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The Rio Formosa is the most important birding site in the Algarve. It covers 60km of coast from Tavira in the east to Ancao in the west and comprises large areas of dunes and lagoons, channels and islands, saltpans, pools and river mouths. The Ria Formosa is of great importance for a wide range of breeding, passage and wintering birds.
Little Bittern and Purple Heron both breed as well as Egrets, White Stork and Stone Curlew. The Little Tern breeds in important numbers on some of the islands and the Ludo Farm and Quinta do Lago in the west of the area have breeding Red-crested Pochard and Purple Gallinule which everyone want to see. The Purple Gallinule is some what similar in appearance to common Moorhen only double its size and purple-blue in colour with an enormous bright red beak and long red legs with very long toes, which enable it to climb the rushes and reeds and walk over the vegation by the waters edge. Golden Oriole, Dartford Warbler and Short-toed Lark are also common breeders in the area and Azure-winged Magpie and Short-toed Tree creeper can be seen in Stone Pine woodlands. Common Waxbill is established in the area.
The greatest diversity of species occurs during passage periods with spring seeing the arrival of Great Spotted Cuckoo and passerines including Redstart, Whinchat, Black-eared Wheatear, and warblers such as Spectacled and Sub alpine. A wider range of passerine migrants occurs in autumn when Tawny Pipit, Blue throat, Pied Flycatcher and various warblers. Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Ruff and Spotted Redshank are among the many species of wader to be seen here in autumn, Black Tern is regular and raptors such as Red Kite, Short-toed and Booted Eagle pass through.
In winter Black-necked Grebe, Greater Flamingo, Glossy Ibis and Spoonbill are regular as well as Caspian Tern and waders including Black-winged Stilt. Large numbers of waterfowl winter here and in excess of 10,000 ducks can be seen including Widgeon, Teal, Gadwall and Pintail. Passerines in winter include Water Pipit, Blue throat and Penduline Tit.
Rarer species recorded in the Ria Formosa area include Bean Goose, Blue-winged Teal, Long-tailed Duck, White-headed and Ruddy Ducks, Marbled Duck and Crested Coot.
Casa Rosa is the ideal base to explore the Ria Formosa
Another place worth exploring is the ETAR waterworks at Montenegro, there is a large lake worth looking at, to reach it leave Faro west on the N125 veering left towards the airport after 3km and turning left 1km later following signs for Montenegro. Continue over the crossroads and head south, veering left then right and the lake can then be seen on the left. Further on are saltpans, salt marsh and mudflats. For Ludo Farm return to the N125 and continue westwards for a further 700m before turning right onto a rough track. Along this track are pines and scrub, saltpans and pools and the entire area is excellent birding country. Further west still is Quinta do Lago, reached via Almansil, where there is a golf course and some good lagoons. A nature trail here leads to a hide overlooking a lagoon where Purple Swamp hen is virtually guaranteed. To the east of Faro is the park headquarters at Quinta do Marim, take the N125 east to Olhao and turn right just before petrol station on the other side of the town. Cross the railway line and a track to the left leads to the entrance where a small fee is payable. There is a nature trail here, farmland and saltpans.
Driving north from Casa Rosa you will one of the best birding areas of southern Portugal, the southern part of the Alentejo is a large area of plains with scattered limestone outcrops, cork-oak woods and olive groves and towards the Spanish border in the east there are river-gorges with rocky cliffs. The area is important for steppe-dwelling birds such as bustards and there are high numbers of breeding raptors. The area is easy to reach from Casa Rosa..
The Baixo Alentejo covers a vast area and the birding is good over much of it, but there are particular areas that should not be missed. One of the best parts and the easiest to reach from Casa Rosa is around Castro Verde. The grasslands to the east of the town, and east of Almodovar to the south are home to the country's largest Great Bustard population. Other steppe species found here include Little Bustard and Stone Curlew, and larks are well represented with Calandra, Short-toed, Lesser Short-toed, Crested, Thekla and Woodlark all present. Cattle Egret and White Stork are common breeders and Spanish Sparrow can often be seen around the storks' nests. Black-bellied Sand grouse also occurs in the area and there are Iberian specialties such as Great Spotted Cuckoo, Red-necked Nightjar, Rufous Scrub-Robin, Azure-winged Magpie and Spotless Starling. Hoopoe and Bee-eater are common and even Roller is fairly numerous as are Southern Grey and Woodchat Shrikes. To the east is the hilltop town of Mertola on the River Guadiana where Portugal's largest Lesser Kestrel colony can be found and just east of here is Mina de Sao Domingos where White-rumped Swift nests in small numbers. Egyptian Vulture, Bonelli's Eagle and Black Stork breed at Pulo do Lobo on the Guadiana north of Mertola. Common Crane occurs on the grasslands in winter.
In the northern part of the Baixo Alentejo the best birding area lies in the triangle between the towns of Mourao, Moura and Barrancos. In addition to the steppe species found further south this area has an excellent raptor list with Red, Black and Black-shouldered Kites and Montagu's Harrier. The rockier areas particularly near Barrancos have Egyptian and Black Vultures, Short-toed and Booted Eagles and small numbers of Spanish Imperial and Golden Eagle. Blue Rock Thrush, Crag Martin, Rock Sparrow and Rock Bunting are among the passerines found in the gorges.
Little Buttonquail (Andalusian Hemipode) has been reported from the area but the true status of this extremely rare and very elusive bird in the area is unknown. Black Wheatear has also been reported in the area and may be regular.
Another great birding trip is found just to the Northeast of Casa Rosa, drive almost to the Spanish border, itís about a 30 minutes drive, then follow the N-122 North through the stunning scenery running parallel to the Rio Guadiana and be amazed by the diversity of bird species you will encounter.
Also well worth a visit is Cape St Vincent - Ponta de Sagres
These two headlands lie at the furthest south-west tip of the European mainland and form the most important migration watch point in Portugal. Directly facing the Atlantic, the western coast can be very windy but to the south there is more shelter and although much of the coastline is rugged cliffs there are small bays with beaches at various points. Away from the immediate coast much of the land is used for sheep-grazing or cereal production but there are occasional small woods and scrub-filled valleys.
Although best-known as a site for migrants the area has an interesting selection of breeding birds. Shag, Peregrine and Yellow-legged Gull breed on the cliffs as well as Blue Rock Thrush and Red-billed Chough. The farmland close by supports Spotless Starling, Thekla Lark and Spectacled, Sardinian and Dartford Warblers. Woodchat Shrike and Little Bustard can be seen along the road from St Vincent to Sagres and Eagle Owl may still survive in the area. In winter there are Stone Curlew, Lapwing and Golden Plover in the area, the cliffs often have Crag Martin and the rocks below Cape St Vincent lighthouse are famous for holding wintering Alpine Accentor.
Sea watching generally produces Gannet, Cory's and Balearic Shearwaters in good numbers although with the correct winds various gulls including Audouin's, terns and skuas can turn up as well as European and Wilson's Storm Petrels. Madeiran Storm Petrel is possible in strong westerly winds as are Great Shearwater and Sabine's Gull and Swinhoe's Storm Petrel has been recorded in this area. It may be possible to arrange boat-trips from Sagres which would certainly produce higher numbers and variety of the more pelagic species.
Raptor passage is also highly dependent on the right winds and during periods of easterly winds most of the migrant European species can be seen. Booted Eagle, Honey Buzzard, Black Kite and Sparrowhawk are generally the most numerous but there are also Egyptian Vulture, Short-toed and Bonelli's Eagles, Red and Black-shouldered Kites, harriers and Common Buzzard. In addition, Lesser Kestrel, Hobby and Eleonora's are possible and Golden and Spanish Imperial Eagles have been recorded. Mid-Sep to mid-Oct is the most productive period although most of the Black Kites have already passed through and the irregular Griffon Vulture tends to appear at the end of the period. Both storks can also appear in autumn with Black the more numerous and Dotterel frequently rest on the farmland.
The scrubby valleys and woods of the area can attract good numbers of passerine migrants with Redstart and Nightingale particularly common and warblers including Melodious and Western Bonelli's. More open areas have Red-rumped Swallow and Tawny Pipit, Black-eared Wheatear, Blue throat and Rufous Scrub Robin, shrikes and Ortolan Bunting. Wryneck, Ring Ouzel and Rock Thrush also occur with some regularity.
Although it does not produce migrating raptors in the numbers that can be seen at Gibraltar there remains much to be discovered in this area and the list of rarities will undoubtedly increase with more coverage. However, the range of birds to be seen here is very dependent on the winds and it is important to time a visit correctly. For sea watching a strong westerly wind produces the best results but easterly or north-easterly winds are crucial to see good numbers of raptors. Spring migration is relatively poor and the best time to visit is autumn
Sagres is easily reached on the IP1 then the N125 from Casa Rosa. In addition to the bird life the area is botanically very important and it is home to several endemic species of plant. Dominant in the cliff top heath flora are Erica and Cistus species with spiny Astragalus massiliensis and the bright orange Calendula suffruticosa.
The Sardinian Warbler is a common sight in the grounds of Casa Rosa.
Flamingos, Magpie against Griffin Vulture and Bee-eaters
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