Portugal - The Algarve

3-17 August 2004 

James J. Packer

IMPORTANT: For a more recent trip report from Oct/Nov '05, click HERE



Having to go away during the school summer holidays usually means that annual holidays to southern Europe are baking hot and fairly birdless.  I've been to Rhodes, Turkey, Kefallonia and Tenerife in August and whilst I've seen a good selection of species on these trips, they were not what you'd call excellent for birds.

Booking a trip to Portugal in August was done with the usual expectation of picking up some local bird species on a few birding and other outings. The result was that the area was generally excellent, even in August.

Participants on the trip were myself and Andrew Williams (the birders) and Emma Packer (interested in pretty purple birds and a few others) and Sara Claydon (not much interested in any birds, so apologies!).


I'd purchased Gosney (1995) and Carlson (1995) and downloaded a few trip reports from the internet.  These were the only sources of information that I had prior to the trip.  I'd also emailed a number of Portugese birders before the trip, but disappointingly had no help from any of them.  So armed with a couple of sketchy birding guides which were nine years out of date I wasn't particularly confident that this trip would be much better than previous August holidays.

As there were four of us we decided to book the trip ourselves, pre-booking a hire car through who used Europcar.  We booked an average sized four door saloon with air-conditioning but got up-graded on arrival because they'd run out of cars.  We ended up with a Megane estate which was excellent because you could fit four suitcases in the boot and it was diesel and therefore cheap to run.

Standards of driving in Portugal were fairly OK; nowhere near as bad as some places in Southern Europe.

We decided to stay a week each in two different places; firstly Luz de Tavira a small village just west of Tavira and the second week in Vilamoura, a purpose built tourist resort on a marina.  To sum them up briefly Luz was quiet, tranquil, cheap, Portugese and relaxing; Vilamoura was nice, expensive, fairly posh, loud in places and full of golf courses and rich people.  Two totally different towns that each had their own different good points.

In Luz we rented a private house called Casa Palmeira, an excellently equipped two bedroom house with a lovely roof terrace but no garden.  In Vilamoura we stayed at Prado Villas, a small complex of 18 villas in wooded grounds next to a golf course that were again excellently equipped.  Both found and booked over the internet.  Prado Villas had Short-toed Treecreeper, Azure-winged Magpie, Serin, Golden Oriole, Waxbills, Hoopoe, Sardinian Warbler in the grounds.

We purchased a Collins Road Map of the Algarve before we left, but it proved totally useless with some roads missing others in the wrong place and some villages in the wrong place.  The free map provided by the hire car company, Europcar, was more accurate.

Sites Visited

Ria Formosa around Pedras D'El Rei and St. Luzia

This is where you can walk across the Ria Formosa to Barrill beach via a walkway or pointless train.  Hint - if two trains are running it is quicker to walk.  Loads of places to look at the many creeks and the Canal de Tavira (usual Ria Formosa waders, terns etc).

Tavira Saltpans

I'd stick my neck out and say this was the best place we visited.  The saltpans can be accessed from the road between St. Luzia and Tavira or viewed from the road from Tavira to Quatro Aquas.  Just drive around a bit and follow your nose (Audouin's Gull, Greater Flamingo, breeding Avocet, excellent close views of waders).

Quinta de Marim (HQ of Ria Formosa)

Excellent reserve with a couple of hides (one good, one pointless).  Follow the tourist signs to 'Ria Formosa' from the N125 on the eastern edge of Olhao, go across the railway and the entrance is an unobvious gate on the left with no signs.  The reserve doesn't open until 08:30hrs and charges €1.50 entrance fee per person, an absolute bargain.  Make sure you have a quick look at the visitor centre with it's look-out tower with a convenient and very photogenic storks nest right in front (usual Ria Formosa stuff plus Purple Gallinule).

Castro Marim Area

We found the Reserva Natural do Sapal very disappointing.  We did not have very long to explore here and undoubtedly longer time and earlier in the day would have resulted in more birds, but we didn't find anything here that could not be seen in and around Tavira.

Fuseta Saltpans

A relatively small area of saltpans southeast of Fuseta where we had our only Spoonbills.  Next to it is a netted over fish farm.

Morinas de Rochas Pegodi Inferno

Not strictly a birding site, but a nice vegetated river valley with a dramatic plunge pool at the base of a waterfall where you can swim (woodland species, Bee-eater).  Can't exactly remember how we got there but it's north of Tavira!

Faro marshes/Ludo Farm

Ludo Farm has got no entry signs all over the place.  Gosney says ignore them, but that seemed irresponsible to me and will hardly give birders a good name.  ** I've since learnt that it's fine to enter this area - Charlie Oliver offers the following comments "the best way to get to Ludo is on foot, from the Quinta do Lago gallinule/golf course hide. Come down from the hide, turn left (i.e. away from Quinta) and the sandy track runs along the golf course and bends left, with the expanse of the Ria Formosa ahead. In just 15 minutes or so you'll see the Ludo salt mountain and can head right along a cause way between the salt pans and enjoy Ludo from the west. On that walk you get to see a few very minor Roman remains too into the bargain!"
The Faro part of the Rio Formosa can be viewed from the road to Praia de Faro.  We looked for, but couldn't find the airport waterworks.  The surrounding pine woods provided our first views of Azure-winged Magpie (Aw Magpie, usual Ria
Formosa waders, terns etc).

Castro Verde Area

We arrived at the road between Sao Marcos and Rolao waiting for daylight, but after an hour or so with no bustards tried the small reservoir area 3km northeast of Castro Verde - Entradas, after another couple of hours depression set in . still no bustards.  Just as we were about to leave I saw a distant Great Bustard on a pile of stones on the other side of the IP2 - we all chucked ourselves into the car and bit dust back to the main road, where of course it had gone.  Next we tried a small track heading west from the Entradas to Carregueiro road where after negotiating load of pot holes, bingo - a flock of seven Great Bustards feeding in a field.

We had a further 11 Great Bustards in flight from the track south of Entradas (to the hilltop Eucalyptus marked in Gosney(1995)).  This track passed a small reservoir with a nice shady picnic site.

No Little Bustards in this area but two Black-winged Kites were seen from a bridge across a river on the N123 east of Castro Verde and another was at the first small reservoir (Great Bustards, Bw Kite, Lesser Kestrel, Stone Curlew, Roller etc).

To get to Castro Verde from Vilamoura took less than an hour using the brand new IC1, but this is a toll road and cost €4.60 each way.

Quinta de Lago

A really posh resort with an excellent artificial golf course lake viewable from a hide.  Also views of the Ria Formosa.  Parking at the beach cost us €5.00 during the day which was very expensive.  Don't eat anywhere without a bank loan.  You'll feel left out without a shiny Mercedes or BMW (Purple Galinulle, Little Bittern, ducks, waders, terns).


I couldn't find any information on birding this area at all.  We found a good freshwater lake viewable on the road north of Falesia beach by accident, and only learnt about the nearby Laguna Golf Course after we had left.  Around our Villa were a good range of woodland species.  Azure-winged Magpies were everywhere. We saw two different Red-necked Nightjar in the early evenings, one from the Roma Italian Restaurant as we were having a meal and another near a small pond in the north of the town as we were driving back from an evening visit to Quinta de Lago.  I reckon if you drive around the wooded bits of the town in the early evenings you'll stand a fair chance of bumping into one! (Rn Nightjar, Purple Galinulle, Little Bittern, terns, Aw Magpie, S-t Treecreeper)

Hint - Don't eat at the Marina, another bank loan required for average food, try a street or two back from the Marina for still expensive food but better quality.  Don't try any Cocktails unless you like drinking rocket fuel with fluorescent food colourings.  Stay on the Sagres/Super Bock!

Mt Foia

A high mountain that you can drive to and has Rock Bunting!  We arrived at about 10:30hrs and still found a pair that eventually came down to the café to pick up crumbs.

Cabo de S. Vincent/Sagre

The most southwesterly point of Europe.  We found it a little disappointing, but had a few Black Kites and a Booted Eagle.  Although I'm sure migrants in this area must be spectacular at times.


Systematic List

Great Crested Grebe

Only at Quinta de Lago and Vilamoura.  Chicks were present at both sites.

Little Grebe

At most fresh water ponds, especially Quinta de Marim, Quinta de Lago and Vilamoura.

Cory's Shearwater

In the early evening of 8th August probably 1000+ flew west past Barril Beach, some very close inshore.  Only one was seen from Ilha de Tavira on 9th.


About five past Barril Beach on 8th August, with one past Ilha de Tavira the next day.  About ten past Cabo de S. Vincente on 13th August.

Little Bittern

At least six seen very easily at Quinta de Lago on August 11th and 15th.  At Vilamoura freshwater pool there were at least three on August 15th and 16th.

Cattle Egret

Common around cattle and sheep.  Several hundred flew into roost in the Quinta de Lago reedbed during the evening of August 15th.  Very common in the Castro Verde area, regularly flying over in flocks of up to 50.

Little Egret

Common virtually everywhere in the Ria Formosa.  A bizarre grey phase bird was at the Tavira saltpans on 8th August.

Grey Heron

Widespread in small numbers over the Ria Formosa.

White Stork

Common and widespread in small numbers.  A flock of about 25 near Porto de Lagos were presumably migrating.


Three at the Fuseta saltpans on August 6th.

Greater Flamingo

Up to 20 flew over several places on the Ria Formosa between Faro and Tavira on several dates.  About 20 were feeding at Castro Marim on August 6th.  19 were feeding at the Tavira saltpans on August 8th with smaller numbers here on several other dates.


Common, mainly at freshwater ponds.


Up to 100 at Quinta de Lago on August 11th and 15th.  About 20 at Vilamoura on 15th and 16th.


Five at Quinta de Lago on August 11th.


A female or juvenile seen very well at Quinta de Lago on August 15th.


About 20 at Quinta de Lago on August 11th and 15th and 10 at Vilamoura on 15th and 16th.

Tufted Duck

One at Quinta de Lago on August 15th.

Black Kite

Sixteen at Cabo de S. Vincente on August 13th.

Montagu's Harrier

Common at Castro Verde area on August 12th.

Marsh Harrier

One adult female at the Vilamoura freshwater pond on August 15th and 16th.

Booted Eagle

One dark phase with Black Kites at Cabe de S. Vincente on August 13th.

Short-toed Eagle

Three near Entradas on August 12th and one near Porches on 16th.


Several in the Castro Verde area on August 12th and one Vilamoura on August 15th.

Lesser Kestrel

At least four males near the junction of the IP2/Entradas to Carregueiro road on August 12th.

Red-legged Partridge

Several covies in the Castro Verde area.


One heard and seen well near the small banked reservoir 3km up the IP2 from Castro Verde to Entradas on August 12th.

Water Rail

One seen at Quinta de Lago on August 11th and one heard only at Vilamoura freshwater pool on 15th.


Common in the Ria Formosa's freshwater pools.


Common in the Ria Formosa.

Purple Gallinule

Single at Quinta de Marim on 5th August, with an adult feeding a chick here on 10th.  At least four, Quinta de Lago on August 11th during the day and at least six here during the evening of 15th with several feeding out in the open on the golf course.

Great Bustard

A flock of seven in a field North of Entradas on August 12th, with another nearby and a flock of 11 in flight just south of Entradas on the same date.


Three at Tavira saltpans on August 9th with singles here on other dates.

Stone Curlew

Excellent views of at least five in the Castro Verde area on August 12th.

Black-winged Stilt

Common in virtually all areas of the Ria Formosa.


Only noted at the Tavira saltpans where at least 100 were present on August 6th with many recently fledged young.

Ringed Plover

Common in the Ria Formosa

Little-ringed Plover

Only one noted at the Quinta de Lago (western pools) on August 11th.

Kentish Plover

Common in the Ria Formosa

Grey Plover

Only present at Quinta de Marim where there were about 20 on August 5th.


Small numbers scattered over the Ria Formosa


About 100 at Quinta de Marim and 50 at Tavira saltpans on August 6th were the maximum counts.  Smaller numbers scattered over Ria Formosa.


Only noted at Quinta de Marim where there were a maximum of 40 on August 6th.

Curlew Sandpiper

Common in the Tavira saltpans, but irregular elsewhere.


Very common in the Ria Formosa

Little Stint

Only at Tavira saltpans where up to about 30 were present from August 5th to 9th.


Singles scattered over the Ria Formosa


Singles scattered over many sites on the Ria Formosa.

Black-tailed Godwit

Common in the Ria Formosa

Bar-tailed Godwit

Only noted at Quinta de Marim on August 5th and 6th.  Up to ten present.


Common in the Ria Formosa


Common in the Ria Formosa, particularly at Quinta de Marim where up to 50 were present on 5th-6th.

Spotted Redshank

Only noted at Quinta de Marim where a maximum of 15 were on August 6th.

Green Sandpiper

Only one at Quinta de Lago (western pools) on August 11th.

Common Sandpiper

Widespread in ones and twos over the Ria Formosa and saltpans

Arctic Skua

One flew west past Barril Beach on August 8th.

Audouin's Gull

One adult at Tavira saltpans on August 6th with at least seven here on 8th.  Five on the Ilha de Tavira on August 9th.

Mediterranean Gull

One adult on the Ria Formosa at Quinta de Lago on August 11th with three here on 15th.  A single at Vilamoura on August 14th.

Black-headed Gull

Widespread over the Ria Formosa.

Yellow-legged Gull

Widespread over the Ria Formosa with particular concentrations in the Ria at Faro and Quinta de Lago.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Common in the Ria Formosa.

Little Tern

Widespread in the Ria Formosa, saltpans and freshwater lakes.  By far the commonest tern.

Whiskered Tern

Two moulting adults were at Vilamoura on August 15th - 16th.  They commuted between the freshwater lake and the beach access bridge where they roosted on a strung net.

Rock Dove

At least 20 at Cabo de S. Vincente on August 13th and two at Benagil on 16th.

Collared Dove

Common in all areas.

Turtle Dove

Three at Vilamoura freshwater pool on August 15th and 16th.

Great Spotted Cuckoo

One in pines near Faro airport on August 7th.

Barn Owl

One flying around Vilamoura near Prado Villas on August 12th.

Little Owl

One or two at a farm near Entradas on August 12th.

Red-necked Nightjar

One seen briefly but well from the Roma Italian Restaurant in Vilamoura on August 12th and another seen from the car near by a pond near Prado Golf on August 15th.

Pallid Swift

Most swifts seemed to be this species.  Common and widespread.


A few seemed to be this species, but we stopped bothering when we'd seen both.  Certainly seemed to be less of this species.


Common in the Ria Formosa and saltpans.  More than one noted at several locations.


Common, especially inland and sometimes in flocks of up to 20, but also at Quinta de Marim on August 10th.

A nest site was found in a roadside quarry near Ribeira de Aigibre.


Five on roadside wires on the south side of the IP2 just south of Entradas on August 12th.


Common and widespread.  About five together in the pines near Faro airport on August 7th.

Green Woodpecker

One in the pines near Faro airport on August 7th.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Noted on several occasions at Prado Villas between August 11th - 16th.

Crested Lark

Common and widespread

Thekla Lark

Specifically identified at Castro Marim on August 5th and Entradas on 12th.

Short-toed Lark

One or two very elusive at Cabo de S. Vincente on August 13th.

Lesser Short-toed Lark

One seen briefly in flight called more like this species at Vilamoura on August 15th.

Red-rumped Swallow

Fairly common and widespread.

Barn Swallow

Common and widespread

House Martin

Common and widespread

Grey Wagtail

One or two at Morinas de Rochas Pegodi Inferno on August 6th and 9th.

Spanish Wagtail

Fairly common and widespread in the Ria Formosa and saltpans, noted at many different sites.


Only one or two heard singing away from the coast


Singles on golf courses or around Prado Villas in Vilamoura on August 10th, 13th and 16th.


Common around Castro Verde on August 12th, and around Foia and Sagres on August 13th.

Blue Rock Thrush

One female in a quarry near Santa Margarida, just North of Tavira on August 6th, two at the summit of Mount Foia on August 13th and two at Cabo de S. Vincente on August 13th.


Singles at Luz de Tavira on a number of dates August 4th - 10th, up to three of four in the grounds of Prado Villas on 11th - 16th, but few elsewhere.

Fantailed Warbler (Zitting Cisticola)

Common in most scrubby places, especially around the Ria Formosa.

Cetti's Warbler

Common in and around wetland areas, especially the Quintas de Marim and Lago's and the Vilamoura freshwater pool.

Sedge Warbler

One totally out of place in an Olive near the Roman ruins at Estoi on August  7th.

Melodious Warbler

Two in the walled orchard of a remote farm near Entradas on August 12th.

Dartford Warbler

Brief views of what was probably this species at Cabo de S. Vincente on August 13th.


One seen, but I can't remember when or where!

Sardinian Warbler

Very common and widespread.

Western Bonelli's Warbler

One on the edge of the lovely village of Penina (near Rocha de Pena) on August 7th.


One, presumably an Iberian Chiffchaff, at Caldas de Monchique on August 13th.

Crested Tit

One at Prado Villas on August 11th.

Blue Tit

Regular at Prado Villas, a few seen elsewhere.

Great Tit

Regular at Prado Villas, a few seen elsewhere.

Short-toed Treecreeper

Regular at Prado Villas between August 11th - 16th where one or two were often present.

Southern Grey Shrike

Singles seen in many widespread places, especially Castro Marim and around the Castro Verde area.

Woodchat Shrike

Common in small numbers and widespread.

Spotless Starling

Only noted in the Castro Verde area where two or three were seen in several places around Entradas.

Golden Oriole

One at Prado Villas on several dates between August 11th - 16th and another heard at Caldas de Monchique on August 13th.

Azure-winged Magpie

Very common in pine woods west of Faro.  East of Faro only one was seen at Morinas de Rochas Pegodi Inferno on August 6th.


Several were noted in the town of Sagres on August 13th.

Carrion Crow

Regular around the Castro Verde area on August 12th.

House Sparrow

Very common and widespread.  Loads were checked for Spanish but none were.

Common Waxbill

Common and widespread all along the coast, not restricted to wetland areas, and probably one of the most abundant passerines.


Several sightings of one or two at Luz de Tavira, Prado Villas, Quinta de Lago and Vilamoura freshwater pool.


Widespread in small numbers.


Widespread in small numbers.


Only noted at the summit of Mt Foia where about 15 were present.

Corn Bunting

Common around the Castro Verde area on August 12th.

Rock Bunting

Two at the summit of Mt Foia on August 13th.

Note on Monarch Butterflies at Vilamoura

During our stay in Vilamoura, from August 11th - 16th it became apparant that Monarch butterflies have become established in this area. Many were seen at several places including Prado Villas, the beach and the freshwater pool. A particularly good place to see them well was the Super Mini Golf Course where two or three were watched for some time. I have no idea what the larvae were feeding on, presuming they have bred, but the sheer number of Monarchs in this area suggests that they have done so.


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