Greater Flamingos in the Tagus River estuary Photo: Sunbird
Portugal offers a surprising diversity of habitats, and consequently, of birds in a relatively small area. One can find, within half an hour’s drive from Lisbon city centre and its international airport, the Tagus Estuary and the Sado Estuary Nature Reserves. These two remarkable protected wetland areas have extensive bird lists that include White Stork, Greater Flamingo, Squacco Heron, Booted Eagle, Little Bustard, Eurasian Hoopoe, Iberian Grey Shrike, and an excellent selection of ducks, waders, gulls and terns.
A further hour’s drive takes you to different habitat and new bird species in the Alentejo. Here we’ll visit both the rolling plains of Castro Verde, home of Great Bustard, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, European Roller and Calandra Lark, among others, and the bluffs and hills of the Guadiana Valley Nature Park, noted for species like Black Stork, Cinereous and Griffon Vultures, Spanish Imperial, Golden, and Bonelli’s Eagles, Iberian Green Woodpecker, Blue Rock Thrush, and Rock Bunting.
After exploring the Alentejo, we’ll travel a short 45 minutes to the Algarve, a region rich in protected wetland areas situated on a major flyway for migrants from Africa, and notable in particular for waders and passerines. Some of the places we’ll visit, namely the Ria Formosa Nature Park and the Castro Marim Nature Reserve, are unique in Portugal as sites for rare and highly-localized species such as Audouin’s Gull and Lesser Short-toed Lark. These are also excellent areas for close views of scarce species such as Purple Swamphen and Little Bittern, while Common Kingfisher, Little Owl, Iberian Magpie and Sardinian Warbler are particularly abundant here. And, probably the highlight here, will be a pelagic trip off Sagres, a great opportunity to see several seabird species at ultra-close range.
Days 1-2: The tour begins at 09:30 at Lisbon’s international airport. After everyone has gathering, we’ll spend the rest of the day, and the next, birding some of the local hotspots around the most important wetland, the Tagus Estuary Nature Reserve. Time spent at the saltpans should produce Greater Flamingo, Eurasian Spoonbill, Black-winged Stilt, Ruff, Little Stint, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Green, Wood, Common and Curlew Sandpipers, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, Pied Avocet, Kentish and Ringed Plovers, and Mediterranean Gull, as well as the chance of a couple of rarities. Black-winged Kite is a speciality of the area and Booted Eagle and Marsh Harrier are numerous. The wet fields here are good for Yellow Wagtails (of the Iberian race) but also for populations of three introduced species, namely Common Waxbill, Yellow-crowned Bishop and Black-headed Weaver, adding a slightly surreal touch to some wonderful mediterranean birding. Other interesting passerines of the region, especially in the cork oak woods habitat of Pancas, include Short-toed Treecreeper, Pallid Swift, Rock Sparrow, European Serin and Cirl Bunting. Nights in Alcochete.
Day 3: After breakfast we’ll drive into the heart of the Alentejo region. Once we leave the coast we’ll be in bustard-country and we may see our first Great Bustards before reaching our hotel. The rolling hills can hold good numbers of this species, which can often be easy to spot on the distant plains. Other birds we should find in this habitat include Little Bustard, Stone-curlew, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Red Kite, Calandra and Greater Short-toed Larks, Tawny Pipit, and Spanish Sparrow. Night in Mértola.
Days 4-5: Before breakfast we’ll scan the river Guadiana, just a few steps from our hotel. Kingfishers fly back and forth and we should hear and see Rock Bunting and Blue Rock Thrush. We’ll visit some spectacular river gorges to look for Cinereous and Griffon Vultures, Spanish Imperial, Golden and Bonelli’s Eagles, Eurasian Eagle Owl, Black Stork, Thekla Lark, the scarce White-rumped Swift, Crag Martin, and Red-rumped Swallow, while busy groups of Iberian (Azure-winged) Magpies seem to be everywhere. During these two days we’ll have another opportunity to visit the great Castro Verde rolling plains, looking for any possible missing species. We’ll return to our hotel in time for dinner, maybe stopping along the way for Iberian Green Woodpecker, Little Owl, or even a late Montagu’s Harrier, Lesser Kestrel or European Roller. Night in Mértola.
Days 6-7: We’ll travel to the Algarve region where we’ll look at the complex of canals, salt flats and salt pans of the Castro Marim Nature Reserve and visit the reed beds, lagoons and pine woods of the Ria Formosa Nature Park, as well as the Salgados lagoon. Here we’ll be looking for rare and highly-localized species such as Audouin’s and Slender-billed Gulls and Lesser Short-toed Lark. This region is rich in birds and we’ll encounter many other species such as Purple Swamphen, Little Bittern, and Eurasian Hoopoe. Sardinian, Dartford, and Spectacled Warblers are particularly abundant here. The selection of ducks and waders is also impressive. A visit to Sagres and Cape St. Vincent offers a great opportunity to see soaring birds migrating, and on our pelagic trip, seabirds such as European and Wilson’s Storm Petrels, Balearic, Cory’s, Sooty’s and Great Shearwaters, and Great, Parasitic and Pomarine Skuas among others. Nights in Tavira.
Day 8: After breakfast we begin our journey back towards Lisbon visiting, on the way, the intertidal salt marshes, salt pans and rice fields at Comporta and Carrasqueira (Sado Estuary Nature Reserve). We’ll cross the river Sado by ferry where we’ll have a good chance of seeing small pods of Bottle-nosed Dolphins. In the afternoon we’ll continue to Lisbon. Night in Lisbon.
Day 9: The tour concludes after breakfast at our Lisbon hotel.
This tour is arranged by our American partner WINGS
Created: 24 May 2019