We’ll look for the magnificent Great Bustard on the plains of Castro Verde. Photo: Pedro Marques
Portugal possesses a fantastic diversity of habitats and birds in a relatively small area, so this tour enables you to visit several species rich areas without the need to travel long distances.
For instance within 30 minutes drive from Lisbon city centre and its International Airport we find the Tagus Estuary and the Sado Estuary Nature Reserves. These two remarkable protected wetland areas have extensive bird lists that include Greater Flamingo, Glossy Ibis, Squacco and Purple Herons, Black-shouldered Kite, Little Bustard, Iberian Grey Shrike and Spotless Starling, and an excellent selection of ducks, waders, gulls and terns.
A further one hour’s drive takes you to other habitats and consequently new bird species in the Alentejo. Here, you will visit both the rolling plains of Castro Verde, home to the magnificent Great Bustard, and the bluffs and hills of the Guadiana Valley Nature Park, noted for its raptors. Further on we come to the Algarve, a region rich in protected wetland areas situated on a major fly-way for migrants from Africa and notable in particular for waders and passerines. Some of the places you will visit, namely the Ria Formosa Nature Park and the Castro Marim Nature Reserve, are unique in Portugal as places for rare and highly localised species, like Audouin’s and Slender-billed Gulls and Lesser Short-toed Lark.
Days 1-2: The tour begins at 13.00hrs at Lisbon airport. We’ll spend our time checking various areas close to the city, at the Tagus estuary, with flocks of Greater Flamingos, huge numbers of nesting White Storks and lots of egrets hopefully including Great, Purple and the shy Squacco Heron. The time spent at the saltpans should produce Collared Pratincole, Black-winged Stilt, Ruff, Little Stint, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Green, Wood, Common and Curlew Sandpipers, Black-tailed Godwit, Avocet, Kentish, Little Ringed Plovers, Gull-billed and Little Terns, as well as the chance of a rarity or two. Black-shouldered Kite is a real speciality of the area and Booted Eagle, Black Kite and Marsh Harrier are numerous. We’ll visit a heronry in the river Tagus by boat, where Cattle, Little, Grey, Black-crowned Night and Squacco Herons breed, as well as Eurasian Spoonbill and Glossy Ibis. The wet fields are naturally 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 rich cork oak woods habitat, include European Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Woodchat Shrike, Short-toed Treecreeper, Sardinian Warbler, Iberian Chiffchaff, Pallid Swift, Rock Sparrow, and European Serin. Nights in Alcochete.
Day 3: After breakfast we’ll travel to our hotel in the heart of the Alentejo region. Once we leave the coast behind we’ll be in bustard country and it is possible 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 have no big difficulties to find in this habitat include Little Bustard, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Griffon and Black Vultures, Short-toed Eagle, Lesser Kestrel, Montagu’s Harrier, Stone Curlew, Roller, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Calandra and Greater Short-toed Larks, Tawny Pipit, Dartford Warbler, and Black-eared Wheatear. Spotless Starling and Spanish Sparrow nest on the many White Stork nests that line the roadside. Night in Mertola.
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 Golden Oriole, Rock Bunting and Blue Rock Thrush. We’ll visit some spectacular river gorges to look for Spanish Imperial, Golden and Bonelli’s Eagles, Black Stork, Thekla Lark, Crag Martin, and Red-rumped Swallow while busy groups of Azure-winged Magpies seem to be everywhere. During these two days we shall 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 for Southern Grey Shrike, Green Woodpecker, Little Owl, or even an early Red-necked Nightjar along the way. Nights in Mertola.
Days 6-7: We’ll travel to 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 also visit the reed beds, lagoons and pine woods of the Ria Formosa Nature Park, as well as the Salgados lagoon. We’ll be looking for rare and highly localised species such as Audouin’s and Slender-billed Gulls and Lesser Short-toed Lark. However this region is rich in birds and we will encounter many other species such as Red-crested Pochard, Purple Swamphen, Little Bittern, Whimbrel, Caspain Tern, Azure-winged Magpie, Eurasian Hoopoe, and European Bee-eater, while Spectacled Warbler is particularly abundant here. Nights in Tavira.
Day 8: After breakfast we begin our journey back towards Lisbon, visiting on the way the the inter-tidal, salt marshes, salt pans and rice fields at Comporta and Carrasqueira (Sado estuary). We’ll cross the river Sado by ferry, where we’ll have a with good chance of seeing small pods of Bottle-nosed Dolphins. Just before arriving to Lisbon, we shall visit the Pancas woods, in the Tagus estuary, a great place for passerines and raptors. In the afternoon we will continue to Lisbon airport where the tour ends at around 18.00hrs.
Updated: 09 March 2018