With four days remaining of my stay in Lagos, the hitherto wintery weather turned sunny, cool and dry yesterday. So things were at last right for some walking in the Monchique mountains that was a high priority for this trip. I can see the twin summits of Foia and Picota from my apartment and the tops have not been cloud free until now.
The views from what is the Algarve’s highest land are said to be breath-taking when conditions are right. I had been up to reconnoitre anyway on Sunday to find things cold, grey and windy: the other side of the coin and true of mountain tops anywhere I suppose. But I had been very struck by this location in fair weather on my first visit three years ago and jumped at the chance to return now.
There are also some good birds up there of course. Call me a fair weather birder if you will but I did come here to escape the English winter. My satnav took me up to the summit of Foia by a minor road that joins the broader one from the town of Monchique near the top. Along this route I disturbed a small flock of Rock Bunting at the road side, the first time I have seen more than one of these.
At what local birders call the “ugly coach stop and restaurant” small numbers of tourists were hanging about without venturing far from the car park. I walked around to scan the immediate vicinity, coming across another, rather approachable Rock Bunting (below) that was the morning’s highlight.
Then I walked along the metalled road across the summit where two English birders in a car stopped to talk to me. They had also had a close Rock Bunting encounter and seen some other good birds around the coach stop earlier. So I went back for another look, finding a Blue Rock Thrush on one roof and picking out a Dartford Warbler.
By midday the bird activity along the summit road seemed quieter. A lot of Wren and Dartford Warbler inhabit the scrub up here, the latter all intent on offering only glimpses of themselves. I heard more of them than I actually saw. The “oh no not another one” species was Stonechat of which there seemed to be almost as many as there are pictures of them on Oxon Birding.
As on my 2013 visit, southward towards the coast the outlook was very hazy. But tourists were still taking photographs with their phones directly into the sun. The views northward are altogether more pleasing and I fired off a lot of pictures as the light continually changed. This sequence (below) conveys the general impression.
Half way along the road I followed a way marked path downwards until it was blocked by a strategically placed dead tree. I could see where the continuation reached another road but opted for the easier climb back up and retraced my steps. That other accentor, Dunnock now provided this trip’s fifth Portugal list addition, yes really! The Alpine variety are said to favour the area around the car park. Indeed I have gained an impression that the best birding is to be had there and so today (13th) I returned early.
Tuesday was cut short by an allergy attack that in the afternoon turned into a real humdinger. When this chronic affliction strikes so badly the only thing to do is lie flat out and wait for it to see itself out. By morning the worst had passed and at dawn I could see that the mountain tops were clear. I set off a little reflectively after reading on my computer of another rock n’ roll death. They so often occur in threes and after Scott Weiland and Lemmy (Bless ’em both!) it was now the superstar David Bowie. Who would have thought it?
But I digress. Arriving on site at 8:30am I had the summit of Foia to myself, save for a person who I assumed to be the local herdsman. The first birds I saw were inevitably Stonechat. Then Dartford Warbler began to show themselves and I managed some shots (below) in which my camera’s autofocus clearly hadn’t fixed on the bird.
Though conditions were clear overhead, the vistas on all sides of the summit had a hazy blue uniformity with the sun still low in the sky. As I circled the ugly coach stop and its car park, the Blue Rock Thrush appeared in exactly the same place as a day earlier and eventually I spotted another Rock Bunting. So that was all the site specialties seen over again except for Alpine Accentor, though not necessarily better views than on my first visit.
Where the last named is concerned there’s a lot of habitat here in which they can conceal themselves. So if it had been difficult to locate them at Cabo de São Vicente it could be many more times so here. Hence I didn’t search too thoroughly. Feeling I had done Mount Foia justice both in birding terms and scenically, I left at 10:15 and returned to Lagos for the fun of a boat trip and just to relax in the winter sun.