European robin
European robin

Small winter garden visitors

The cooler days are here and it’s still a great time to enjoy many of the small birds that visit gardens, parks and coastal areas.

European robin

Christmas is coming and, of course, it’s easy to associate the festive time of year with the (European) robin, with its bright red chest.

For a small bird (14cm), its beautiful song is fantastic to hear throughout the day and where there are bright streetlights, you can often hear them singing throughout the night too.

Both males and females are similar in appearance, with juveniles gaining the red breast with age.

Robins can be spotted in the summer months in the Algarve, but many more make the journey from the northern regions of Portugal, Spain and even further away northern countries to enjoy the warmer climate.

Common chiffchaff
Common chiffchaff

Chiffchaff

Almost anywhere there are bushes and trees in the Algarve, you will find chiffchaffs. These tiny (12cm) birds move through the branches, flicking their wings to disturb insects hiding. There are two species of chiffchaff found in the Algarve, the Iberian chiffchaff and the common chiffchaff.

The Iberian chiffchaff migrates in the winter and the common chiffchaff arrives in numbers from the northern countries. Apart from the size, they are easy to identify due to their brown and olive colouring with pale under areas.

Not only are they common, but I also find they are less concerned with human presence than a lot of other species, making them easy to watch as they move through the foliage. During March, there is the possibility to witness both species in the Algarve and, although difficult to visualise the differences between the species, both sing with their namesake song of “chiff chaff … chiff chaff”, with the Iberian chiffchaff adding a small trill to the end.

Male European stonechat
Male European stonechat

European stonechat

The stonechat is a very common bird (similar in size to a robin) found almost anywhere in Portugal throughout the year. So, you may wonder why I am including it as a winter bird. The numbers seem to increase within the Algarve during the winter, probably due to short migrations.

I have walked many times along the boardwalk at the Alvor Estuary recently and, as usual, there is the common sight of a stonechat perched in the open. Normally, during the winter, the males and females are very similar, however, I have noticed that the males seem to already be sporting their amazing breeding colours.

The male has a rusty-orange breast and throat with white belly and vent. He also has a very contrasting black head, white collar and black upperparts making them easily identifiable. The name stonechat comes from its alarm call which sounds like two small pebbles being knocked together.

Male bluethroat
Male bluethroat

Bluethroat

Although not a garden bird, if you are within a coastal lagoon area in the Algarve, you may be lucky to spot the beautiful bluethroat. A robin-sized bird with the males sporting a fantastic orange and blue colouring on the throat. They are usually found amongst the reeds and grasses of any wetland area during their winter visit to the Algarve.

By Craig Rogers
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Craig Rogers is a wildlife and nature photographer from Wales now living in the Algarve, offering photography workshops. For more information, photographs and his blog visit www.craigrogers.photography