Sagres birdwatching festival

Yellow-browed Warbler, a surprise vagrant from Siberia. (Or, as Husband had it, his birthday present from Putin)

Yellow-browed Warbler, a surprise vagrant from Siberia. (Or, as Husband had it, his birthday present from Putin)

Whitethroat

Whitethroat

Female Blackcap (close)

Female Blackcap (close)

birds-in-bags

A row of small white cloth bags hung from hooks next to a VW camper van. The suspended bags shifted and wriggled a little. Inside each was a bird, caught in a net earlier that morning and about to be ringed. We were in Sagres for a weekend of birdwatching, timed to coincide with the peak period of southward migration, and the ringing session was a fascinating event. It enabled you to get close to birds you never normally see more than a fleeting glimpse of, and to learn about them. As many were on migration but hadn’t yet travelled far, they were nicely fat. The ornithologists blew on each bird’s belly to separate the feathers so we could see the white spots of fat dotting the red muscle where the bird had been successful in feeding itself up. The audience of observers had the opportunity to release the birds once they’d been examined, measured, weighed and ringed. Husband held a Sardinian Warbler with infinite care then gently let it free. (I’m typing this in the garden and there’s a Sardinian Warbler in a bush just a few metres away.) My bird, a Whitethroat, got the better of me and was off like a shot before I’d barely registered its few grams of weight in my palm. I must have been too tentative in my hold. Now that I know the technique – even if not yet mastered – I’d have made a better job of freeing that small bird from the grille of the Peugeot a few weeks back. Or at least, in holding the neck gently between two fingers, I would have been able to avoid being stabbed by its ungrateful beak.

We missed the planned release of two eagles, however. They were being kept back for the visit of the Minister for the Environment, a fairly useless fellow, it seems to me, and a waste of good eagles. He paid a visit to Tavira several weeks ago, and Husband and others were there to wave anti-oil flags in his face. When asked by a journalist what he had to say about the plans to turn the Algarve into an oil and gas producer, he said that, well, it didn’t have anything to do with him . . .

Sagres is in Vila do Bispo district, the Cornwall of Portugal. The light there is brilliant. I thought we were spoiled for sunlight here in the eastern Algarve, but there’s an extra quality to the light in the far south-western corner of the land. It’s still the Algarve, only one and a half hours’ away, but so different, with cliffs and surf and a wind that burnishes the skin.

We wore our protest T-shirts, of course. We also wore white wristbands as attendees of the birding event. The combination of matching T-shirts and white plastic wristbands made me wonder if we looked like we’d escaped from somewhere. We none the less got into a number of conversations with other visitors to the town, mostly Germans, who referred to facing similar threats from aggressive fossil-fuel extraction back at home. I don’t know why more British people don’t connect in the same way.

On the morning that we had left home to drive to Sagres, we saw our swallows leave their nest. They were down to three. (I will probably never know if the fourth’s early departure was for Africa or the great hereafter.) The third and last bird is one of life’s cautious types (I sympathise); it edged forward then back, forward then back, its big round eyes and small face framed by the mud of the narrow entrance it didn’t dare to leave. I had to turn my back on it in the end so it could fly off and catch up with the other two. We weren’t surprised when we returned home on the evening of the third day to find the nest silent and empty. We hope they fare well on their journey to West Africa.

Northern Wheatear. Photographed in Sagres but also seen on our own hill. It is passing through

Northern Wheatear. Photographed in Sagres but also seen on our own hill. It is passing through

Stopping in the small town of Vila do Bispo on the way home, and admiring all their protests

Stopping in the small town of Vila do Bispo on the way home and admiring their protest signs (and having so far forgotten to remove the wristband)

Fabulous protest artwork in Vila do Bispo

Fabulous protest artwork in Vila do Bispo, showing a percebes (shellfish) collector getting spattered by an oil-filled sea

 

9 Comments

  1. BeckyB

    Oh what a wonderful day out…..and a White Throat ☺ next bird a Blue Throat!

    Reply
    1. Edith (Post author)

      Still waiting for a Bluethroat!

      Reply
  2. Robert Brown

    What a wonderful way to spend a few days!

    Reply
    1. Edith (Post author)

      You two would have loved it.

      Reply
  3. fatma

    Really beautiful blog this week Ms Rabbit. Almost brought a tear to my eye, why? The wonderful description of the gentle handling of these tiny creatures that nevertheless manage to pack into that tiny body all the organs required for a beating heart, breath, and life. And to top it all, the onset of flight for the red rumped swallows, emerged and departed from their safe haven. The cycle of nature, uninterrupted. Wonderful.

    Reply
  4. fatma

    ps. Love the pictures of the birds featured.

    Reply
  5. Patricia Roberts

    Love Fatma’s comment’s Your picture of the the life of the bird’s is so interesting Well to us humans anyway l expect they find us a dam nuisance,good work Mari and husband,,pity about the minister for the environment,what a misnomer.

    Reply
  6. Hazel

    Love the wry humour in this one — ungrateful beak; waste of good eagles. Ha-ha! Also loved the fab pix of hands with tiny birds. And wept a maternal-type tear at the Flight of the Swallows into the Big Wide World. I wonder why I didn’t receive my weekly instalment until 11 p.m. yesterday night . . . xx

    Reply
    1. Edith (Post author)

      Ah, that explains it. I was missing your comment! xx

      Reply

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