The other day we went out a couple of hours before high tide for a stroll around the salt pans. It is one of the best times to go birding here as the waders and gulls are all coming in to find safe places to roost or feed. There are no hides, fences or cover though so if you choose to walk around these ponds too make sure you do not disturb the birds – ie be quiet, keep your distance, stick to the main paths and don’t stand in one spot too long.
A favourite pond for roosting birds was just beginning to look busy, but there was one gull that really stood out to me. It was so big.
As I got closer I realised it was a large tern and that there were three of them. Whilst I waited (impatiently as I was excited by the sighting) for MrB to join to me so I could ask him to confirm they were indeed what I thought they were, I took a few more photographs. Well a lot of photographs actually!
By the time he caught up with me (he’d been observing waders in another pond) I knew for definite these were Caspian Terns (Hydroprogne caspia). Even in winter plumage their large heads and thick long orange beaks are a bit of a give away. Found throughout the world, they are the largest tern with a wingspan of 127 to 145 cm. Their Portuguese name is Garajau-grande.
It is not the first time we have seen them here (here’s a 2017 post), but it was still rather exciting to see them. They are not a regular visitor to these ponds nor in fact to Portugal. The Aves de Portugal website even suggests it is rare to see them, fortunately though the Algarve is the best place to have any chance of seeing them especially during the autumn and winter months.
You might have spotted one of them is ringed, unfortunately the angle is such that I cannot determine the numbers. However the red colour and 3 alpha-numeric code on one leg would suggest they are from Sweden. With the help of the European Colour-Ring Birding website I have reported it to the Swedish ringing projects and hopefully they will be able to recognise the ring and confirm. I will keep you posted on what they say. It is not the first time I have reported ringed birds this week, and there is such a sense of satisfaction when your name is added to the observations list.