It is now the peak of winter, the coldest month of the year. However it is a rather mild one, with temperatures usually ranging from 5 to about 18 °C, and there can be quite a few sunny days. The first Barn Swallows arrive, and a timid Almond blossom can already be seen. Some early wildflowers are in bloom. All is quiet in the streets, but the fields are crowded with northern avian visitors like Lapwings, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits. The forested areas are full of Robins, Blackcaps, Finches and Thrushes from further North. These are birds that reached this land dispersing South in the Autumn in their search for food. In the coastal plateaus, small numbers of Little Bustards gather to feed, elusively. The scarce Bonelli’s Eagles start performing their display flights. An occasional Hen Harrier patrols scrubland and open fields. Wetlands hold numerous wintering waterbirds like Bar-tailed Godwits, Dunlins, Greenshanks, Flamingos and Spoonbills. Oystercatchers feed sparsely in the rocky shores, and Gannets start moving North over the rough seas.
The general wintering scenario observed in January remains quite untouched in what concerns bird life, but with some subtle changes. The first obvious signs of Spring can be detected as the temperatures timidly begin to rise. Swallows are about, the first early migrants reach the Algarve, and White Storks occupy their nests. The first wilds orchids can be seen as well, as Sawfly and Naked Man Orchids make their way to the surface. Wildflowers are starting to show a bit everywhere now. Pink Catchfly and Squill already cover the fields. Everything is about to change.
Spring migration is underway. Wintering passerines and waterbirds gradually abandon the territory, as Summer visitors begin to arrive. Birds travelling from their African wintering grounds are therefore present at the same time as birds that are about to leave to breed in Central and Northern Europe. Eastern winds can blow migrants from the strait of Gibraltar into the Algarve. Swallows, the first Swifts and other birds like Woodchat Shrikes are already present. In the fields, several species of Rock Roses are in bloom, as well as many other wild flowers. Mirror Orchid and Yellow Orphys make their way to the surface in Boca do Rio area. Blue Rock Thrushes sing in the boulders. Sunny days are frequent now, with temperatures easily rising to 20 °C. However, rain and strong winds are still around the corner.
Most of the summer visitors are now arriving. Hoopoes and Bee-eaters give even more color to the landscape thriving with wild flowers. Most of the passerines, migrants and resident species are now very active, making themselves seen and heard. Establishing territories and finding mates are the main concerns in birds’ minds and songs. In the forested areas, Melodious Warblers and Iberian Chiffchaffs can be heard amongs the resident Wrens, finches and warblers. Butterflies flutter by. Fields and scrubland are bursting with life force. Waders coming from coastal West Africa make stopovers in the wetlands. At sea, most of the adult Gannets are now far away, and the first Cory’s Shearwaters glide over the surface. Terns and Skuas can be seen heading North. Back in the world of people, along with Easter come the first signs that Summer will soon be upon the Algarve, as the seasonal business open their doors.
The days are now long and rather hot, with no signs of rainfall. But the wind is still blowing hard sometimes. Birds are quieter now in the hours of more intense heat. As the later migrants arrive in Europe, the offspring of the earlier ones is already hatching. Nightingales sing in the night and along the streams. Resident Thekla Larks, Stonechats, Sardinian Warblers and Linnets are keeping busy in the costal meadows. The symphony of chants echoes in the woods, scrubs and edges, especially during mornings and evenings. The hills of Monchique are thriving with wildflowers and life force. The fields where the Lapwings and White Wagtails fed a few months ago, are now home of Short-toed Larks and Tawny Pipits. The smell of Gum Cistus fills the air with the scent of Spring.
As the spring gives it´s place to the Summer, all the migrants are now settled. The temperatures are still rising. The call of the Bee-eaters and Swifts hovering above can be heard throughout the season. As most birds are busy feeding their young, and the first juveniles fly into the world. In wetlands like Salgados Lagoon or Alvor Estuary, Black-winged Stilts, Kentish Plovers and Little Terns are settled to breed. Population density of the area slowly increases, as the first Summer holiday-makers come to stay for a while.
Birds are active mostly during the first and last hours of the day, taking refuge from the intense heat of the late morning and afternoon. In the opposite direction, from mid-morning onwards, human visitors come out. The streets and beaches are getting more densely occupied. Flying high, breeding raptors like the Short-toed Eagle patrol the blue skies. Pallid and Alpine Swifts gather to roost in the cliffs of the West Coast in the pink evening. At sea, Balearic Shearwaters fly North to areas rich in small pelagic fish, where they gather to moult. The first Mediterranean Gulls reach the wetlands. White Storks leave their nests, and the first Black Kites reach Sagres peninsula, in timid signs that migration time is coming once again.
Summer strikes in all its splendor. It is vacation time for most, and population density peaks. Although far from the Summer frenzy of most coastal areas of Southern Europe, some towns triple their population. August also brings North winds, and upwellings that occasionally cover the West Coast in mist. Back to the wildlife world, clearly some birds are on the move. Early migrants like Reed Warblers, Woodchat Shrikes and Golden Orioles are already going south again by the end of the month. Montagu’s Harriers and Black Kites, although scarce, reach Sagres in higher numbers. At sea, Terns and the ocasional Skua are on the move as well, heading South. Cory’s Shearwaters are abundant and float over the breeze in the calm but vivid sunset light.
It’s time to move. Bird diversity and activity steeply rises, and most of the human summer visitors leave the area after a rewarding vacation, heading back home for another school year. The long awaited autumn migration is finally here, and long distance bird travelers keep concentrating in Sagres peninsula. September hosts the stronghold of sub-saharian passerine migration, and coastal valleys get packed with warblers and flycatchers, bidding their time, waiting for the sun to drop, to embrace another stage of their journey in the cover of dusk. Birds like Yellow Wagtail and Northern Weather dominate the open fields, and the bushes are crowded with Willow Warblers. Booted Eagles and Honey Buzzards gather in flocks over Sagres, and raptor diversity gradually increases. Scarcer birds like Eleonora’s Falcon regularly occur. Butterflies like Two-tailed Pasha are still around. At sea, Wilson’s Storm-petrels and Great Shearwaters are around, and pelagic trips can be a great experience.
And it gets better. In October, the raptor abundance and diversity is at its highest. The first flocks of Griffon Vultures reach Sagres, and Short-toed Eagles have their peak. Days with more than 10 raptor species observed in the peninsula are frequent. It is the time when those memorable birdwatching days can happen. Although most of the trans-saharian passerines have left, some are still around. And from mid-October onwards, the wintering birds start to arrive once again. Large numbers of Robins, Blackcaps, Finches, Thrushes and Corn Buntings come from the North, joining the local populations in most cases. In the wetlands, waterbirds are making stopovers again, this time on their way South. At sea, the migration continues as well, with Skuas, Gannets and Cory’s Shearwaters passing by. As more and more birds arrive, tourism crashes and low season creeps in, as the seasonal businesses close their doors. Other winged migrants cruise Sagres by the millions, as Red-veined Darters come from the sea heading North, in an impressive spectacle. Painted ladies also arrive in the region. October also brings the first rains, and with them new life, as amphibians and some wild flowers thrive, and migrant birds take advantage of the insect boom that follows. However, this weather instability can sometimes crash the bird migration feast, for influxes of migrants to the peninsula are irregular. After all, Autumn has arrived.
Wintering birds arrive in massive numbers. Robins, Blackcaps, Finches, Thrushes and Corn Buntings now dominate the coastal valleys, and the Lapwings and Meadow Pipits are back and settled. The late migrants depart throughout the month. Griffon Vultures, Short-toed Eagles, Common Buzzards, Hen Harriers and Red Kites still reach Sagres, but they are the last ones to pass through. Most of the wintering waders arrive in the wetlands. At sea, all the Cory’s Shearwaters are gone, but Northern Gannets head South by the thousands. The temperature is now cooler ranging from 10 – 20 °C, and rain falls frequently. However, some Novembers can be rather sunny. Because some migrants are still departing and others already arriving, November is a month of great bird diversity. Depending on the weather conditions and food availability further North, rare birds like Brent Goose, Yellow-browed Warbler or Snow Bunting can occur in some years, as do regular but fluctuating visitors like Siskin or Bullfinch. Back in the streets, all is quiet again. The yearning smell of burning firewood whirls in the wind, and that “winter feeling” creeps in.
December is the wettest month of the year, however stormy days alternate with clear and sunny ones. Ocasional butterflies like Wall Brown and Clouded Yellow can still be found. Some Sea Thrifts are still in bloom, and flowers like Friar’s Cowl pop-up in the fields where Lapwings, White Wagtail, Skylarks, Finches and small numbers of Little Bustards feed. It is time to look for scarce birds like Richard’s Pipit, Ringed Ouzel or Alpine Accentor. Black Redstarts are pretty much everywhere. In some years, rare or scarce gulls like Glaucous Gull are found taking shelter in fishing harbors. Some overwintering Sandwich Tern are still around. The wetlands are now filled again with great numbers and diversity of waders, wildfowl, gulls and other waterbirds. Clear days can be a birdwatching feast in spots like Salgados Lagoon, where sometimes wintering Mediterranean Gull and dispersing Audouin’s Gulls can be spotted, not to mention the resident Purple Swamphens. Wintering Gannets feed near the shore, and the cliffs of the West Coast and its dwellers make their stand to the rough seas. Winter is here.