Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Storks and other local wildlife

Contrary to what you may read, storks do not all overwinter in Africa or India and return to Europe in the spring. Storks may be in northern Europe from spring until autumn, but they disappear from here during the summer and return in the early winter. I have seen a Black Stork (Ciconia negra) but it is the White Stork (C. ciconia) that is the common stork of Portugal. I have added Latin names so that those people not familiar with the names may identify the birds and animals I write about.  It is always difficult to be certain when a species of bird goes away unless you make a point of checking daily, but easy to know when it returns. Guy Fawkes Day is about when we expect them, although it has been into December some years. This year they arrived back bang on time, although I understand some reside in the Algarve all year round, having done so for a number of years. 

Guy Fawkes Day is 5th November and celebrated in England, and the rest of Britain, with bonfires and fireworks because it is the date of an attempt to blow up the English Houses of Parliament in 1605. Guy Fawkes was caught guarding the explosives that had been set. I am never sure whether the populace was/is pleased that the attempt failed and so celebrate the burning of Fawkes’ effigy on top of the bonfire, or whether they were/are disappointed and have bonfires to show what might have been.

We had a visit from a Great White Egret (Egretta alba) at the beginning of the month. According to my European Birds guide book they should all be on the Eastern side of the Mediterranean. It seems they are occasionally sighted in Portugal, and increasingly so in recent years. Apparently they have also been sighted in the UK a few times, with a flock of 8 in Norfolk in 2009. Think pure white heron (Ardea spp.) with a yellow bill and dark legs, and you will know if you ever see one. Cattle egrets (Bubulcus ibis), of which we see large numbers, are a much smaller bird.

Various theories are put forward why birds generally are increasing their habitat range. Some say it is because farmers are using fewer chemicals, others that it is global warming, and others that it is because of increasing numbers of many species. I am not prepared to guess why it is happening, but I am pleased when I see something new that I can I identify, and find it most interesting when I see a bird at close quarters. We are situated very close to a river and look down upon it from the house. It is always fascinating to see the otters hunting fish. I am looking forward to see whether we have a Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) visiting towards the end of the year. We have had a lone bird here over the Christmas and New Year period the last two years.

The kitchen windows are not fully reflective, but sufficient that we frequently have birds land on the windowsills and we can look at them from very close up – just the thickness of the glass separating us. In the spring we had a Hoopoe (Upupa epops) as a regular visitor for about three weeks. There are lots of them about and whilst not tame, they are not particularly shy either. Crag martins (Ptyonoprogne rupestris) - what an awful Latin name for such a charming bird, are the most frequent to rest on the sills, but occasionally Blue Tits (Parus caeruleus) and of course Sparrows, the common House Sparrow (Passer domesticus). The windows are also a great vantage point for watching fly-pasts of our favourite summer visitors, the Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) as well as the occasional Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis). It is nice too to watch the otters (Lutra lutra) when they choose to fish in the pool immediately below us.

There are too all the “little brown birds” that never stay still long enough to make identification, and I find it much easier with the bigger ones such as Golden Oriole (Oriolus oriolus) which is seen infrequently, or Magpies (Pica pica) of which there are too many. The other bigger birds include Ravens (Corvus corax), Grey Herons (Ardea cinerea), Cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo), Buzzards (Buteo buteo) and Black Kites (Milvus migrans). We also have a small covey of Red-legged partridge (Alectoris rufa) that include the quinta in their territory. There are various eagles and vultures not too far away from us although not in our immediate vicinity.

Of course I do recognise many of the smaller birds and the most common include the Stonechat (Saxicola torquata), Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros), Siskin (Carduelis spinus), Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis), Linnet (Carduelis cannabina), and Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba).

Animal wise, in addition to the otters we have foxes (Vulpes vulpes) and wild pigs, and I have once seen a Beech marten (Mates foina). I had to seek help in identifying that. It is similar to a Pine marten (Martes martes) and, although I have never seen one, probably the American marten (Martes americana) if you are familiar with either of those. Apparently the American marten is also sometimes referred to as a Pine marten in parts of the USA. Very rarely I see a rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) or a hare (Lepus europaeus). I am yet to see an Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus), although I am told there are some, and Egyptian Mongooses (Herpestes ichneumon) in the area. In addition there are what translates into English as Civet, but some claim is a misidentification for a species of Genet.  

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