Great Winter Birding Trails

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.Ria Formosa mudflats and lagoons

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!

Ria Formosa
Can you see the two small flocks in the sky?

Author: BeckyB

It had been a good life walking, cooking, photographing, volunteering, blogging, and best of all spending time with MrB, family, & friends. Sadly it no longer is. Suddenly and unexpectedly I have become a widow.

19 thoughts

    1. oh wow thank you Mari. I haven’t . . not sure how really as the impression I get is noone really buys photographs these days. However you are not the first to say this so maybe I should explore options.

  1. It is a terrible situation that the ria formosa is so heavily polluted by sewage,raw and treated,and blue flags are almost as rare as pelicans!
    Our grandsons have to take the ferry to Farol,to get to the south side,to swim.
    The restriction on shellfish gathering is largely ignored,so one is safer to buy the Chilean clams ,if that is your thing.
    We are fortunate to be facing south and west,so birding from the terrace is great!
    Olhao is great,but could be so much better,if it was cleaned up,both on land and with more modern drainage.

    1. Agree about the drainage, and also the plastic needs cleaning up. Just awful how this protected area is just not being looked after.

      Must admit I quite like the fact the town is a bit rough at the edges, if it was too neat and tidy it would feel exactly the same as all the other towns and would be even busier than it is!

      Your terrace sounds perfect 🙂

        1. I am sure they just accept their name too lol
          It is from the Indigenous people and was probably Wonga Wonga meaning large pigeon

  2. If you’re going to have an apartment in Portugal, this is a nice place for it to be located. How lovely to have all this on your doorstep. No wonder you’re looking forward to returning.

  3. The things I learn about you!! I am definitely a flamingo girl myself, and agree that pelicans should move to the Algarve!

    Must admit the guide isn’t brilliant but it is a useful one to have on hand.

  4. I’m a herons and flamingos girl (and pelicans, but they’re a bit in short supply in the Algarve 🙂 ). Cheers for the birdwatching guide. Haven’t seen that one. I delegate the birdwatching to Mick. 🙂 🙂

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