Saturday 15th September
Our flight from Heathrow with British Airways to Lisbon was on time, so we landed at 10.15am.
Our cases must have been the last off the carousel, which was a little disconcerting, although all the digiscoping gear including tripod was in our hand luggage, so birding would have been fine anyway !
The hire car was pre booked, and the queue at the desk wasn’t that long, so we were soon on the road out of the airport in a Golf 1.9 diesel six gears and only 5000km on the clock.
Our SatNav corrected a wrong turning we made on exiting the rental car multi storey car park, and we were soon onto the impressive bridge over the wide Tajo estuary, seeing Flamingo on the mud flats as we travelled over.
It was then all toll road to our exit at Estremoz, which cost 11,6 Euro. Next stop was at Portalegre, shopping for food at the excellent Modelo supermarket. With the car now suitably weighed, down, we headed the short distance to the village of Carreiras, and located the track just beyond the village square, to the cottage, where we would be staying for two weeks.
We had been advised on our sheet of instructions, to stop and engage low gear, to drive the track up to the cottage, it was quite steep, but most worrying was the fact that we had stone walls on both sides, in various states of repair. The track was also quite narrow, and in places the surface deteriorated with quite large stones to drive over, hoping we did not hit the bottom of the weighed down car on them. We made it to the top, but could smell the clutch on the car had been working hard.
But it was worth the two an a half hours drive from Lisbon,
a well equipped cottage in a lovely elevated position, six hundred feet above
the Alentejo plains, in it’s own fourteen acres of ground, given over to a few
goats with tinkling bells.
We unpacked, and reassembled the digiscoping gear, then prepared a meal which we ate on the terrace watching the sun getting lower in the sky.
I couldn’t resist a quick foray up into the goat fields
behind the cottage to see if there were any birds around, and wasn’t
disappointed, seeing Pied and Spotted Flycatcher, and Treecreeper
on the trunks of the olive trees.
Sunday was a lazy day for us, after the journey out. We did some birding in the goat fields early and late, and a walk down the to the village. On the way back up we moved several large stones from the track, and pruned back a few overlapping bushes, so we wouldn’t scratch the car every time we drove by.
Thunder and lightning could be seen out over the plains, but we missed the storms. An owl was heard calling as we retired for the night.
Having picked out some possible quiet roads and lakes on
Google Earth, we decided to go to Barragem de Povoa, a few miles NW of Castelo
From Castelo de Vide we took the road to Alpalhaho, and then turned right Lat 39.432463 Long 7.505747 at the second sign for the Barragem. We passed a small farm on the right observing a bird of prey nearby, then reached a bridge over a small stream/river depending on the time of year. Just passed the bridge after going up a small rise in the road, we came upon three Black Stork to the right down near the stream at Lat 39.454153 Long 7.535272 as we stopped the car, they flew off..
Continuing on up the next hill, about halfway up we saw them again on the right, on top of three large boulders in the middle of the lake, too far away for a decent picture though.
We resumed our drive up the hill then stopped at one of the two tracks that lead to the waters edge, where we saw quite a few birds in and around the lake.
The length of road we had driven, was very productive, and was noted for a return look later on.
Back to the cottage for lunch, followed by a look in the goat fields in which there were Flycatchers again, Redstart, Sardinian Warbler and a lone Woodlark.
We drove to Caia lake, via Mostelos and Arronches, then
towards Santa Eulallia, we turned left at Lat 39.065186 Long 7.275616
Onto a single track road in good condition. This road produced some good
birding. A group of nine Griffon Vultures were the first we had seen on
this holiday, good thermals and a light wind had allowed them to fly today. A Hoopoe
in a tree, and our first ever sighting of a Black Shouldered Kite, had us
scanning the tree tops for more. Whinchat and Fan Tailed Warbler
were on the fence wires, at the side of the road, too near to digiscope, so we
used a Sony F717 with 2.2x converter from the car. Then came an unidentified Eagle
in the sky, with Lapwing and Great Crested Grebe on a small farm
The river bridge at Lat 39.069794 Long 7.251334 is worth a stop. When we were there the river was dry, but a small Lagoon had formed which is worth checking out. An information sign near the bridge suggests that Spoonbill may visit.
Just before rejoining the Santa Eulallia road again, we stopped to enter our next destination into the Sat Nav. A four wheel drive vehicle pulled up alongside us, a window opened, and we were spoken to in Portugese. Advising the occupant that we didn’t speak Portugese, he then asked in English if we were birders. Apparently very few birders make it to this area, and he was very pleased to see us, He also told us that old telegraph poles had been put in near the lake shore, and Osprey had been seen perched on them recently. He then apologised that he couldn’t stop any longer, as he had to get on with his work. Was he one of the landowners or a local birder, we never did find out.
We continued on to the head of the dam, which was very
quiet, and then eventually back to the cottage, where we saw the Flycatchers
again and also a female Redstart.
Not much birding today, but did a walk on the old medieval tracks that radiate out from the village below us.
This entailed a steep 200 metre descent to the plains
below, and of course the climb back up as well. But it was a good walk, with
what looked like an abandoned mill, and a small house in ruin further on.
After lunch on the cottage terrace, Peter the owner of the property, came to see us, and we arranged a half day birding trip with him for the following Sunday.
We then followed Peter on a drive to two lavish properties he is renovating from near ruin, again set in there own grounds, with a large swimming pool as well.
On then to meet Cordera, who is the largest mule we have
ever seen, sheltering with his friend the donkey, from the hot sun, in the shed,
complete with old oven, which is attached to another cottage in near ruin.
A saddle was produced, and Lyn was hoisted up, the long way onto Cordera, for a short ride through the olive grove. We then left with the saddle and bridle in the boot of the car, so Lyn could ride when she wanted to.
Back at the cottage in the late afternoon, another visit to the goat field found Flycatcher again !!. But they were becoming less worried about me being in the field, and I was able to approach to about eight to ten metres away.
After finding the Black Storks on Monday, we decided to return again. This time stopping at the river bridge to park the car, then creeping along the old disused road to the right of the bridge, which brings you out under cover of an old wall and bushes, opposite where we saw the storks.
Guess what, they weren’t there. After returning to the car and continuing up the road, we saw them again on the boulders in the middle of the lake as mentioned on Monday.
At the lake we parked up and saw Red Rumped Swallows preening in a dead tree, and Thekla Larks feeding on the ground for at least five minutes.
The afternoon was spent at Alter do Chao horse stud, waiting to see the mares being taken from the stables to the fields. It was very hot down on the plains, and later in the evening we watched violent thunderstorms down on the plains, we were lucky to miss the worst up at the cottage.
A little rain still about so we did a trip in the car to feed the mule and donkey, and then on for a drive through the villages, getting back for lunch, by this time the weather had brightened up again.
Up in the goat field, Redstart were in the usual place, Sardinian Warblers, which were a real problem to photograph, as they constantly kept on the move in brambles. Flycatcher were still around and heard Red Legged Partridge. And hopefully got some good pictures of the male Redstart on a rock.
A sightseeing morning today off to Marvao. A small village completely surrounded by walls with a fine castle, all at the top of a fairly high hill/mountain.
Despite it being a Saturday, it was very quiet when we
arrived, easy parking just outside the walls. We walked on the ramparts for most
of the way to the castle, there were great views in all directions.
Lyn visited the museum, housed in an old church, at the
cost of one euro!!, while I continued with photographing the castle, from the
very nice gardens below, Goldfinch were feeding on the seed heads of
sunflowers, and Crag Martin were flying along the ramparts.
We had been told by Peter that there should be Wallcreeper and Blue rock thrush, but we didn’t see any.
Marvao gets our thumbs up, especially if you go at a time
when the tourist coaches are not there.
The afternoon was spent taking in the sun on the terrace, with a short venture back into the goat fields, seeing Nuthatch and trying to get pictures of Treecreeper, unsuccessfully.
We drove to Elvas, parked the car under the towering aqueduct, and met Peter and Rosemary Eden, for a half day birding.
Before leaving town we found that the road leading out, that we wanted to go down, was closed by the local police, for what looked like a running marathon. So we took to a steep bumpy track up past the Forte de Sta Luzia, thankfully in Peters 4WD vehicle. We were then able to get onto the road that had been closed.
Not far down the road we saw several Great Grey Shrike. The area has Bustard in the fields, but today we didn’t see any.
Peter told us that the fields in this area, used to have olive trees in them, but the subsidy paid to the farmers for the olive trees had been stopped. So the farmers had grubbed out the trees to make way for new crops, apparently against orders given to them, not to.
At a fenced off irrigation pond to the left of the road, what must have been over 100 Cattle egrets were lined up around one side of the pond. It looked just like Bournemouth beach on a hot day!
Peter then rang a friend who had built a house and excavated a lake some years ago. Fortunatley he was at home, and agreed to let us come in for a look at the lake.
The gates at the end of the drive were open when we arrived, and we quietly exited the vehicle, and started scanning the lake and reedbeds. Suddenly we saw a yellow flash rise up from the reeds on the other side of the lake. The birds flight seemed very “flappy” and soon put down, hidden by the reeds.
It did this several times, but was too far away, and for such a short time, that a photo was out of the question.
I walked on a short distance up the drive, and suddenly saw the same type of bird hanging on the side of a reed, this time only about 15 metres from me. I hurriedly pointed the scope and focused in, then took a quick picture before the bird took off. Previewing the picture showed it was a little on the dark side, but probably recoverable.
The bird was a Yellow Crowned Bishop originally an escapee that is now surviving in the wild. I was lucky the bird kept coming back to the same perch, and was able to get some better pictures
White storks were circling in the sky, and I turned the scope on them, they were riding on the thermals, and I was able to digiscope them.
We heard Reed Warbler, but couldn’t see them, we didn’t see much else really, probably not helped by fishermen along the far bank. They come to this lake from around the world, because it was stocked with over 1000 fish. The owner showed us a newspaper with pictures of a huge Carp that was caught recently, I think it weighed about 50 pounds.
Back out on the road and across the IP7/A6 motorway heading towards Retiro we saw the third Black Shouldered Kite of the holiday, perched up on a pylon. The heat was becoming almost unbearable now, so we headed for Campo Maior to find a cool drink and something to eat in one of the bars. It turned out to be not just something to eat, but platefuls of meat and cheese, olives, bread and tomatoe, and of course the beer.
We then travelled to Ougueta, a very small village, dominated by an old fort, whose ramparts we climbed to take in the views and some more heat! there was hardly a breeze.
Crag Martin seemed to be nesting still, and were very
approachable, there were also Red Rumped Swallow.
We drove down a rough track away from the village, to join
a road that passed over a river bridge, on which we stopped to see several Kingfisher
iridescent in the sunlight.
We left the road again onto a track at the side of a farm and crossed the river, which would be impassable in wet weather, the track soon became road again, which joined the N371 to Campo Maior again, we stopped on the side of the road to look at a Short Toed Eagle, again on a pylon.
Back into Elvas and we found our car again, and followed Peter and Rosemary to their farm just south of Elvas, where we had drinks and freshly baked cakes.
Peter asked if we would like to look at Stone Curlew, which he could pretty well promise we would see. So we set off over the stony fields to find them.
Peter had seen them several times over the course of a week, but not today.
But that’s birding I suppose.
We returned back to Elvas, where several roads had been closed because a big fair was underway. Cars were flooding in from all the nearby towns and villages. Peter had warned us of this so we didn’t go into the centre of town.
It was dark when we arrived back at the cottage, after an even more carefull drive up the hill.
Was a lazy day for us, mostly spent on the terrace, but with the usual look for birds in the goat field, the impression was that there were less birds about in the field now, perhaps it was the heat, which was up to 30c the last couple of days.
A 2 ˝ hour drive back towards Lisbon today, for birding on the estuary. On the N10 North East of Lisbon at Lat 38.933096 Long 8.917232 we turned onto a good track that runs for 12KM in a South Westerly direction. It passes rough fields on both sides, some with cattle in.
We met several men on horseback, carrying long pointed poles, presumably to herd the cows/bulls.
Scanning the fields as we drove along, we came across quite a large bird crouching in the grass, almost sure to be a Bustard, which one, probably little. There were many small birds on the fences which we would investigate in on the way back.
The last hundred metres of the track was rather potholed
but passable, and the estuary looked good for birding. But unfortunately the sun
was shining at us as we observed the waders, Avocet and Flamingo, and sand flies
began to eat us despite liberal application of repellant. How did a lone
fisherman stripped to the waist avoid them.
Lyn took to the car having had enough, and I followed not
long after. We then slowly drove back up the track seeing Northern Wheatear,
Marsh Harrier and Waxbill our first, several Raptors we couldn’t identify and
By the time we reached the main road the car was covered in dust, but it was worth the drive down the track, and we are sure that it is a good birding spot.
On now to Alcochete, of which we had read several older trip reports for the salt pans area. On arrival we were disappointed to find building encroaching onto the area, and fences erected. Access to the area was difficult for us without local knowledge.
We also tried Samouco, and that is also fenced off with
locked gates as a nature reserve. If we go back again we will have to find out
if there is public access.
Feeling rather disappointed we set off back down the toll road heading back to the cottage, arriving in time to have a leisurely meal on the terrace.
Lyn had bought horse riding gear with her, but found the stables a few miles from the cottage had closed down a fortnight before our arrival. Peter and Rosemary had suggested a small stables some 50KM away which we had contacted and arranged to go to this morning. We had since been told that the owner Valerie, was one of the best horse riders in Portugal !
As Lyn is only self taught, we set off in anticipation as to how Lyn would get on with Valerie, she sounded like a school teacher on the phone.
I dropped Lyn off at the stables in Sao Bento do Cortico just north of Estremoz, and headed off down the road to see what birds I could find. Just about a Kilometre on down the road there was a Black Shouldered Kite flying over the trees, I watched it turn and fly almost over the top of the car, hovering like a Kestrel for a short time looking for food. I had good views through bins, but was eager to try a digiscoped shot, but by the time I got the gear from the back seat of the car, the bird was gone, as Lyn would say “Typical”.
I returned twice more to the same place, and the BS Kite
was still in the same area, at one time flying near a Kestrel, which looked
quite small, compared to the kite.
Back to the stables to see how Lyn had got on with Valerie.
Good news, all was well and they had a good chat while riding, Valerie has lived
in Portugal for 40 years, and was the first to have a motor car in the area,
must have been very different then.
Back at the cottage about 3pm, the goat fields had not a bird in sight, they must have migrated on?
Later we revisited Marvao again, enjoyed it so much last
time. Very quiet again, Vultures soaring overhead, and a Rock Thrush
being chased around the castle walls by smaller birds.
Fed the donkey and mule some carrots on the way back to the
cottage, where we had our dinner, and glass of wine watching the sun set again.
Don’t want to go home yet!
After a previous good birding day at Cala lake, we decided
to go back to the small road to the north of the lake. We started off at the
N371 end, and saw another BS Kite, three unidentified birds of prey, we really
do have problems with Bop up in the sky, several Kestrel, cormorant, Red Rumped
Swallow and Crag Martin both together in the same dead tree.
A word of warning. When we were there, the cattle grid on the track was broken in the middle, untold damage could be done to any vehicle trying to cross it, you can squeeze the car by to the left of it.
We stopped short of the lake and scanned the shore. Lat 39.017367 Long 7.226933 Of interest were three white birds standing in the shallows, heads tucked into their wings, facing away from us. What were they, we waited patiently for one to move, they were quite happy to stay as they were.
After about ten minutes one turned enough for us to see without doubt what they were, Spoonbills. I did manage to get some photos without disturbing them.
This is the place where we had been told Osprey had been seen perched on old telegraph poles set into the water, but none today.
We left the lake taking care at the cattle grid, and travelled down through Elvas, to the road we had been down on Sunday with Peter. Lots of Great Grey Shrike and Kestrels on telegraph poles, but the highlight was six BS Kite in one cork oak. Lat 38.851671 Long 7.117884 They could obviously see us, and craftily shifted down the branches into the centre of the tree, so they were out of sight.
This brought our total of BS Kite seen to eleven. We had never seen any in Spain or other holidays we have been on.
We drove to Flora da Rosa to do a morning walk before it
got too hot, a nice village with a huge old Pousada, which we parked near to.
The walk taken from a book in the cottage, started well,
lots of small birds as we walked the track between stone walls.
We continued on to another small dry stream bed, at which we were supposed to turn left, but our way was blocked by a locked gate and private camino signs. We ignored them and finding a hole in the fence, clambered through. We passed the balsa on the left as the directions in the book had said, but the track became more obscure, we eventually found a crossing over another small river much as described, apart from one dead sheep rotting on the river bank.
The track was never right from there on, so we diverted to a nearby small road which we could hear the occasional car go down. The next problem was how to get back to the village.
Then I remembered I had the car sat nav in my rucksack, which I switched on and asked it to navigate me back to Flora da Rosa. Two kilometres later we were back in the car cooling down with the air conditioning on, then heading back to the cottage for a quiet afternoon, with packing of bags after dinner, ready for the drive to the airport early next morning.
Up at 4.45am to sadly leave the cottage an hour later, carefully made our way in the dark down the track to the road. An hour later we joined the toll road, and as the skies lightened we saw crows scavenging for road kills, thankfully the road was very quiet at this time of the morning.
We arrived at the airport in good time, and gave back the car, in good health, to the car company, then made our way to check in.
We must have been the first to check in for our flight, which we were told and confirmed on our ticket, would leave from gate twenty.
The usual hanging around, then we went down to gate twenty, passing through security with all the digiscoping gear in our hand luggage, no problem.
At about forty five minutes before the flight was to leave, someone asked if this was the right gate for British Airways to Heathrow, we said yes, and sat for another fifteen minutes or so. Things didn’t seem quite right, lots of Americans arriving at the gate, so I got up and asked one of the airport staff if this was the right gate for Heathrow, she told me to go look at the screens, and gestured roughly where they were.
After looking for the elusive screens for several minutes without finding them, I returned to Lyn sitting patiently. I didn’t sit long, I asked another member of staff, and was told again to look on the screens. But where are they? Off I went and eventually found them in a small passageway, no where near the gate we were in.
Ok Heathrow, British Airways, 11.05 LAST CALL ! and the gate number 22A.
I had to get back to Lyn fast. I turned and saw Lyn running towards me with a staff member shouting to be quick otherwise we would miss the plane.
Our tickets checked and we entered an empty bus waiting to take us to the plane, but the bus didn’t move. After a couple of minutes three other passengers arrived, and then off we went to the plane, which was about as far away from the terminal buildings it could possibly be.
As we ran up the steps to the door of the plane, I noticed that they were still loading cases into the hold. We walked up the aisle with about 150 pairs of eyes looking at us as we made our way to our seats. Then one guy in the seat behind us jokingly said “We know, you have been pointed out, as being the ones who have made us late” to which I replied that there were still lots of cases being loaded, so we wouldn’t be going anywhere yet.
A fairly short flight then back to Heathrow, made shorter by asking for a vodka and orange instead of tea or coffee, which I don’t drink. And was given two vodkas by a Very nice steward !
It turned out that on landing at Lisbon, the plane had to wait for twenty minutes while it was decided where the plane should park. Bear in mind this is a scheduled flight every day.
As it had to park a long way from the terminal, passengers would have to be bussed to and fro. So they had to change the gate number.
Apparently someone had been to gate 20 and told passengers to Heathrow to go to 22A. Obviously when they did that, we were not at the gate. And they didn’t come back again did they.
Home sweet home.