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Portugal in winter 23 — 30 January 2021

Lisbon, Alentejo and bit of the Algarve
web page in preparation

Mainland Portugal receives wintering birds from most of north-western Europe. Large congregations of birds join local residents to give visitors a festival of birds, based on big numbers.

Combined with a relatively mild climate in mid- and late winter, beautiful landscapes, plenty of other wildlife plus good food and wine, this holiday offers the ingredients for a nice break from the British winter. Spring arrives early here: the first few house martins and swallows should be in and white storks will be displaying.

This is a two-centre holiday, starting in Alcochete near Lisbon, then moving to Castro Verde in Portugal's celebrated Alentejo region.

Lisbon area, especially Tejo Estuary (3 nights)

After arriving at Lisbon International Airport we have a 30 minute crossing of the Tejo Estuary to Alcochete, where we will spend the next three nights.

Samouco saltpans give our first insight on the large diversity of waders and other waterbirds that winter in Portugal. Large flocks of grey, ringed and Kentish plovers, together with dunlin, redshank, greenshank, bar-tailed and black-tailed godwits use the saltpans and high tide roosts, while greater flamingos, avocets and black-winged stilts feed here.

birdwatching on saltpans (SPEA)
Saltpans offer good birdwatching (SPEA).

We spend a day exploring the huge wetland area of the Tejo Estuary. In the mudflats near Alcochete we can see the waders mentioned above plus little egret, spoonbill, little stint, knot, curlew, whimbrel, common sandpiper and Sandwich tern. An unpaved road runs close to the estuary and by grassland and cork oak montados (wood pasture). Here we can find black-winged kites and marsh and hen harriers. Hoopoes increasing overwinter in Portugal and woodlarks sing on sunny winter days. Iberian grey shrike, azure-winged magpie, rock sparrow and cirl bunting are also possible, among plenty of lapwings and thousands of woodpigeons. At Barroca D’Alva marshes and rice fields there should be white storks, already starting their breeding season, among great white egrets, night and squacco herons.

We leave the hotel a bit early one day to try to catch the movements of massive flocks of black-tailed godwits between their high tide roosts and the rice fields where they feed during the day. In late winter up to 50,000 of these godwits use the Tejo Estuary as a stopover site in their migration from west Africa to West Europe. We then explore the vast grasslands and reedbeds of Ponta da Erva, where we will find large numbers of birds. Geese here are mainly greylags, but also white-fronted and barnacle, among thousands of glossy ibises and golden plovers. Other interesting birds, like little bustard, short-eared owl, peregrine and merlin, might occur in smaller numbers.

The Sado Estuary we explore for waders and waterbirds, perhaps including flamingos, red-breasted merganser and great northern diver. We cross the estuary by ferry boat, with a good chance of bottle-nosed dolphin.

glossy ibises (SPEA)
There can be thousands of glossy ibises (SPEA).

Castro Verde (4 nights)

The second part of this holiday is based in Castro Verde in the heart of the Alentejo.

Castro Verde Special Protection Area is the most important dry grassland area in Portugal, which supports more than 1,000 great bustards. Other grassland birds include little bustard, black-bellied sandgrouse and stone-curlew. Larks include calandra and Thekla, and Spanish sparrows occur in flocks.

great bustards

Black-bellied sandgrouseSpanish imperial eagle (Steve Fletcher)Calandra lark (Steve Fletcher)
Great bustards, black-bellied sandgrouse, Spanish imperial eagle, calandra lark (all by Steve Fletcher)

This part of our itinerary includes one day on the coast of Algarve. At Ria Formosa Nature Park, at Quinta do Lago, the mudflats and lagoons of the area have a variety of waterbirds including specialities like purple swamphen, little bittern and red-crested pochard. Greater flamingos are likely here and at Salgados lagoon near Pêra. This coastal lagoon can be crowded with migratory waterbirds.

Our final day in the field takes us east to the hills of Mértola, in the Guadiana Valley Nature Park. Birds of prey can be outstanding here, including griffon and black vultures, golden and Spanish imperial eagles and red kites. Pulo do Lobo is an impressive canyon in the Guadiana River where, besides raptors, we expect to see blue rock thrush and rock bunting.

We will visit the charming medieval town of Mértola around lunchtime, and in the afternoon we search for cranes moving from their feeding areas to roosting sites.

Mertola
Mértola

Flowers and other wildlife

We hope to find early orchids, like giant, green-winged and sombre bee orchids. Paperwhite narcissi are winter-flowering and hoop petticoat narcissi bloom early. The timing is perfect for the Iberian version of friar's cowl Arisarum simorrhinum. and a good number of more ruderal species, such as field marigold, paronychia and henbit dead-nettle, also come into flower very early. We will be on the alert for early butterflies, such as western marbled white, and various reptiles such as wall lizards.

Field mayweed
Field mayweed near Mértola.

Holiday details

Our base in Alcochete is Hotel Alfoz (3 nights) and in Castro Verde we stay at Hotel A Esteva (4 nights),

Price: £[TBA - likely to be similar to other holidays in Portagul and Spain] per person in twin room for a full week (Saturday to Saturday)

Single room supplement: £TBA

En suite facilities.

Flights: Ryanair flights, London Stansted to Lisbon. There may be other flights possible from elsewhere in the UK, though they'd need to tie in the main group's arrival..
23 Jan 2021: FR1884 depart London Stansted 09:35 arrive Lisbon 12:25 or FR1886 depart London Stansted 11:50 arrive Lisbon 14:40 (TBC).
30 Jan 2021: FR1887 depart Lisbon 15:05 arrive London Stansted 17525. 

[Flights above based in schedules for January 2020.]

Deposit: £300

Maximum numbers: (two leaders): 14

Leaders (TBC)

Rob Macklin was formerly the RSPB’s area manager on the Suffolk coast, covering Minsmere and North Warren among several nature reserves. He now lives in Devon and uses his years of experience in nature conservation as an environmental consultant.

The holiday is run in partnership with SPEA, the Portuguese BirdLife partner. The SPEA leader will be decided later. Other Honeyguide holidays in Portugal have been co-led Lara Broom, who is SPEA's Sales and Membership Officer (pictured) or Hugo Sampaio (in the group of three). Originally Honeyguide's holidays in Portugal were co-led by Domingos Leitão, who maintains a close interest and help. When Domingos became SPEA's Executive Director, its senior staff member, it became impractical for him to take a week out to be a Honeyguide leader, though he will join the group for a time if his busy diary allows.

Conservation project

Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves (SPEA, BirdLife in Portugal) will receive our donation, and SPEA advises on a current priority project for funding.

The donation in November 2017 (Algarve holiday) was directed to SPEA's Marine Conservation Department, to a campaign against oil drilling off-shore by the Algarve coast. New release and news coverage here.

Donations in Portugal for the holiday here in November 2015 supported campaigning against the illegal capture and sale of wild birds - more about that in our news release here. Also more on previous projects and Honeyguide's links with SPEA) here.

SUPPORTING


For prices (presently TBC), see Holiday Details at the bottom of the page.

travel aware

FCO travel advice for Portugal here.

 

Holiday reports

There are many reports from Portugal on our holiday reports page, including Algarve & Alentejo in autumn and spring, Central Portugal and NE Portugal.

The nearest report to this holiday, in terms of timing and geography, is our Central Portugal recce in February 2009.

Tejo Estuary (SPEA)

Tejo Estuary (SPEA)

Cork oak montado.

Southern grey shrike (Steve Fletcher)

Iberian grey shrike (Steve Fletcher)

Little bustard (Steve Fletcher)

Little bustard (Steve Fletcher)

Open pseudo-steppe with asphodels

Open pseudo-steppe near Mértola with asphodels and mayweed.

stork nests in Alentejo

Pylons are left for white stork nests by the road in Alentejo: the wires now run to the right. This is by the way into Castro Verde.

blue rock thrush

Blue rock thrush (Steve Fletcher)

purple gallinule

Purple swamphen (or gallinule) - sometimes seen at Lagoa dos Salgados at Pêra (Steve Fletcher).

lesser kestrel towers, Mértola

Towers builts for lesser kestrels, Mértola.

Giant orchid

Pulo do Lobo

Information board at Pulo do Lobo

Arisarum simorrhinum

Friar's cowl Arisarum simorrhinum

paperwhite narcissus

Paperwhite narcissus, with brimstone.

hoop petticoat narcissus

Hoop petticoat narcissus.

Orchis morio

Green-winged orchid Orchis morio

Lara Broom

Lara Broom of SPEA

Hugo, Rob, Domingos (Karin Aunger)

Left to right: Hugo (SPEA leader in Algarve, 2017), Rob, Domingos (Karin Aunger)

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... where there are many holiday photos to enjoy.

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