In summer tourists flock to the Ria Formosa Natural Park, mainly to access the 60km of sand-dune islands which protect its 40,000 hectares of coastal lagoons, tidal flats, salt marshes and saltpans. In winter the tourists are replaced by flocks of wintering birds, and their huge numbers as well as diversity are the reason this area is classified as a wetland of international importance (Ramsar Convention) and a Special Protected Area (EU directive). It is also the main reason that we return here year after year.
Our apartment is situated on the edges of the Ria Formosa and so most days we will spend at least an hour birding in the saltmarshes and saltpans. This probably explains why my albums and MrB’s notebooks are full of records of Cormorants, Spoonbills, Sardinian Warblers, Avocets, Black Tailed Godwits, Bar-tailed Godwits, Sandpipers, Dunlins, Sanderlings, Whimbrels, Curlews, Snipes, Ringed Plovers, Kentish Plovers, Black-Winged Stilts, Coots, European White Storks, Redshanks, Greenshanks, Little Terns, Little Egrets, Cattle Egrets, Little Stints, Herons, Flamingos and more. However as my photographs demonstrate – a sample from a few hours of birding over 3 days last December – even if you only had a few hours to spare for birding you would see quite a bit.
If you are not too sure where to start then a quick search of the internet will find you a number of guided birding tours including boat trips. Do note however that the wetlands are accessible from most of the coastal villages and towns so you can very easily, with the help of this Algarve Birdwatching Guide and/or my birding posts, create your own self-guided birdwatching tour. Just remember early mornings and evenings are better than the middle of the day, and a rising or falling tide means more activity on the mudflats and in the salt-marshes. A high tide though is best for the saltpans, follow the link for more details on tide times.
Probably the most successful trail for birders in the Ria Formosa is Lagoa de São Lourenço, and it is an area we return to frequently. However it can get horribly busy with tourists and locals jogging as the trails are easily accessible from the road and resorts. Apparently another great place is Lagoa dos Salgados but we’ve yet to make it there as it isn’t in the Ria Formosa and so involves a lengthy drive west. And why do that when we have superb birding and great views right on our doorstep!