Algarve Hotspots for Birdwatching

Escrito em 21 de julho de 2021

Algarve Hotspots for Birdwatching

The Algarve region features unusual and significant advantages (geographical location, climate, diversity of habitats) that provide a wide range of wild birds. In this region alone, representing just over 5% of the country's total area, it is possible to observe about 395 bird species, which means approximately 95% of all bird wildlife in Portugal.

These numbers clearly illustrate the richness of the Algarve region at birdlife. And to this, four sub-regions contribute significantly: Sagres Peninsula, in the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park; Western Algarve, where Ria de Alvor and Salgados lagoon are the highlights; Ria Formosa Natural Park, mainly the Ludo area near Faro's airport, Quinta de Marim in Olhão, and the Tavira saltpans; and the Eastern Algarve, generally the salt marshes of the Sapal de Castro and Vila Real de Santo António Nature Reserve. 

Given the region's geographical location, when it comes to birds' wildlife, the most important focus goes to the aquatic species, especially the groups of ducks, gulls, herons, and waders. Visits to the Western and Eastern wetlands and the Ria Formosa Natural Park are crucial to observe birds from these groups.

Yet, the Algarve also has an essential diversity of species in other groups, namely the Passerines and Raptors. Thus, for the first group, the whole region offers good conditions for several different species. At the same time, in the latter case, the Sagres area is worldwide known as one of the best places for observing the autumnal migration of birds of prey.


The Sagres Peninsula

Throughout the surroundings of Sagres, you can find several hotspots relevant for different groups of birds, including Cape S. Vicente for sea birdwatching, Martinhal’s beach for shorebirds, or Cabranosa for birds of prey. 

All year-round, it is possible to observe a large variety of species in this area. However, the ideal time to visit Sagres is during the autumn months. Since Sagres is the western end of Europe, many birds lose the ideal Mediterranean Sea crossing routes during their migration to Africa, where they spend the winter. While following the coast for the best place to make the passage, eventually, they end up in the Sagres peninsula.


An Egyptian Vulture adult flying with open wings.                 

Egyptian Vulture | Neophron percnopterus    

Arriving in Sagres, they find themselves surrounded by sea, which may gather considerable numbers of individuals, essentially young because they are less experienced in migration. Some notable raptors in those conditions are Griffon Vulture, Cinereous Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Black Stork, Short-toed and Booted Eagles, and Honey Buzzard.

A Red Kite flying with open wings.

Red Kite | MIlvus milvus

On the other hand, a spot in Cape S. Vicente, naturally depending on the time of the year and the extra help of a telescope, will offer you the possibility to see some seabirds. Among others, you can see Northern Gannet, Cory’s and Balearic Shearwaters, Common Scoter, Great Skua, Mediterranean and Little Gull.

An additional visit to the wetlands, such as Martinhal’s beach, can enlarge your daily list with some waders, like Black-winged Stilt, Ruddy Turnstone, Common Ringed, Grey and Kentish Plovers and Common Sandpiper.

Finally, if you extend your visit to the bushy areas along the peninsula, particularly during Autumn migration, you may see some interesting passerine migrant visitors. Some of them being Thekla’s Lark, Blue Rock Thrush, Yellow Wagtail (up to 3 races), Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Whinchat, Common Redstart, Subalpine and Spectacled Warblers, Iberian Chiffchaff, Ortolan Bunting, and Tree and Tawny Pipits.


Western Algarve

Starting from Sagres and ending in Albufeira, the Western side of the Algarve is mainly rich in wetlands. Among the several options you can find, Ria de Alvor, near Portimão, and Salgados lagoon in Silves, are must-go places. According to the E-bird database, these two places are the first two hotspots in the Algarve with the highest number of species seen.

Ria de Alvor, or Alvor Estuary, is a "RAMSAR" site and Nature 2000 network, making it the most important wetland in the Western Algarve for migratory and wintering waders. Some striking waders are Golden Plover, Red Knot, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits and Green Sandpiper. Additionally, as breeding species, Black-winged Stilt, Kentish Plover and Little Tern. Other interesting species are Caspian Tern, Audouin's Gull, Osprey, Black-winged Kite, Bluethroat, Water Pipit and Kingfisher.


An Audouin's Gull adult on a sand bank facing right.
Audouin's Gull | Larus audouinii

Regarding Salgados lagoon, in Pera, near Silves, an extensive coastal lagoon protected from the ocean by an adjacent dune system of Praia Grande beach, is defined as an "Important Bird Area" by Birdlife International. Here, you will find one of the few breeding places in Portugal for the considerably endangered Ferruginous Duck. Besides that, some of the species regularly seen are (Western) Purple Swamphen, Purple Heron, Little Bittern, Greater Flamingo, Glossy Ibis, and Marsh Harrier. Finally, it is an important place for the European species of Swallows and Swifts.


Ria Formosa Natural Park

The Ria Formosa Natural Park is a protected area on the Southern coast of Portugal that covers over 18,000 hectares and is extended by 60 km in a sand-dune island system, creating unique conditions for wildlife, especially for waterbirds. This protected area is included in the "RAMSAR Convention", Nature 2000 network, and declared an "Important Bird Area" by Birdlife International. Besides the more than 200 bird species regularly found, this area is crucial for hundreds of species of molluscs, and dozens of amphibians and reptiles, including the endangered and most wanted Common Chameleon.

Considering the location, Ria Formosa holds a wide variety of waterbirds, contemplating that both freshwater and saline habitats occur, which produces an exceptional and supreme density of birdlife. To begin with, some of the breeding species are Common Shelduck, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Kentish Plover, Little Tern, and Collared Pratincole.

Then, during winter, the bird's density can utterly increase thanks to species like Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Greater Flamingo, Cormorant and Lesser Black-backed Gull. Besides all these species, regular visitors include Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwit, Little Ringed Plover, Wood and Curlew Sandpipers, Audouin's Gull, Caspian and Sandwich Tern and Glossy Ibis.


Flamingo's flock

Greater Flamingo | Phoenicopterus roseus 

Regarding passerines, the whole area can provide habitat for widespread species such as European Turtle Dove, Bee-eater, Eurasian Hoopoe, Kingfisher, Eurasian Wryneck, Iberian Green Woodpecker, Azure-winged Magpie, Red-rumped Swallow, Reed and Cetti's Warbler, Woodchat Shrike, Common Redstart and, the introduced species, Common Waxbill and Black-headed Weaver. 

Among the several options possible throughout this area, the Ludo, Quinta de Marim and Tavira, are places you definitely should not miss.


Eastern Algarve

Although a considerably important part of the Eastern Algarve sub-region includes the Ria Formosa Natural Park, there is still a remarkable place for the birdlife that should be mentioned, the salt marshes of the Sapal de Castro and Vila Real de Santo António Nature Reserve. This area is protected by RAMSAR Convention and by the Portuguese Institute for Biodiversity and Forest Conservation. The Nature Reserve is flanked by the Guadiana River bordering Spain in the extreme southeast of the Algarve. It consists, basically, of saltmarshes, which an important part of them are still active saltpans. 

Some breeding species are Common Shelduck, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Kentish Plover, Little Tern, and, exclusively for the whole country, Lesser Short-toed Lark. Here you can see, among the migrant and winter visitors, Slender-billed Gull, Black Tern, Ruff, Curlew sandpiper, Whimbrel, Greater Flamingo, Little and Black-necked Grebes. 


A common shelduck junvenile swimming to the right.

Common Shelduck | Tadorna tadorna

Besides all those species, in this area, other interesting species are Stone Curlew, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Montagu’s and Marsh Harrier, Eurasian Hoopoe, Azure-winged Magpie, Iberian Grey Shrike, Red-rumped Swallow, Crag Martin, Water Pipit and Corn Bunting.


Did you know about these hotspots in the Algarve? Which of these places have you been?