Sagres Raptor Migration October 2013

Cabranosa, Sagres, Portugal

The Cabranosa

Arrival on Cabranosa, Sagres was arranged so I would encounter the end of the now annual Sagres Bird Festival, meet friends, and hopefully hit the best period of the raptor migration campaign. October sees the highest diversity of species recorded between mid-August and late-November. However what turns up in the skies over the southwest tip of mainland Europe is down to the weather across the entire Iberian peninsula and further afield.

Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus Cabranosa, Sagres, Portugal October 2013

Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus

Day by day… the records from a fantastic time on a little hill. Please note all numbers are my own interpretation of the raptors that occurred during the period.

October 5th – travelling day.

October 6th

After a morning recovering from the travel, a Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata on the scrub was a welcome addition to the apartment species list in Lagos, while a Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe and a Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius were also present. A minimum of 7 Alpine Swift Apus melba were among the hirundinidae flock over Funchal Ridge.

Travelling to Sagres, a flock of vultures were seen close to Guadaloupe. The flock included 36 Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus, 1 Ruppell’s Vulture Gyps rueppellii, 2 Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus – the flock continued to drift south another few kilmometres down the peninsula, and whilst waiting at the traffic lights in Raposiera, the Ruppell’s Vulture could be picked out among the flock with the naked eye.

Four hours on the Cabranosa from 2.45pm provided a fantastic variety of migrating raptors. A total of 61 Sparrowhawk Accipter nisus moved through North (the day total being over 120+ recorded during ten hours of observation). An Eleonora’s Falcon Falco eleonorae appeared late afternoon – an often difficult to get species in October. A Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi flew north early evening.

Booted Eagle Aquila pennata Cabranosa, Sagres, Portugal October 2013

Booted Eagle Aquila pennata

Cabranosa period totals.

1 Egyptian Vulture N. percnopterus, 1 Osprey Pandion haliaetus, 15 Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus, 13 Booted Eagle A. pennata, 1 Red Kite Milvus milvus, 2 Black Kite M. migrans, 3 Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus, 61+ Sparrowhawk Accipter nisus, 1 Goshawk A.gentilis, 2 Kestrel Falco tinnunculus, 1 Hobby F.  subbuteo, 1 Eleonora’s Falcon F. eleonorae, 1 Peregrine Falcon F. peregrinus, 1 Merlin F. columbarius. 1 Richard’s Pipit A.  richardi

October 7th

Six hours on a warm day on the Cabranosa from 11.30-17.30 saw a good number of species, but birds passed very high until later in the afternoon. The highlight of the day was a Circaetus species. Having already appeared before my arrival, the bird drifted across Cabranosa late afternoon low in the sky, and very close to observers before roosting in the Cabranosa pines with a small number of Short-toed Eagle C. gallicus. The Circaetus eagle was interesting, a pinch ‘slighter’ in jizz among the gallicus flock the bird was with, making it appear slightly smaller, and more compact than the rest of the birds present. The darkness of the bird was also abnormal for gallicus, with the underwing-coverts being incredibly dark and the body of the bird being dark almost to its feet.

Four Bonelli’s Eagle Aquila fasciata of different ages also appeared at the southwest tip of the recording area, while the same or another Eleonora’s Falcon F. eleonorae appeared late afternoon.

3 Egyptian Vulture N. percnopterus, 11+ Short-toed Eagle C. gallicus, 1 Circaetus species, 30+ Booted Eagle A. pennata,  4 Bonelli’s Eagle A. fasciata, 2-5 Black Kite M. migrans, 1 Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus, 2 Buzzard Buteo buteo,  5-7 Honey Buzzard P. apivorus, 26+ Sparrowhawk A. nisus, 4 Kestrel  F. tinnunculus, 1 Eleonora’s Falcon F. eleonorae, 2 Peregrine Falcon F. peregrinus, 10 Black Stork Ciconia nigra

Black Stork Ciconia nigria Cabranosa, Sagres, Portugal October 2013

 Black Stork Ciconia nigra

Black Kite Milvus migrans Cabranosa, Sagres, Portugal October 2013

Black Kite Milvus migrans

A minimum of 80,000 Sympetrum passed close by Cabranosa during the 6 hour period. Mainly Red-veined Darter S. fonscolombii, while small numbers of at least two Emperor species Anax spp. and Migrant Hawker Aeshna mixta also moved through.  Lesser numbers of butterflies crossed the Cabranosa – Swallow-tail Papilio machaon, Painted Lady Vanessa cardui, Clouded Yellow Colias croceus and probable Lang’s Long-tailed Blue Leptotes pirithous noted.

Painted Lady Vanessa cardui Cabranosa, Sagres, Portugal October 2013

Painted Lady Vanessa cardui

October 8th

A typical warm day on Cabranosa. However, many of the birds passed over at a height of over 500 metres making spotting slightly awkward against the blue Sagres sky. The interesting Circaetus species took to the wing before my arrival, but was well photographed by Rui Caratao and Jorge Safara before it departed.

Circaetus species Cabranosa, Sagres, Portugal October 2013

The identity of this bird has been debated by leading World ornithologists Dick Forsman and Bill Clarke et al. Currently considered to be an aberrant Short-toed Eagle C. gallicus, there are those that consider the bird to not be of this species, with hybrid not ruled out, but even if it is just gallicus, there have been very few photographed and published which look anything like this.

The other highlights of the day involved a new juvenile Bonelli’s  Eagle A. fasciata (making five birds in two days). It appeared a few more Booted Eagle A. pennata had arrived lower down the peninsula, while a late Bee-eater  Merops apiaster flew around the area several times during the afternoon and a Richard’s Pipit A. richardi  flew west early evening.

1 Osprey P.  haliaetus , 3-7 Short-toed Eagle C. gallicus, 1 Circaetus species (prior to my arrival) 17-43 Booted Eagle A. pennata,  3 Bonelli’s Eagle A. fasciata, 3 Black Kite M. migrans, 3 Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus, 6-14 Buzzard B. buteo,  8 Honey Buzzard P. apivorus, 26-40+ Sparrowhawk A. nisus, 3 Kestrel  F. tinnunculus, 1 1 Peregrine Falcon F. peregrinus, , 1 Merlin F. columbarius , 6-8 Black Stork C. nigra, 2 Raven Corvus corax, 1 Bee-eater Merops apiaster , 1 Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 

Grey Phalarope Phalaropus fulicarius Martinhal, Sagres, Portugal October 2013

A juvenile Grey Phalarope Phalaropus fulicarius found during the afternoon at Martinhal was still present early evening and showing well.

October 9th

An incredibly quiet day on Cabranosa, especially having scored 15 species of soaring birds a day earlier. However, understanding Cabranosa helps – you get days like this. It is well worth waiting it out.

5 Egyptian Vulture N. percnopterus , 1 Short-toed Eagle C. gallicus, 8 Booted Eagle A. pennata,  2 Bonelli’s Eagle A. fasciata, 4 Black Kite M. migrans, 1-2 Marsh Harrier C. aeruginosus, 1 Buzzard B. buteo, 1 Honey Buzzard P. apivorus , 5 Sparrowhawk A. nisus, 3 Kestrel  F. tinnunculus, 2 Peregrine Falcon F. peregrinus, , 1 Hobby  F. subbuteo

October 10th

Migration of raptors was once again really quiet. Once up in the air, all the birds that had roosted locally hit thermals and passed over Cabranosa at great height, and very few new birds, if any, entered the greater recording area higher up the peninsula. However, patience is key and several years of Cabranosa experience tells me that sometimes sitting at the bottom end of the bottle-neck will bring rewards. Mid-afternoon, four Buteo appeared to the north of our view, and careful checking revealed a much paler bird. Photographed distantly, the birds then drifted away, before returning a short time later, a little closer, before once again drifting out of the viewing area. With one bird obviously structurally different and showing signs of being Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus cirtensis, excitement mounted – the birds then reappeared, allowing Carlos Pereira, Pedro Fernandes and myself to break down the identification… the bird was a Long-legged Buzzard. Despite staying until late, there was no further sign of the bird, though an Eleonora’s Falcon F. eleonorae moved through at 6pm.

Currently at the time of writing, despite many submissions from others, not one Long-legged Buzzard has been accepted by the Portuguese rarities committee, so this one could prove to be the first accepted record for the country.

Pictures heavily cropped as the bird was distant for good photographs.

Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus cirtensis with Buzzard Buteo buteo Cabranosa, Sagres, Portugal October 2013

Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus cirtensis Cabranosa, Sagres, Portugal October 2013

Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus cirtensis Cabranosa, Sagres, Portugal October 2013

Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus cirtensis Cabranosa, Sagres, Portugal October 2013

1 Egyptian Vulture N. percnopterus , 3 Short-toed Eagle C. gallicus, 4 Booted Eagle A. pennata,  2 Bonelli’s Eagle A. fasciata, 1 Black Kite M. migrans, 1-2 Marsh Harrier C. aeruginosus, 7 Buzzard B. buteo, 1 Long-legged Buzzard  B. rufinus cirtensis , 6-10 Sparrowhawk A. nisus,  2 Goshawk Accipter gentilis, 3 Kestrel  F. tinnunculus, 1 Eleonora’s Falcon F. eleonorae , 1 Hobby  F. subbuteo

Also 600,000 Sympetrum species flew through at ground level. However, having seen radar images showing the swarms going through the area at around 500 metres, that count was not even close to the correct number!

Red-veined Darter Sympetrum fonscolombii Cabranosa, Sagres, Portugal October 2013

Red-veined Darter Sympetrum fonscolombii

October 11th

An early start on Cabranosa on a day that saw strong winds from a variable northern orientation.  A Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria which flew over several times was a personal Cabranosa tick.  The Long-legged Buzzard B. rufinus cirtensis failed to appear, despite being thought to roost close to the hill, the only raptor of note during the day being a lone Griffon Vulture G. fulvus.

Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus Cabranosa, Sagres, Portugal October 2013

Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus Cabranosa, Sagres, Portugal October 2013

1 Griffon Vulture G. fulvus, 1 Osprey P. haliaetus , 1 Short-toed Eagle C. gallicus, 6-10 Booted Eagle A. pennata,  1-2Black Kite M. migrans, 4-5 Buzzard B. buteo, 4-16  Sparrowhawk A. nisus,  1 Goshawk A. gentilis, 1-2 Kestrel  F. tinnunculus, 1 Peregrine Falcon F. peregrinus, 1 Hobby  F. subbuteo

October 12th

Cloudy, windy and cold!!!! Sagres at its worst in October! Soul-destroying is the best way to describe it. However, nine species of raptor were recorded during a very quiet afternoon.

2-3 Egyptian Vulture N. percnopterus , 3 Short-toed Eagle C. gallicus, 9 Booted Eagle A. pennata,  2 Bonelli’s Eagle A. fasciata, 2 Black Kite M. migrans, 3 Sparrowhawk A. nisus,  1 Goshawk Accipter gentilis, 3 Kestrel  F. tinnunculus, 1 Peregrine Falcon F. peregrinus.

The Golden Plover P. apricaria again made several flyovers over Cabranosa.

Before my lunchtime arrival, the Long-legged Buzzard B. rufinus cirtensis had been present.  Some fantastic shots from Nuno Martins below.

Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus cirtensis Cabranosa, Sagres, Portugal October 2013

Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus cirtensis Cabranosa, Sagres, Portugal October 2013

Early closure of the watchpoint allowed a trip to Vale Santo which yielded 13 flava Wagtails, 2 alba, and 2 Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea.

October 13th

At late start due to the quiet preceding days. However, arrival around 1pm saw a pale Buteo species, which from photographs seen was obviously the Long-legged Buzzard B. rufinus cirtensis seen over recent days. The highlight for many proved to be the arrival of 158-161 Griffon Vulture G. fulvus which despite being present for a long period during the afternoon, returned northeast out of the Sagres area to roost further north. Unfortunately, a thorough grilling of the flock failed to yield a Ruppell’s Vulture G. ruppellii.

158-161 Griffon Vulture G. fulvus, 3 Egyptian Vulture N. percnopterus , 4-6 Short-toed Eagle C. gallicus, 6-8 Booted Eagle A. pennata,  1 Black Kite M. migrans, 1 Red Kite M. milvus, 8-11 Buzzard B. buteo, 1 Long-legged Buzzard  B. rufinus cirtensis , 6-8 Sparrowhawk A. nisus,  3 Kestrel  F. tinnunculus.  A Bee-eater M. apiaster flew through calling but failed to show.

Grass Egger Lasiocampa trifolii Lagos, Portugal October 2013

Grass Eggar Lasiocampa trifolii, Lagos

October 14th

Cabranosa day nine! Another interesting day! The Long-legged Buzzard B. rufinus cirtensis showed much better than on the 13th, albeit a bit high. A few different Buzzard B. buteo were in Sagres, with 11-15 birds perhaps a low estimation. A juvenile and a 4th year type Bonelli’s Eagle A. fasciata put on a fine display harassing the Buzzards for a short period over the hill. The Bee-eater M. apiaster showed well mid-afternoon.

5 Griffon Vulture G. fulvus, 2 Egyptian Vulture N. percnopterus , 8-10 Short-toed Eagle C. gallicus, 7-10 Booted Eagle A. pennata,  3 Bonelli’s Eagle A. fasciata, 11-15 Buzzard B. buteo, 1 Long-legged Buzzard  B. rufinus cirtensis , 6 Sparrowhawk A. nisus,  1 Goshawk A. gentilis,  3+ Kestrel  F. tinnunculus, 1 Peregrine Falcon F. peregrinus. 1 Bee-eater Merops apiaster

October 15th

Quite times continued in Sagres, but still a good diversity of species for the day. A relatively scarce bird – a Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus – appeared high to the southeast, before later reappearing and drifting off northeast. A trickle of Booted Eagle A. pennata showed a sign of incoming birds and the first Black Stork C. nigra for days made it to the southwest tip of mainland Europe.

1+ Egyptian Vulture N. percnopterus , 5-8 Short-toed Eagle C. gallicus, 11-18 Booted Eagle A. pennata,  1  Bonelli’s Eagle A. fasciata, ,  4-5 Black Kite M. migrans, 7 Buzzard B. buteo, 1 Sparrowhawk A. nisus,  1 Black-winged Kite E. caeruleus, 2-4 Kestrel  F. tinnunculus, 1 Peregrine Falcon F. peregrinus. 1 Black Stork C. nigra 2 Raven Corvus corvax

Iberian Wall Lizard Podarcis hispanica Cabranosa, Sagres, Portugal October 2013

Iberian Wall Lizard Podarcis hispanica

October 16th

A day of hell on Cabranosa, with a strong northerly wind resulting in the need to wear huge amounts of clothes, despite the temperature being over 28 degrees.

Distant Griffon Vultures G. fulvus provided the highlight, despite them being over 6-7kms away. Short-toed Eagle C. gallicus numbers appear to have increased, albeit it was difficult working out the numbers due to the birds entering and leaving the Sagres area. 3 Hobby F. subbuteo late on were something of a surprise.

15-20 Griffon Vulture G. fulvus, 2 Egyptian Vulture N. percnopterus , 10-19 Short-toed Eagle C. gallicus, 9-13 Booted Eagle A. pennata,  1 Red Kite M. migrans, 7-13 Buzzard B. buteo, 2+ Sparrowhawk A. nisus,  1 Goshawk A. gentilis,  3+ Kestrel  F. tinnunculus, 3 Hobby F. subbuteo, 2 Black Stork C. nigra

A Monarch Danaus plexippus flew through the hill, whilst both Swallowtail Papilio machaon and Clouded Yellow Colias croceus were seen in larger numbers than most days.

October 17th

The wind of yesterday dropped, and a calm hot day was had on Cabranosa. After a slow start, a few birds started to appear. A Griffon Vulture G. fulvus flock entered the area and split into two, meaning only 29-30 birds made it near to Sagres. However, despite remaining over 8kms away, they sucked all the birds out of the lower recording area resulting in a quiet afternoon. A late Honey Buzzard P. apivorus and 2 Black Stork C. nigra the other highlights.

29-30 Griffon Vulture G. fulvus, 1 Egyptian Vulture N. percnopterus , 6-8 Short-toed Eagle C. gallicus, 6-10 Booted Eagle A. pennata,  4+ Buzzard B. buteo, 1 Honey Buzzard P. apivorus, 3+ Kestrel  F. tinnunculus, 1 Peregrine F. peregrinus, 2 Black Stork C. nigra and 2 Raven C. corax.

Sardinian Warbler  Sylvia melanocephala Cabranosa, Sagres, Portugal October 2013

Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala

This larvae of Death’s Head Hawk-moth Acherontia atropos proved particularly photogenic.

Death's Head Hawk-moth larva Acherontia atropos Cabranosa, Sagres, Portugal October 2013

October 18th

A cloudy day with sunny spells, coupled with the vacuum created by the arrival and departure of yesterday’s Vulture flock ensured it was really quiet on Cabranosa, and the area as a whole! However, an adult female Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus, a new species for the trip, put in an appearance.

6 Short-toed Eagle C. gallicus, 4-6 Booted Eagle A. pennata,  1 Hen Harrier C. cyaneus, 1  Buzzard B. buteo, 3+ Kestrel  F. tinnunculus, 1 Peregrine F. peregrinus and 2 Raven

October 19th

Another quiet day! Amazing really, when usually these days are statistically the dates when the highest diversity of species appear. However, it was noticeable there was an influx of Kestrel F. tinnunculus with a minimum of 14 noted. Wishing for birds didn’t work – but that is migration!

4-6 Short-toed Eagle C. gallicus, 2 Booted Eagle A. pennata,  2  Buzzard B. buteo, 1-2 Sparrowhawk A. nisus, 14+ Kestrel  F. tinnunculus, 2 Peregrine F. peregrinus

October 20th

With bad weather soon to arrive, and recent days being very quiet, it was somewhat surprising there was an influx of birds. An armada of 17 Short-toed Eagle C. gallicus, although not a huge flock of Vultures, looked impressive as they crossed the Sagres sky. A novelty was a Gannet Morus bassanus which cut across the peninsula en-route to the Mediterranean. Nearly always visible looking out west to the sea, this one crossed to the northeast of Cabranosa at great height. A flock of five White Stork C. ciconia was also an unusual number to see in October in the area.

Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus Cabranosa, Sagres, Portugal October 2013

Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus

17 Short-toed Eagle C. gallicus, 5-6 Booted Eagle A. pennata, 1  Bonelli’s Eagle A. fasciata,  3-4  Buzzard B. buteo, 1 Sparrowhawk A. nisus, 3-6+ Kestrel  F. tinnunculus, 1 Peregrine F. peregrinus 1 Gannet  M. bassanus and 5 White Stork C. ciconia

October 21st

Arriving for day 16 on Cabranosa, something was clear. The weather wasn’t great, and obviously few birds were going to appear. After a quick check of the notes, coupled with the cold and birdless sky, not only in Sagres but also further northeast, it suggested it was time to do lunch with my good friend Marco Mirinha. Bad move!!! On ordering a meal the phone rang informing us that a large dark Aquila eagle was heading south down the peninsula!!! The first rule of Cabranosa – don’t leave!!!

A quick feed, followed by an even faster return to Cabranosa on hearing it had been sighted, saw us looking at a Spotted Eagle species. Despite being considered Greater Spotted Eagle A. clanga in the field, group discussion was split down the middle for Greater or Lesser Spotted Eagle A. pomarina overnight. However, after consultation with experts of the species, it was confirmed to be Lesser Spotted Eagle.

Lesser-Spotted Aquila pomarina Cabranosa, Sagres, Portugal October 2013

Few other raptors were noted, and with bad weather due to set in overnight, it was farewell to Cabranosa for 2013.

1 Lesser-spotted Eagle A. pomarina, 16 Short-toed Eagle C. gallicus, 4 Booted Eagle A. pennata, 1  Buzzard B. buteo, 4+ Kestrel  F. tinnunculus, 1 Peregrine F. peregrinus

October 21st

The day dawned with rain which carried on until early afternoon, which saw me back in Sagres. A seawatch for two and half hours turned up a nice variety of birds.

Cory’s Shearwater Calonectris diomedea borealis 22 South  4 North
(+26 which appeared from the East feeding just SW of Cabo De San Vincente),
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1 South,
Balearic Shearwater P. mauretanicus 45 South 4 North,
Sooty Shearwater P. griseus 10 South,
Gannet Morus bassanus 1846 South,
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 2,
Great Skua Stercoraruis skua 28 South,
Arctic Skua S. parasiticus 4 South

And so that ended Sagres 2013 for me.

Many thanks to all the ecologists at Team Strix for providing great company as ever, and team members Marco Mirinha, Jorge Safara and Nuno Martins for allowing me to use their images in this write up of my latest visit to Cabranosa.

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