A Few Days Bird-Watching In The Eastern Algarve, Portugal.

November 11th - 23rd 2001



Although not a "birding" holiday as such, more of a family holiday with some birding as and when the opportunity arose, I was greatly impressed by the number and variety of birds to be seen in a relatively small area and by means of public transport. Based at Altura in the Eastern Algarve, only a few kilometers from the Spanish border, a healthy population of wintering birds was to be expected, this was certainly the case and more or less anywhere along the coast was worth visiting.
The weather was good, sunny and warm with only light rain on one day. Daylight extended from 7.30am to 17.00pm. Public transport was regular and very cheap, the people friendly, food and drink cheap, altogether a very pleasant area to be in.
The countryside is mainly flat along this part of the Algarve coast, with good beaches backed by sand dunes with scrub, this tailed into small areas of woodland and agricultural fields, and in parts lagoons and salt pans - altogether a good mix of habitats.
Two Nature Reserves were visited, Reserva Natural do Sapal at Castro Marim - about 5km inland from Altura and the Parque Natural Rio Formosa Reserve at Olhao roughly 50km to the west, both held large numbers of birds.


Various gulls, terns and waders can be seen along the beach, Black-backed, Yellow-legged and Black-headed Gulls, Sanderling, Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Sandwich and Caspian Tern. Gannet, Arctic Skua and Sooty Shearwater pass offshore.
The dunes and woodlands immediately behind the beach consist mainly of broom, pine, eucalyptus and oak trees with an occasional small pool and a reed-bed. A walk from the Eurotel Altura in Altura to the Praia Verde holiday complex, (a mile or so east), through this habitat, produced:- Hoopoe (singing and displaying), Azure-winged Magpie, Spotless Starling, Firecrest, Short-toed Treecreeper, Waxbill, Crag and House Martin, Swallow and Red-rumped Swallow, Sardinian, Dartford and Fan-tailed Warblers, Crested Lark, Great Grey Shrike (singing on territory), Serin, Crossbill, Siskin, Goldfinch, Great, Crested and Long-tailed Tits, Wren, Robin, Blackbird, Song and Mistle Thrush, Redwing, Buzzard, Jay, Magpie, Blackcap, Chiffchaff (numerous), Meadow Pipit, Corn Bunting, House Sparrow, White and Grey Wagtails, Collared Dove, Little and Cattle Egrets, Black-winged Stilt, Ringed and Kentish Plover, Greenshank, Redshank, Ruff, Common and Green Sandpipers, Coot, Moorhen, Little Grebe and Grey Heron.


Situated 5km inland from Altura and consisting of salt pans and a river estuary in the reserve with various pools and open areas around the perimeter. Excellent for water-birds and a good variety of passerines. Entrance is free and unlimited. A plan of the reserve is available from the information centre in the castle at Castro Marim.
From the N125 take road to Castro Marim village about 1km east of Altura. With Castro Marim village in sight look for a track on the right leading to the salt works (a mountain of salt can be seen from the road), walk down this and past the entrance to the works, carry on until a small olive grove is reached, have a look around here for passerines and waders, ducks etc on the pools in the area. Walk back to the salt works entrance and as soon as you go through the gate turn right onto the raised bank to walk around the outer edge of the reserve. Follow this around the pans and along the river estuary until you meet a dirt road with trees in the fields beside it, you can either turn right here to exit the reserve on the Castro Marim to Vila Real San Antonio road or turn left and walk a circle back to the salt works entrance. There is also more salt pans etc on the opposite side of the main road but these were not visited.
Greater Flamingo (sev.100's), Spoonbill (80+), Little and Cattle Egrets, White Stork, Grey Heron, Great and Lesser Black-backed, Yellow-legged, and Black-headed Gulls, Sandwich Tern, Stone Curlew, Lapwing, Golden, Grey, Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Greenshank, Redshank and Spotted Redshank, Common Sandpiper, Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Black-tailed Godwit, Temminck's and Little Stint, Ruff, Snipe, Dunlin, Sanderling, Curlew, Mallard, Teal, Widgeon, Shoveller, Pintail, Little Grebe, Kingfisher, Water pipit, White and Grey Wagtails, Skylark, Crested Lark, Kestrel, Marsh Harrier, Spotless Starling, Hoopoe, Crag Martin, Swallow, Great Grey Shrike, Corn Bunting, Stonechat, Serin, Siskin, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Sardinian, Dartford, Cettis and Fan-tailed Warblers, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, House Sparrow, Robin, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Redwing, Coot,


Situated 3km east of Faro. The reserve entrance can be found by looking for the Rio Formosa Reserva Natural sign from the N125, about 3km east of Olhao itself. Entrance to the reserve costs 300 escudos and a map is provided.
Lagoons, reed-beds, woodlands and an estuary make up the area of the reserve, there is also a section containing injured birds of prey and the famous 'diving poodles' of the Algarve.
Osprey, White Stork, Grey Heron, Spoonbill, Little and Cattle Egrets, Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Bar and Black-tailed Godwits, Turnstone, Sanderling, Redshank, Greenshank, Common and Green Sandpipers, Ruff, Knot, Curlew, Whimbrel, Lapwing, Grey, Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Dunlin, Little Stint, Mediterranean, Black-headed, Black-backed and Yellow-legged Gulls, Sandwich Tern, Little Grebe, Cormorant, Mallard, Widgeon, Shoveller, Pintail, Coot, Moorhen, Purple Gallinule, Spotless Starling, Crested Lark, Sardinian, Dartford, Fan-tailed and Cettis Warblers, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Serin, Crossbill, Siskin, Goldfinch, Waxbill, House Sparrow, Magpie, Meadow Pipit, Robin, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Redwing, White Wagtail.
Large numbers of waders feed on the mudflats of the estuary and are pushed into, and around the perimeter, of the reserve as the tide comes in. Flocks containing several hundred birds were seen but I had no time to look through them.


A small town situated 3km west of Altura. Turn off the N125 and drive down to the car park in front of the beach, from here walk west through the dunes/scrub following a fence on your right. After a kilometer or so the fence ends and an estuary takes its place, walk along this until it opens out to the sea then come back along the beach. Once again the estuary and beach is excellent for gulls, terns, waders and other wading birds, the dunes hold warblers and other passerines.
White Stork, Spoonbill, Egrets, etc. the usual selection of gulls and waders, Sardinian and Dartford Warblers, Hoopoe, etc. and Waxbills feeding fledged young.


Salt pans at Tavira hold Flamingos, Storks, Herons, Waders etc. as do many of the salt pans seen at other towns in passing. Sand dunes and small woodlands all along the coast are also good for passerines and waterside birds numerous on small pools and river estuaries. A boat trip along the river Guadiana produced Herons, Storks, Spoonbills, various Waders and Gulls, Caspian Terns, Marsh Harrier etc.
Altogether 108 species were seen during one full day's birding and 2 to 3 hour outings on 5 other days.
In general birds are varied and numerous all along the coast of the Eastern Algarve. Presumably many of the waders are wintering here from other regions as are some of the passerines, Chiffchaffs for example are everywhere in large numbers, however, Sylvia Warblers, Crested Larks, Storks, Egrets etc. are obviously resident. Storks are already showing interest in their nests and Hoopoes are pairing, apparently Hoopoes lay eggs as early as December here.