because of its overall green colouring

January 6th 2013. The three month drought, extending from December 2011 until well into March in spring 2012, played havoc with the populations of early-flowering wild flowers and orchids in the Algarve.

Following consistent rainfall in the region through the autumn of 2012, the picture looks a lot more hopeful for spring 2013: during our visit in late December there were orchid plants popping up everywhere. Provided that the favourable autumn conditions are followed by a more typical spring this year, the populations of wild orchids should recover well.

Early species to flower in the Algarve are Bumblebee Orchid Ophrys bombyliflora, Yellow Bee Orchid Ophrys lutea, Sombre Bee Orchid Ophrys fusca and the iconic Algarve species, Mirror Orchid Ophrys speculum. Gennaria diphylla, an interesting rather than pretty species, is the earliest and will be in flower in February but spotted only by the eagle-eyed among us who can find this overall green plant amid its grassy habitat.

Sue Parker is author of Wild Orchids in the Algarve

Short-eared Owls move East - Ray Tipper

Short-eared Owl
Above: Short-eared Owls hunt by day

5th January 2013. For the past three winters the salinas around Tavira have played host to Short-eared Owls, a species that until the winter of 2010/11 was generally regarded as rare in the eastern Algarve. Their presence in three consecutive winters, therefore, gives cause to hope that they will become regular visitors in the future. Short-eared Owls frequently hunt by day and the Tavira birds can regularly be seen on the wing in the late afternoon. So far this winter just two individuals have been recorded (there were up to four in 2010/11) and if they follow the pattern of previous years we could still be watching them well into March.

Ray Tipper is a co-author of Algarve Wildlife - the natural year

Back to current year...


We hope that you have found this information helpful. If so we are sure you would also enjoy our books about Algarve wildlife and wildflowers. Buy them online here...

Wild Orchids of the AlgarveAlgarve Wildlife, the natural year, Second EditionWildflowers in the Algarve