Trip Report: Portugal, August 14-24,1998

Faansie Peacock, 581 Swart street, Moreleta Park, Pretoria, South Africa;

With my project entitled A Study of the Avifauna of the Moreleta Kloof I was chosen to represent my school, Waterkloof High, during the European Science Expo 1998 at Coimbra, Portugal. After months of planning, organizing etc. we finally left Johannesburg International Airport on the evening of 14 August. The flight was quite comfortable although the transportation of my project took some efforts!

We arrived at our hotel in Lisbon (Lisboa) after a short bus ride and unpacked our baggage. We stayed in a hotel opposite a park with some large trees and open lawns. Here I was once again acquainted with some familiar European birds that I have seen before: Blackbirds, Turdus merula, hopped about on the lawns, and the ubiquitous Feral Pigeons were so fat that they were easy to catch when they flush up from your feet, and House Sparrows abounded.

Some later (and quieter) visits to this park yielded a single, skulking Orphean Warbler, Sylvia hortensis, and a Wren, Troglodytes troglodytes. I found the Warbler feeding high in the crown of a tree, gleaning insects from the needles. The bird had a black cap, long tail and markings under the tail like a typical Cisticola species. It kept to dense foliage and was hard to see well.

The Wren astounded me by its loud, clear burst of high-pitched warbles, trills and whistles. I expected such a bird to make a harsher sound, but I learned some calls beforehand so I was prepared. The miniscule fellow hopped about trees, creepers and rocks on the ground. Later during the tour I also found many more specimens of this species.

The European (Common) Swifts were everywhere. You literally couldn't look up and not see some flying around. I found a number of roosts, mostly in the older buildings and structures, and watching hundreds of them circling, landing, flying off, screaming, chasing and feeding was quite a pleasant experience. What was interesting to me though, was the habit of the Swifts to land on the roof of the buildings on the tiles of the roof. Perhaps there were some gaps where they squeezed into. Some French birders found a single Pallid Swift in between the usual Swifts at Coimbra, but try as I might, I couldn't locate the single Pallid between the hundreds of Commons.

European (Barn Swallow) and House Martin were present in smaller numbers.

From Lisboa we departed for Porto, and then on to Coimbra by bus. Coimbra is an ancient city, the previous capital of Portugal, and houses one of the oldest universities in Europe. The many monuments and historical buildings are interspersed with parks and gardens such as the Jardim Botanico and many wooded valleys and ridges. Present at the youth hostel where we stayed, were a pair of Black Redstarts, Phoencurus ochruros which resemble our Familiar Chats, but they don't flick their wings, they "tremble" their tails! Also nearby, I found Collared Doves, Streptopelia decaocto and a number of smaller birds. The streets are lined with small (max. 3m) trees with quite open canopies, and these trees, amazingly, yielded incredible bird parties. This included Coal Tit, Parus ater, Great Tit, Parus major, Long-tailed Tit, Aegithalos caudatus, Chiffchaff, Phylloscopus collybita, Greenfinch, Carduelis chloris, and an adult Goldfinch, Carduelis carduelis, feeding chicks in a tiny nest in the canopy of one such a tree.

After eating the huge meals at the canteen at the University, I frequently joined friends for coffee on the lawn, and lying on your back, an astounding amount of passerines pass overhead on the way to their roosting places, and they were joined by Pipistrille bats in the strong dusk (about 21:00). The small pond here had a possible European Reed Warbler, but it soon disappeared when the hordes of people invaded the grounds.

On the organized visits I decided to go to a coastal reserve, called Reserva S. da Cincta, for some birding. Here I met a local student and birder, Paulo Oliveira, who became a good friend during the course of the Expo. We did some birding in the reserve which includes coastal, pelagic, wetland, woodland, shrubland and forest birds. Because of the difference in our languages Paulo and I had to communicate using only the scientific names of the birds we saw. It was quite amusing to the other delegates present when we got in a terrible fuss over a Circus aeruginosus (European Marsh Harrier), or a Garrulus glandarius (Jay). At the small wetland and hide we found some good waterbirds with moulting Mallards, one Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis), the previously mentioned Harrier (a single female) as well as some other common species.

A visit to the sea yielded hordes of Sandwich Terns, Black-headed, Lesser Black-backed (?) and Herring Gulls.

The highlight of my trip to Portugal was undoubtedly the morning of the 23 of October, when Paulo, a friend of his and myself went to the Mata da Choupal, a reserve on the banks of the Rio Mondego. Returning from an after-party at about 01:00 that morning, I decided to rather stay up till my departure than sleep, because I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to "switch-on" after such a short nap. Meeting Paulo and his friends, who also didn't get any sleep in the early morning we were off on the long walk to the reserve.

On the canals and streams before the reserve, we looked carefully at any common White Wagtails (Motacilla alba) for the possibility of finding Motacilla cinerea, the Grey Wagtail, which is so rare here in Southern Africa. At last I spotted a female flying away from us with her distinctive warm yellow vent and rump! Then they started appearing in numbers. Soon there were four Grey Wagtails chasing each other over the water! Females far outnumbered males. And sitting still at a marshy wetland we were rewarded by great views of them flitting around, feeding and walking about trees. Common Sandpipers and Moorhens were also found.

Also at this spot, we found a Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus), some Blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla), another Kingfisher, a Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata), and Chaffinch.

At the pub in the park, a bird party gave us Chiffchaff, Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) and the Short-toed Treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla).

All in all it was a good trip, although birding wasn't my main aim. A total of 43 species were seen in 9 days' birding, including 16 lifers.

I would like to thank everyone who replied to my request for information regarding this great birding locality!

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This page served with permission of the author by Urs Geiser;; January 12, 1999