|Porto, June 2012. La Ribeira from the Catedral da Se|
A couple of weeks ago I flew to Porto in northern Portugal to catch up with some friends at the Optimus Primavera Festival, a first-time offshoot of the annual Barcelona event. It was my first time in Porto so I was really excited about exploring a new city and the surrounding countryside. European festivals don’t really get going ‘til late which meant plenty of time in the day to hang around and y’know, go birdwatching.
Having been woken early on my first morning by the incessant chatter of House Sparrows in the garden, I had the city much to myself for a bit. Drifting through the old town, it wasn’t long before I spotted a nice male Black Redstart mousing its way along the stone facade of the Museu de Arte Sacra e Arqueologia. As it flicked its tail and flew to a higher perch, it began singing its odd little song before finishing with that amazing static crackle at the end. It’s one of my favourite songs so great to hear it again. The song prompted a response from another male in the neighbourhood, on a rooftop somewhere above my head. Present in small numbers but seldom really seen around London and the south, I was struck by how relatively common they were here – living up to its reputation as a real urban bird.
The amazing Ponte de Dom Luis I bridge was a great vantage point for watching the large numbers of Lesser Black-backed gulls circling over the town. Peering down onto the overgrown gardens and ramshackle houses tripping over each other down the cliff side, Blackcaps and Wrens were noisily abundant along with the ever-present sparrows. Every roof and chimney top seemed to have a gull in residence too, many on nests. There is no doubt that gulls rule this town - thousands of them.
|Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros), Jardim do Morro, Vila Nova de Gaia (Porto) 8/6/12. |
One of about ten I saw that day. This was in a small park and dropped right out of a tree next to me.
|Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus) with 2 chicks on a rooftop, Porto, 12/6/12. |
From above I could see other pairs, some with chicks running up and down the roof gutters!
Across the river, towards the coast from Vila Nova de Gaia, I came to Afurada, a small fishing village at the mouth of the Douro. Walking along the quayside here I caught sight of a large bird pitching up off the exposed mudflats. With broad wings, dark colouration and a slightly forked/wedged tail, as it soared over my head I realised it was a Black Kite - lifer #1 of the trip! This was a really nice area and just past Afurada I found a little nature reserve between the beach and the estuary. The Reserva Natural Local do Estuario do Douro covers the last remaining tract of undisturbed estuarine and dune habitat in Porto. Free to enter and with board walks and hides, it was a great little spot. The tide was low but I could distantly tell Grey herons and a Little Egret in the shallows, the haze unfortunately obscuring some smaller waders present. Closer in, right by one of the hides I was distracted by an incessant ziit-ziit-ziit call coming from a patch of short grass. First of all I thought it was a loud insect but when a small bird flew up, circled in flight and landed on some reed stems I realised it was a warbler and one I hadn't seen before. Judging by the distinct call and some good views of its streaky plumage, I had a hunch it might be a Zitting Cisticola. I checked my guided later - it was. Adjacent to the reserve, a small, seemingly abandoned lot of gardens held a variety of hirundines, common warblers and a wheezy, rattling Serin. Although it was a breezy day, tucked into a patch of grass beneath a wall I also spotted a Clouded Yellow butterfly or a Pale Clouded, I'm not sure how you tell them apart? Either way, another first.
|Reserva Natural Local do Estuario do Douro|
This place was a great find, the sulky chap in the visitor centre didn't seem to agree though.
| 'Blue headed' (Yellow) Wagtail (Motacilla flava) Dunes near Praia Estrela do Mar, 8/6/12.|
A continental variant of the UK migrant flavissima Yellow Wagtails. I think this is ssp flava as opposed to ssp iberiae .
|Black Kite (Milvus migrans) overhead. Estuary of Douro river, 8/6/12. Nice!|
|A male Stonechat (Saxicola torquatus) Garden/wasteground near Afurada, 8/6/12.|
|Clouded Yellow (Colias croceus) butterfly *I think*- |
I'm not sure of the key ID pointers between this and the Pale Clouded Yellow
|An utterly useless photograph of a Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) - also known as Fan-tailed Warbler.|
Parque du Cidade on the outskirts of Porto is another good spot for birds. The largest urban park in Portugal it also happened to be where the festival was held so I got to idly log a few more species while waiting for bands. There were a good range of habitats in the park with dense thickets of conifer and beech woodland, grassy areas and lakes. Hurrying through on the first day, on an unplanned detour, I didn’t get time to stop and scan for a Firecrest I heard singing but the usual parkland suspects were easily seen. On a side note it was a totally beautiful spot for a festival, with each stage largely surrounded by trees and the waves crashing on the beach a few hundred metres away. Sitting on the hill watching goodtime festival stalwarts Yo La Tengo wring some summery pop songs from their battered instruments, I secretly enjoyed watching clouds of Swifts tumble about the sky, Sand Martins skim over the heads of the crowd and a daring pair of Mallards make a sharp turn past the lighting rig.
On an unexpectedly wet and hungover Saturday I killed time in some record shops before getting the bus along to the grand Jardins do Palacio de Cristal. Perched high on the bluffs overlooking the river the views would’ve been great on a nice day but heavy mist and drizzle scuppered it this time. There were still birds around though and at one point a sudden flurry of high, peeping calls above my head resulted in excellent views of 3-4 Short-toed Treecreepers. Judging by appearance some looked like fledglings. I wasn’t sure to what extent the Short-toed range overlapped with that of the Eurasian Treecreeper but there was no doubting the clearly visible, pale notch on the wing bar of the these birds. Latter views also showed the shorter hindclaw from which it gets its name. As I left the park, a loud burst of drumming gave the game away for a Great Spotted Woodpecker.
From a birdlife point of view, I found Porto to be a really exciting city. It’s location on a bluff, sandwiched between the glittering Douro River and the frothing Atlantic Ocean means there are a wide variety of habitats within easy reach of the centre. Then there is the city itself which has its fair share of parks and squares, steep bundles of old apartment buildings and cavernous, ornate churches which are perfect for all kinds of nesting birds. As the tourist posters proudly proclaim, this certainly is a city with many, wait for it...oPORTOnities! Hope I can go again one day.
|Sure I struggle to order a coffee, but at least I know my Mentos from my Grandes Cobertures|