This Portuguese adventure focuses essentially on two very large protected areas of great natural beauty and of very contrasting landscapes, the Algarve and Alentejo. One is coastal and the other is found in the heart of the Portuguese hinterland. The birding potential is enormous especially during May when all summer visitors have arrived and a few passage migrants are still lingering.
We start and finish the tour at Faro Airport from which both sites are within easy reach thus reducing the time spent travelling.
The Ria Formosa Wetlands is one of the most beautiful and largest wetlands of Portugal and is one of Portugal's most important protected areas, being a designated Ramsar site and a Zone of Special Protection. Its main feature is an extensive array of barrier islands lying parallel to the coast that offers protection to the interior of the ria from the sea, thus creating environmental conditions similar to an estuary. It includes the Nature Park of the Ria Formosa, which covers an area of some 14.000 hectares.
The Park is on a major fly-way for migrants from Africa, being particularly rich in wader species and passerines. It is also a great place to see rare and localized species, such as: Western Swamphen, Little Bittern, Black-headed Weaver, Slender-billed and Audouin’s Gulls.
The Ria Formosa Wetlands extend along the Algarve coast for more than 60 kilometres and consists of a mosaic of salt marshes, tidal brackish lagoons, pine woodland, salt pans and is protected from the open sea by a series of natural sand dunes.
Our base is right in the heart of the extensive Tavira Salt Pans on the eastern fringe of the Wetlands, we can just literally walk out of the hotel grounds and view the surrounding salt marsh and salt pans!
Other places nearby include Quinta do Lago and Ludo found in this western tip of the Algarve, both of these areas give us a great opportunity to see many of the species that breed locally. Purple Swamphen, Little Bittern, Black-headed Weaver, Red-crested Pochard, Wryneck and there is always the possibility of seeing rarer species such as Red-knobbed Coot, White-headed Duck or even Marbled Duck.
is managed by the Natural Park Authorities and protects around 40 hectares. A varied range of habitats include; pine forest, saltmarsh, dense thickets of Mediterranean scrub forest, freshwater lagoons, saltpans, dunes, beaches and extensive mudflats. It can be particularly good during high tide periods when roosting waders gather in the sheltered brackish lagoon.
Lagoa dos Salgados, is a typical coastal lagoon – a large, reed-fringed body of water, separated from the sea by an extensive, unbroken dune barrier. The main body of water is formed by the mouths of two small rivers –the Espiche and the Vale Rabelho – and is frequently flooded by the sea, especially in winter creating a brackish consistency to the water.
The lagoon covers an area about 50 hectares and is relatively shallow, attracting a wide variety of waterfowl, including ducks, herons, waders, etc. Over 200 species have been recorded there! A raised wooden walkway runs along the whole of the south bank of the lagoon giving excellent views over the reed-beds where we may find Grey & Purple Herons, Little Bittern, Purple Swamphen and both Reed & Great Reed Warblers are found there.
Lagoa dos Salgados is one of the best places on this tour to find Ferruginous Duck and one of the few places where such a variety of breeding species can be found. These include species such as the Pied Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Little Tern and Little Bittern. But you never know what you might find, there is always the opportunity to see rare or unusual species.
A little Eastward we find the Castro Marim area which is included on our tours, at Castro Marim we find a complex of canals, saline flats and salt pans (part natural and part commercial), running along the western side of the mouth of the Rio Guadiana, which provides a natural barrier and the border between Spain and Portugal. It is the only place in Portugal to find Lesser Short-toed Lark and is the best site for Audouin's Gull and Slender-billed Gull.
Stone Curlews are often encountered there and the surrounding scrub attracts warblers, shrikes and chats. Birds that have been seen in recent years at Castro Marim include:Little Stint, Temminck’s Stint, Slender-billed Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Audouin’s Gull, Little Tern, Caspian Tern, Black Tern, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Red-necked Nightjar, Pallid Swift, Hoopoe, Kingfisher, Bee-eater, Crested Lark, Short-toed Lark, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Red-rumped Swallow, Yellow Wagtail (iberian race), Bluethroat, Sardinian Warbler, Spectacled Warbler, Dartford Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Cetti’s Warbler, Reed Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Woodchat Shrike, Iberian Magpie, Golden Oriole and Serin.
Nearby we visit the Monte Gordo Nature Reserve where mature pine woodland surrounds a reed-fringed pool. We can look for Crested Tit in the pines also Turtle Doves, Short-toed Treecreeper, Common Cuckoo and Firecrest. The pool may hold Western Swamphen, Little Bittern, grebes, ducks and herons.
This area will be first on the agenda, we travel to Mértola from the airport stopping at Castro Marim on the coast and various sites along the Guadiana Valley Natural Park as we head north following the course of the river. Sightings along here may include Bonelli’s Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, White-rumped Swift, Red-rumped Swallow, Crag Martin, Melodious Warbler, Woodchat Shrike and many more.
The largest area of uncultivated plains in the whole of Portugal surround the town of Castro Verde and this is where we concentrate our efforts on seeing the ‘steppe’ species. Woodlands are almost absent, a few Holm Oak are out numbered by Eucalyptus Trees which thrive in this dry environment, small areas of Umbrella Pine are increasing. A crop-rotation regime still exists in this area where areas of unploughed, uncultivated fields are interspersed with crop fields.
This region is noteworthy for its steppe birds and this is where we will spending much of our time whilst we are in the area. We stay in the town of Mértola very close to many birding sites.
The Great Bustard Reserve is run by Liga para a Protecção da Natureza (LPN) and lies a few kilometers from our hotel. We will make an early morning visit there to look for both Great & Little Bustard, Stone Curlew, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Calandra Lark, Red-legged Partridge, Great-spotted Cuckoo, Common Quail and raptors such as Montagu’s Harrier, Black-winged Kite, Spanish Imperial Eagle and many others.
The quiet roads and tracks leading off the main road are perfect to search for scrub species and other steppe species. We can look for Sardinian, Dartford, Subalpine and maybe Spectacled Warbler whilst the Rufous Bush Robin is always a possiblility.
Other sites include the beautiful Mértola Gorge which is within walking distance of the hotel. Also the Pulo do Lobo (‘jump of the wolf’) which is a very picturesque valley where a very narrow, rocky gorge causes the river Guadiana to cascade through narrow channels. The White-rumped Swift is one of the target species to look for there as well as many woodland species along the approach track.
We also visit the small reservoir near Pereiro where we can look for Collared Pratincole, Little Ringed Plover, Black-winged Stilts and Short-toed Larks.
Day 1: Arrive at Faro airport – transfer to Mértola stopping at Castro Marim, Monto Gordo and several places in the Guadiana Valley
Day 2: Mértola Gorge – Entradas – Castro Verde
Day 3: Early morning visit to Great Bustard Reserve – Pula do Lobo gorge
Day 4: Pereiro Reservoir – Guadiana Valley
Day 5: Transfer to Tavira with stops along the way at Amoldôvar and Barranco Velho
Day 6: All day at Tavira Salt Pans and Salt marsh, also Quinta do Marim
Day 7: visits to Quinto da Lago and Ludo
Day 8: Visit to Lagoa dos Salgados before transferring to the airport for departure home.
This 7-day, relaxed, birding tour requires a reasonable amount of fitness, you should be able to walk 3-5km a day. Whilst there are no mountains or steep hills to climb you may be required to walk up steady slopes on uneven ground. We walk at a slow, steady pace with plenty of stops.
After arriving at Faro Airport we board a nice air-conditioned minibus and drive to our first birding location, Castro Marim. Therefore you should arrive prepared for birding, you should bring a picnic lunch with you and have your binoculars handy. We will continue birding along the way to our first Hotel in Mértola.
Our first 4 nights will be spent in the Alentejo region, on most mornings throughout the trip there will be optional pre-breakfast walks or birding sessions and on one or two occasions we shall take a packed-breakfast with us.
Tour notes will be sent out proir to the departure date containing details of meeting up, hotels, other participants, what clothing to bring, weather forecasts and a checklist of species.
The inaugral WINGSPAN Tour of this fabulous Iberian country was a tremendous success despite very windy weather for 3 days and some wet conditions. We saw most of 'Plains' species very well and the contrasting coastal wetlands pr...View Report