Perching in the Ria Formosa

The Ria Formosa, one of Portugal’s seven natural wonders is a large sea lagoon located in the Algarve on the south coast. Most winters you’ll find us on the eastern edges of the Ria Formosa in Olhão da Restauração; partly because of the great apartment we rent but mostly because of the indoor and outdoor markets and up until recently easy access to good birding. And it is on the birds I thought I’d focus today, and in particular the numerous perching birds of the Ria Formosa. But first let’s set the scene with a few photographs of the eastern edges of this stunning sea lagoon.

I’ve got quite a birding collection lined up for you today, and none birders may be slightly overwhelmed. However this post is a tiny snapshot of what you can observe in the Ria Formoas. It is not unusual to see 49 or more species in just a few hours, and if you are a here a few days at the right time of year you can see hundreds of different species.

One of the less common sightings is the Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica cyanecula). It is one of the 30,000 migratory birds that the Algarve hosts, and whilst they can spend months here they are so secretive they can be incredibly difficult to spot. Fortunately for us one of our regular walks takes us past a favourite feeding area, and to my delight earlier this year he found a perching post!

Male Bluethroat
Their Portuguese name is Pisco-de-peito-azul

The next bird is also a challenge to photograph, not so much because it is rare or secretive but because it flits around so quickly in the trees and scrub that I struggle to capture its portrait! Its name is Chiffchaff and it is one of the most common wintering passerine birds to be found in Portugal.

ChiffChaff
Their Portuguese name is Felosa-comum

They feed on insects, mostly from the undersides of leaves, which is why they flit around so much. However you may also spot them darting out to snap an insect in flight.

Now my next one is also a very common sighting, and in fact is one of my favourite passerines here in Portugal. There is just something about that red eye! It is of course the Sardinian Warbler. It loves flying in and out of the scrub around the edges of the lagoon and salt pans, and fortunately for me has a habit of perching a few metres ahead of us. Almost as though it is waiting for me to take the picture!

Black headed Warbler
Their Portuguese name is Toutinegra-de-cabeça-preta

They are a year round resident in Portugal, and are seen throughout the country often in large numbers. They certainly seem to have increased in numbers around Olhão’s salt pans.

Passerine birds (passiformes) are the dominant avian group, with more than half of the bird species falling into this group. They are identified by their toes – three pointing forward and one back – which enable them to perch almost anywhere. Some are tiny and are others large, and they can be found on all continents except Antarctica. The majority of them are insect eaters, such as my next bird in this collection, the Zitting Cisticola.

Don’t you just love the name! It describes both their call and their habit of dwelling in low lying shrubs. They are considered to be a year round Portuguse resident but numbers, or at least observations of them, vary enormously from year to year. They are a tiny bird, and like the Chiffchaff difficult to photograph thanks to their constant movement.

Zitting Cisticolas
Their Portuguese name is Fuinha-dos-juncos

The Eurasian Stonechat is far easier to spot, not only is it everywhere in the Algarve and much of Portugal but it just seems to love posing. The male is very easy to identify with its black head, white collar and reddish chest but interesting in recent years it is the female I seem to photograph more. Maybe because at the time I take the shot I am not always 100% sure what I am photographing and these days I’ve noted I have a tendency to photograph what I don’t recognise or am uncertain about. Anyhow whatever for the reason I have, as you can see, multiple photographs to share!

It is an insect eater but will also enjoy seeds and fruit such as blackberries. Its name gives you a hint as to its call – it sounds like two stones being knocked together. This is a bird that is conspicuous in sound as well as by sight. And best of all is beautifully displaying below the three toes pointing forward.

Female Stonechat
Their Portuguese name is Cartaxo-comum

Now I hope you are all still with me as I still have quite a few favourites to share with you, the first being the Yellow Wagtail. Who can resist that tail going up and down, I certainly can’t, especially as their arrival in the Algarve indicates spring is approaching. They winter in Africa, and return to southern Europe around the same time or sometimes even earlier than the swallows.

Yellow wagtail
Their Portuguese name is Alvéola-amarela

They particularly like estuaries so the Ria Formosa is a great place to observe them, but you will also find them in highland pastures. The females and males have similar markings, but the males are more vivid in colour. Their food, yes you have guessed it, are insects.

Now I just have one final species to focus on before I finish with a gallery of some of the larger passerines, and I thought I’d share a few photographs of a bird that everyone must have seen as they have colonised most of the world and probably are the most common bird in Portugal. It is also the bird from whom the name passerine is drawn from. Recognise it yet?!

Sparrow
Their Portuguese name is Pardal-comum

It is of course the sparrow. I believe all of these are the House Sparrow, rather than the Spanish Sparrow, Dunnock or Tree Sparrow. Although there is always the possibility they are hybrids as the Spanish and House Sparrow are know to mix it up a little.

And so there we go a passerine collection for a Saturday afternoon. Aren’t they incredible. No wonder birding is so addictive, and with around 10,000 species of birds (of which more than half are passerines) it is a hobby that could keep you going forever. Although their numbers are tiny when compared to the number of insect species; there are around 950,000 types of insects and that doesn’t include molluscs or crustaceans. Good job I guess with all these passerines eating them! However as always I am becoming sidetracked. It is time I let you go, so here’s my final gallery; perching in the Ria Formosa.

You may have spotted I didn’t say perching birds in my gallery introduction. It was deliberate as not all of these are passerines, but do you know which of them are not? Happy Saturday!

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When in Portugal you will find me walking, cooking, photographing, reading and of course blogging. In England it is pretty much the same with the addition of catching up with family, friends and organising a festival.

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