Warning. The following blog contains pictures that in no way resemble the magnitude of awesomeness described in the text or in reality.
The 8th Annual Sagres Birdwatching Festival took place from October 4 – 8 and was centered less than half an hour from Lagos. Coinciding with the annual raptor migration this is a well known event that draws serious birders and casual visitors from around the world.
Along with a small group of friends we decided to take advantage of the special festival prices and do a seabird watching tour operated by SeaXplorer Sagres. This is a well run and professional company that we would highly recommend if you are looking for a boat tour in this area.
The fishing harbour of Baleeira with its colourful boats bobbing on the waves, the smell of fish, the cries of the gulls and the surrounding cliffs is an appropriate departure point. As you round the breakwater beneath the towering cliffs you immediately feel the freshness of the Atlantic breeze. Very soon you pass the headland and have open sweeping views past Fortaleza de Sagres to Cabo de São Vicente.
As we left the coast we soon encountered fairly large flocks of Northern gannets and small pods of common dolphin. Some good spotting from the crew also found a half dozen Storm petrels and Wilson’s storm petrels. We were all excited to have three larger bottlenose dolphins frolic in our wake for a few minutes.
As enjoyable as this was, our knowledgeable guide was looking for more birds and we headed offshore to where we would be likely to encounter shearwaters. As we neared an area of stronger currents at about 10 nautical miles offshore we spotted a large group of seabirds circling in the distance. We were excited but unprepared for the spectacle we were about to witness.
It soon became apparent that there was a lot of activity both on the surface and under the water. Literally hundreds of dolphins were feeding on schools of small fish which were visible from the boat. In the midst of the these schools, gannets were diving and Cory’s (as well as Great, Sooty and Manx) shearwaters were feeding from the surface and a few gulls and skuas were watching carefully to see if they could steal a lunch from the other birds. We put our cameras away and just enjoyed the extravaganza. Unfortunately, none of the pictures we had taken up to that point in any way captured the reality of this magnificent display. We hope you enjoy the pictures we did get!
We have observed many whales, dolphins, porpoise and rays feeding in the Bay of Fundy, in the Caribbean and off the coasts of Newfoundland, Ecuador and Costa Rica but this was the most dramatic hunting display we have encountered anywhere. In every direction dolphins were feeding, jumping and racing under the boat while hundreds of seabirds either actively fed or waited for scraps. It was a feeding frenzy scene directly out of National Geographic and one of the closest examples to a bait ball you can view from a boat.
After what seemed like half an hour, but was probably less, the activity gradually subsided. But even as we reluctantly headed back towards the distant coast there were still dozens of dolphins and birds lazily searching the surface for the remnants of the larger schools of fish.
As we neared the harbour we passed some inshore islands where a number of shags were drying their wings in the afternoon sun. We asked our guide if this had been a typical day on the water for this area and he replied that we had been very privileged to witness this display of nature’s beauty. It was much more than the usual activity. We fully agreed with him and two weeks later this remains vivid in our minds and is an experience we will always treasure.
Muito obrigado Portugal!