coquet nature lover

Friday, 21 October 2016

Ria Formosa rediscovered

Long legged, long billed and more... 

Yes, it's that time of year again...  If you've ever taken a peep at the 'on the move' tab of this blog, you will know what I mean! The common ringed plover (ring number 895838) should be on its way from Iceland to its favourite winter territory on the lagoon in Santa Luzia, Portugal. After all, it has been spotted here every autumn since 2013. Hopefully, I will have an update for you! In the meantime, here are some of my favourite shots taken earlier this month.

The Ria Formosa Natural Park is an amazing place for a short break, especially if you enjoy birdwatching, walking or cycling. It is part of Natura 2000 network of specially protected areas across the European Union and is also designated a site of international importance under the Ramsar convention (an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands).
Greater flamingos and other long legged wading birds are usually present in the salt pans just off the road between Santa Luzia and Tavira. If not, head to the 'salinas' west of Faro airport and you will be sure to get great views. In fact, as you come in to land at Faro, there's a good chance you will see these impressive yet fragile looking birds. Just check the direction of the wind before choosing your seat!  Typically, I was on the wrong side of the plane!
You can see in the next photo shows how the juvenile flamingos are much lighter in colour. The pink colours that the adults develop come from carotenoids in their diet of algae and invertebrates such as shrimps. 

The flamingos in the sequence below were having some sort of stand off. Certainly not a behaviour described in Emily Benson-Scott's poem at the end of this post.
Shovelers are often found in similar habitats to flamingos.  Although they aren't wading birds, these ducks also sift insects and plant matter through their large beaks.

As in the UK, little egrets are plentiful on the Ria Formosa and can be seen all year round. Birdwatchers will however often remind you that this wasn't the case in Britain twenty years ago and records show that between 1958 and 1988, there were on average just fifteen sightings a year.

RSPB report that this small member of the heron family first bred in Dorset in 1986, with significant numbers following in 1989. This wading bird has the legal status of 'protected at all times' and now breeds very successfully. Possibly our milder winters have also contributed towards its spread northwards from the continent.

This little egret stayed fairly still while preening so it wasn't too difficult to get some good photos.
having a good shake

job perfectly done
black-winged stilt
little stints

grey plover with samphire

On the pathways through the salt pans I saw numerous crested larks and one cisticola perched high up in the bushes.
If you are looking for spoonbills, they can usually be seen on the salt marshes so if you walk out to Barril Beach from Santa Luzia, you might spot them there.  On a previous visit, I saw very large flocks on the Castro Marim nature reserve which is a little further east and very close to the Spanish border.


From Santa Luzia harbour, it only about half an hour's walk to Barril Beach but if it's too hot, or you're tired, you can walk across the pontoon bridge and take the little train which will drop you off close to the Anchor graveyard pictured below. 
The knarled and rusted abandoned anchors are lined up on the sand dunes reminding you of a community that once fished for bluefin tuna. It's all rather eerie - quite a haunting memorial to come across in such a beautiful place. Perhaps a landscape that Caspar Friedrich (German Romantic artist 1774-1840), might have been painted if he were alive today?

There's a huge variety of waders on the saltmarsh such as this whimbrel which was busy chasing some of the abundant small crabs.


As the tide came in, up above...  a white stork flying over Santa Luzia harbour caught my eye...

and down below...  a rare Audouin's gull was in the channel

Update on ringed plover sightings:

After five days of scouring the shoreline, on my last full day, I spotted the ringed plover! To see this small bird again, in almost the identical spot as last time, to watch her bathe, feed and defend her territory, right in front of my very eyes was quite an amazing site.  Here are a few photos I took and the latest sightings from the research centre who monitor this project from the University of Iceland.
Yes, I'm back for the winter so get off my patch!

With the sun setting, it's time to say goodnight

or boa noite as they say here in Portugal

Santa Luzia shore with piles of salt like hills in the background 


Flamingos in Flight

by Emily Benson-Scott
Pale pink flamingos wade slow
and listless, almost purposeless
across the salty shallows of the Rhone delta,
hooked necks bowed to the ground
beneath the day's blanketing heat.
With one metamorphic decision towards flight,
they transform into taut arrows of purpose
legs kicked back like a switchblade,
hot pink wings capped with neat black tips
slicing through the stagnant afternoon.
I wish I knew how to choose
from so many dubious options,
take flight in a hot pink blaze
of certainty, soaring off in one direction
across the boundless blue sky.
flight over the Ria Formosa

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