Great Bustard is one of Portugal’s special birds. Photo: Pedro Marques
Portugal offers a surprising diversity of habitats, and consequently of birds, in a relatively small area. One can find both the Tagus Estuary and the Sado Estuary Natural Reserves within half an hour’s drive from Lisbon city centre. These two remarkable protected wetland areas have extensive bird lists that include Greater Flamingo, Eurasian Spoonbill, White Stork, Squacco and Purple Herons, Collared Pratincole, Dartford, Savi’s and Melodious Warblers, Iberian Chiffchaff, European Serin, Cirl Bunting and an excellent selection of ducks, waders, gulls and terns.
A further one hour’s drive takes you to the different habitats and new bird species in the Alentejo. Here, we’ll visit both the rolling plains of Castro Verde, home of Great and Little Bustards, Montagu’s Harrier, Lesser Kestrel, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Great Spotted Cuckoo, European Roller, Calandra Lark and Rufous Bush Robin, among others, and the bluffs and hills of the Guadiana Valley Nature Park, noted for species like Black Stork, Spanish Imperial and Bonelli’s Eagles, Cinereous and Griffon Vultures, Eurasian Eagle Owl, Iberian Green Woodpecker, Blue Rock Thrush, Golden Oriole 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 Natural Park and the Castro Marim Nature Reserve, are unique in Portugal as sites for rare and highly-localised species such as Audouin’s and Slender-billed Gulls, and Lesser Short-toed Lark. They are also excellent spots for close views of scarce species like Purple Swamphen, European Bee-eater, Common Kingfisher, and Eurasian Hoopoe, while Spectacled Warbler and Iberian Magpie are particularly abundant here.
Days 1-3: The tour begins at 09:30 at the Lisbon airport. After gathering everyone, we’ll spend the rest of this day and the next day birding some of the local hotspots around the most important wetland in Portugal, the Tagus Estuary Nature Reserve. On the third day of the tour we’ll visit the Sado Estuary Nature Reserve. Time spent at the saltpans and other wetland habitats should produce Black-winged Stilt, Ruff, Little Stint, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Green, Wood, Common and Curlew Sandpipers, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, Pied Avocet, Kentish, Little Ringed Plovers, Gull-billed and Little Terns, as well as the chance of a rarity or two. Black-winged Kite is a speciality of the area, and Booted Eagle, Black Kite, and Marsh Harrier are numerous. We’ll visit a heronry in the river Tagus, where Cattle, Little, Grey, Black-crowned Night and Squacco Herons breed, as well as Eurasian Spoonbill and Glossy Ibis. The wet fields here are good for Yellow Wagtail (of the Iberian race) and also for populations of three introduced species - namely Common Waxbill, Yellow-crowned Bishop, and Black-headed Weaver - adding a slightly surreal touch to some spectacular Mediterranean birding. Other interesting passerines of the region, especially in the cork oak-woods habitat, include Woodchat Shrike, Short-toed Treecreeper, Sardinian Warbler, and Pallid Swift. Nights in Alcochete.
Day 4: 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 should 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, Short-toed Eagle, Red Kite, Greater Short-toed Lark, Tawny Pipit, Black-eared Wheatear, and Rock Sparrow. Spotless Starling and Spanish Sparrow nest on the many White Stork nests that line the roadside. Night in Mértola.
Days 5-7: Before breakfast we’ll scan the river Guadiana, just a few steps from our hotel. Common Kingfishers fly back and forth, and we should hear and see Red-legged Partridge, European Turtle Dove, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Woodlark, Hawfinch and Crag Martin. We’ll visit some spectacular river gorges to look for Spanish Imperial, Golden and Bonelli’s Eagles, Eurasian Eagle Owl, Black Stork, the scarce White-rumped Swift, Thekla Lark, and Red-rumped Swallow, while busy groups of Iberian (Azure-winged) Magpies seem to be everywhere. During these three days we’ll have the opportunity to visit again 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 Southern Grey Shrike, Little Owl, or even an early Red-necked Nightjar. Night in Mértola.
Days 8: This morning 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 Natural Park (Tavira area). We’ll be looking for several species, including Red-crested and Common Pochards, Mediterranean Gull, Little Bittern, and Common Cuckoo. Night in Tavira.
Day 9: Today we’ll visit the Sagres and Cape St. Vincent areas, as well as the Salgados lagoon. The cliffs and shore at Cape St. Vincent should provide an excellent opportunity for us to see a wide range of sea-bird species, including Northern Gannet, European Shag, Balearic and Cory’s Shearwaters, and Great and Arctic Skuas. Other species to look for this day include Alpine Swift, Red-billed Chough, European Crested Tit, Great Reed Warbler, and Common Nightingale. Night in Tavira.
Day 10: Several varied habitats within Ria Formosa Natural Park (Olhão, Quinta do Lago, and Ludo) are on today’s agenda, including dunes, open water, intertidal mudflats, salt marshes, salt pans, lagoons, and pine woods. In this species-rich environment, Great Crested and Little Grebes, Water Rail, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Eurasian Curlew, and Iberian Green Woodpecker are just some of the possibilities today. In the late afternoon we’ll return to our lodging for a well-deserved rest and celebratory dinner. Night in Lisbon.
Day 11: The tour concludes after breakfast at our Lisbon hotel.
Updated: 17 November 2020