Birding in the Algarve
From Castro Marim in the east to the Sagres Peninsula and Cabo da São Vicente at the south-western extremity of the country (and Europe), the Algarve coast provides quality birdwatching throughout the year.
Particularly notable are three sites designated under the Ramsar Convention: the 16,000-hectare Ria da Formosa and much smaller sites at Sapais de Castro Marim and the Ria Alvor.
The Parque National da Ria Formosa (PNRF) consists of coastal lagoons, vast areas of tidal flats, saltmarsh and saltpans that are enclosed by a belt of sand dune islands and peninsulas. It is of particular importance as a wintering area for many birds from northern Europe and as a resting and feeding station for birds migrating between Africa and Europe. Amongst those occurring in notable numbers are Black-tailed Godwits, Ringed Plovers and Little Stints. There is also a diverse population of breeding birds that includes Little Bittern, Purple Swamp-hen, Purple Heron, Red-crested Pochard, Collared Pratincole, Kentish Plover, European Bee-eater, Red-necked Nightjar, Woodchat and Iberian Grey Shrikes and Little Tern. In the Ludo / Quinta do Lago area, Marsh Harriers are resident and Booted Eagles are regular in winter. Our base in Tavira is situated on the edge of the PNRF.
The Castro Marim wetland, just a 20-minute drive from Tavira, is a complex system of creeks and natural salt marsh areas plus man-made saltpans. This is a particularly important site for non-breeding Greater Flamingos and Eurasian Spoonbills, but at any time of the year promises good birdwatching for at least half a day. It is perhaps the only site in Portugal where Lesser Short-toed Larks can regularly be found. We often see Little Bustards here and, as well as increasing numbers of Audouin’s Gulls, we now frequently find Slender-billed Gulls, a rarity anywhere else in Portugal. Over 100 Black-necked Grebes winter and we have seen as many as 70 Stone-curlews.
To the west of the PNRF, the best-known sites are at Vilamoura, Lagoa dos Salgados (also known as Pera marsh), the Ria Alvor and the Sagres Peninsula. All of these are definitely worth a visit, but the Sagres Peninsula and Cabo da São Vicente can be particularly rewarding. This is particularly true in autumn when passage of raptors and seabirds can be outstanding. On the right day we might see Eurasian Griffon, Honey-buzzard, Short-toed and Booted Eagles, Black Kite, Sparrowhawk, Egyptian Vulture, Common Buzzard, Marsh, Hen or Montagu’s Harriers and more! If the raptors aren’t performing, we simply switch to seawatching – hoping for something unusual amongst the regular Northern Gannets, Cory’s and Balearic Shearwaters. Little Bustards, Red-billed Choughs, Peregrine Falcon, Blue Rock Thrush and Black Redstart are resident here and this is where we might find a migrant Dotterel or a Richard’s Pipit. In winter there are usually a few Alpine Accentors to be found.
We would expect to see between 50 and 80 species during a full day, sometimes that many in just half a day. Depending on the season, as well as those already mentioned, these might include Great Spotted Cuckoo, Alpine and Pallid Swifts, Red-rumped Swallow, Common Waxbill, Serin, Spotless Starling, Azure-winged Magpie, Zitting Cisticola and Hoopoe.
Birding in Portugal & SW Spain