Though it was not one of those trips to the Dry Tortugas that turned up an amazing number of Neo-tropical Migrants on their way north, we did see a few. This Ovenbird was in the thick brush around the campground. Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode with my custom birds and wildlife modifications. Processed in Polarr.
I am back in Key West for the night after 3 days on the Dry Tortugas with Wildside Nature Tours. The Dry Tortugas are a small chain of 7 coral islands, 70 miles off Key West, Florida. Just after Florida was purchased from Spain in 1824 and through the Civil War, the United States, and then the Union, attempted to build a fort, Fort Jefferson, there as a base to guard the sea lanes and shipping routes from the Mississippi River and the Gulf to the Atlantic seaboard. The Fort was never finished. Conditions proved too difficult. It went through several incarnations: as a prison during the Civil War, as a coaling station and then a quarantine center after. It’s 243 heavy canons were never fired in combat. It was, and still is, the largest brick masonry structure in the western hemisphere. The surrounding islands have been a bird sanctuary since 1908, and Fort Jefferson is now a National Park…the only one accessible only by boat and seaplane.
Besides being home to the only nesting colonies of several Caribbean sea birds, during spring and fall migration, the islands can, deepening on the winds, serve as a rest stopover on the journey across the Caribbean for warblers, orioles, tanagers, flycatchers, etc. Therefore they are popular destination for birders.
What we have here is a pair of Bridled Terns, a pelagic tern that nests further south in the Caribbean, and in small numbers on the islands, and ranges in summer along the inland edge of the gulf stream sometimes as far north as Connecticut.
Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode with my custom birds and wildlife modifications. Processed in Polarr.
I will be out to sea and out of contact for the next few days, doing the Dry Tortugas and spring migration, so I will post this early and hope it holds you all until I am back in touch. 🙂 This is another view of the one of the European Bee Eaters that we found nesting in a little wash at the edge of a small town in the Alentejo, somewhere between Castro Verde and Mertola, Portugal, the second week in April. Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode with my custom birds and wildlife modifications. Processed in Polarr.
Birding a little river-side park in the Tagus Estuary on our first full day of birding southern Portugal, we saw our first Sardinian Warbler. The Sardinian was by far the most common Warbler we saw in Portugal. These are old world warblers…mostly drab and plain…not a patch on our colorful North American warblers…but still…great to see. Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode with my custom birds and wildlife modifications. Processed in Polarr.
Black-crowned Night Herons were nesting in the Tagus Estuary when we visited this month. We saw them around a pond on the edge of the marshes and we saw them, including this handsome specimen, in the mixed rookery on the island in the Tagus. This is the same species as the North American bird…but since the Europeans only have one Night Heron, it is often called just plain Night Heron. It is a rarity, not in numbers, but in the fact that it has not been split off from its North American counterpart. Many birds have North American and European versions, or close matches, and most are the Eurasian something or other and are classified as separate species. Not so the Night Heron. Which is odd, as unlike most true circumpolar species, I don’t think of the Night Heron as being a strong flyer, or tied to the ocean. ??? Sony RX10iv at 600mm. Program mode with my custom birds in flight and action modifications. Processed in Polarr.
While it is generally difficult to get close to birds in southern Portugal, there are exceptions. One is the Heron Rookery on an island in the Tagus near the small town of Escaroupin. A few enterprising boat owners make an income from taking birders (and tourists) out to see the birds, and to explore the banks of the Tagus up and downstream. The whole area along the river seems rich in birdlife, perhaps because the rookery is such a draw. We besides the rookery we saw Booted Eagle, Osprey, and Black Kite. It is a mixed rookery, with Eurasian Spoonbills, Grey Herons, Black-crowned Night Herons, Glossy Ibis, Cattle Egrets, and even a few Squacco Herons actively nesting. All but the Squacco Herons, which nest deep in the brush nearer ground level, are easy to see. They are busy with their nesting and young, and, because of the steady flow of boat traffic, are more used to human proximity than most European birds. We made two passes around the island, one going out, and one coming back, and had some of our best photo opportunities of the trip. This Eurasian Spoonbill was in full display. Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode with my custom birds in flight and action modifications. 1/2000th @ f5 @ ISO 100. Processed in Polarr.
The Black Kite was by far the most common raptor we saw in our 10 days of birding in southern Portugal. They were everywhere we went, from the Tagus Estuary, to the Alentejo, to the Algarve. We saw them flying and we saw them perched. From any distance at all, they do indeed look black, but, of course they are much more richly colored. They are described in the field guides as “grey-brown” but as you see in this photo, in the right light they can look a fairly bright rich rufous. Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode with my custom birds in flight and action modifications. Processed and heavily cropped in Polarr.
Southern Portugal is rich in Eagles, compared to the Americas. There are 5 breeding in the region, and another that winters there…plus recent records of Steppe Eagle at least passing through (we saw one!). Of the possible breeding birds we saw all 5, plus the Steppe Eagle. Some were just little black dots soaring high on the thermals over the Castro Verde plains, but we got several closer views. These are immature (I believe), Booted Eagles from the banks of the Tagus where we took our boat trip. Two individuals sitting near each other, perhaps a potential pair. Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode with my birds and wildlife modifications. Processed in Polarr.
I had limited wifi in Portugal…in fact I had to resort to my cellular data on my iPad for most posts…so I did not post to WordPress. These are the images you missed 🙂 European Spoonbill in flight from the Tagus Esturay. Two shots of a Squacco Heron from nearby. A cooperative Black-winged Kite from the Alentejo. A Hoopoe, also from the Alentejo. A European Bee Eater we chanced on while looking for Black Storks. Two Crested Grebes doing a mating display, a pair of Common Shelducks, both from the Algarve, and a Little Owl posing nicely beside the road near our hotel in the Algarve.
Over 4 days in April 2019, we saw several Great Bustards in the steppe country between Castro Verde and Mertola in the Alentejo of southern Portugal, but all at great distances, on the hillsides across the swales, and through heavy heat shimmer. Not totally satisfying, and frustrating for photography. This is a heavy crop from a 600mm equivalent frame, and the only photo of a Great Bustard from the trip that I am willing to post. Still, it is an amazing bird. According to our Portuguese guide, the world’s largest bird that can still fly (if you ask in Africa, they will tell you that honor belongs to the closely related Kori Bustard…but that is to be expected). From the distance at which you see them, they look small ships moving through a sea of high grasses. To get a closer photo, I am told, you have to visit one of the specialized “hides” that are maintained near leks. You have to crawl into the hide before daylight, and stay until after dark, so it is a daylong commitment. I might try to do that next time I go to Portugal, if I am still up to crawling at that point. 🙂 Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode with my custom birds and wildlife modifications. Manual focus to get accurate focus through the heat shimmer. Processed in Polarr.