Algarve & Alentejo 4 — 11 November 2017
Autumn birds in south Portugal
Superb coastal wetlands, craggy cliffs and extensive plains: the south of Portugal offers first-class birdwatching in a comfortable climate.
Autumn sees an appealing mix of residents, winter visitors and migrant birds, some moving along the coast or towards their winter quarters in Africa.
This holiday, in Algarve and Alentejo, incorporates a mixture of wetlands, coastal cliffs, oak forest, dry grassland and hilly areas. Highlights could include Iberian specialities, like black-shouldered kite, great and little bustards, black-bellied sandgrouse and azure-winged magpie, plus plenty of other wildlife and beautiful landscapes.
By staying inland and on the protected west coast, we can enjoy the undeveloped Algarve, moving past the better known beaches and golf courses, and head into the extensive grasslands of the remote Alentejo.
Azure-winged magpie (Steve Fletcher)
Barrocal, coast and Alentejo
At Alte, birdwatching in the traditional farmland areas of the limestone Barrocal may yield short-toed and Bonelli’s eagle, little owl, hoopoe and woodlark. The classified site of Rocha da Pena is a magnificent natural monument of great beauty. Scrub here may hold southern European birds such as southern grey shrikes, Dartford and Sardinian warblers, cirl and rock buntings, and blue rock thrush on the cliffs.
Migratory or late summer butterflies, like small copper, long-tailed and Lang’s short-tailed blues and painted lady could still be on the wing. At nearby Benémola spring, one of the few permanent streams in the Algarve, we can look for seasonal dragonflies, like western willow spreadwing, epaulet skimmer and red-veined darter.
Castro Marim Nature Reserve, in the Guadiana estuary near the border with Spain, has extensive marshes and salinas. Waders should include black-winged stilt, avocet and Kentish plovers, plus many migrants from the Arctic. Other waterbirds likely are good numbers of greater flamingos, spoonbill and egrets, and late terns could include Caspian.
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 gallinule, little bittern and red-crested pochard. Other unusual wildlife, like fiddler crabs and European chameleon, can be seen.
Lagoon at Ria Formosa; chameleon (Domingos Leitão).
Castro Verde Special Protection Area, in Alentejo, is the most important dry-grassland area in Portugal. During the day we explore the dry grasslands, which supports more than 1,000 great bustards. Birds of prey can be outstanding here, including griffon and black vultures, golden and Spanish imperial eagles. Other grassland birds include little bustard, black-bellied sandgrouse and stone-curlew. Larks include calandra and Thekla, and Spanish sparrows occur in flocks.
Black-bellied sandgrouse, Spanish imperial eagle, calandra lark (all by Steve Fletcher)
The second part of this holiday is based at Sagres in the far west of Algarve. Our route takes us via Salgados lagoon near Pêra. This small coastal lagoon can be crowded with migratory waterbirds. Moving west, Monchique is the highest mountain in Algarve, and the greener landscape will attract passerines, butterflies and dragonflies.
The peninsula of Sagres includes Cape São Vicente, the extreme south-western point of continental Europe, from which seabird passage could include shearwaters, gannets, skuas and terns. The scrub and grassland above the impressive sea cliffs hold passerines and counts show a concentration of migrant raptors, though you have to be lucky, in the right place at the right time, to see them.
Cape St Vincent
A pelagic trip (with www.marilimitado.com) gives the chance for seabirds and dolphins. Autumn flowers can include autumn crocus, autumn and sea squills and autumn snowflake. Our leader, Domingos, is especially good at finding reptiles and amphibians.
Our bases are the three-star Alte Hotel (4 nights), located outside the village of Alte, surrounded by small fields and Mediterranean scrub, and Hotel Mira Sagres (3 nights), in the village of Vila do Bispo. The pelagic trip is with Mar Ilimitado.
Price: £1,350 per person in twin room for a full week (Saturday to Saturday)
Single room supplement: £180
En suite facilities.
Flights: probably easyJet ﬂights, London Luton to Faro. There may be other flights possible from elsewhere in the UK, once schedules are available.
Maximum numbers: (two leaders): 14
Domingos Leitão works for SPEA, the Portuguese BirdLife partner, and alongside this is a holiday leader in his home country.
Domingos is especially good at finding reptiles and amphibians. Here's a selection from Central Portugal in April 2012. Above, left to right: fire salamander, southern smooth snake and stripeless tree frog.
Right: Bedragia's (or five-toed) skink. Photos by John Rumpus.
Rob Macklin was until recently 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.
Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves (SPEA, BirdLife in Portugal) will receive our donation, and Domingos advises on a current priority project for funding.
Donations in Portugal for the previous holiday here 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.