Perching in the Ria Formosa

The Ria Formosa, one of Portugal’s seven natural wonders is a large sea lagoon located in the Algarve on the south coast. Most winters you’ll find us on the eastern edges of the Ria Formosa in Olhão da Restauração; partly because of the great apartment we rent but mostly because of the indoor and outdoor markets and up until recently easy access to good birding. And it is on the birds I thought I’d focus today, and in particular the numerous perching birds of the Ria Formosa. But first let’s set the scene with a few photographs of the eastern edges of this stunning sea lagoon.

I’ve got quite a birding collection lined up for you today, and none birders may be slightly overwhelmed. However this post is a tiny snapshot of what you can observe in the Ria Formoas. It is not unusual to see 49 or more species in just a few hours, and if you are a here a few days at the right time of year you can see hundreds of different species.

One of the less common sightings is the Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica cyanecula). It is one of the 30,000 migratory birds that the Algarve hosts, and whilst they can spend months here they are so secretive they can be incredibly difficult to spot. Fortunately for us one of our regular walks takes us past a favourite feeding area, and to my delight earlier this year he found a perching post!

Male Bluethroat
Their Portuguese name is Pisco-de-peito-azul

The next bird is also a challenge to photograph, not so much because it is rare or secretive but because it flits around so quickly in the trees and scrub that I struggle to capture its portrait! Its name is Chiffchaff and it is one of the most common wintering passerine birds to be found in Portugal.

Their Portuguese name is Felosa-comum

They feed on insects, mostly from the undersides of leaves, which is why they flit around so much. However you may also spot them darting out to snap an insect in flight.

Now my next one is also a very common sighting, and in fact is one of my favourite passerines here in Portugal. There is just something about that red eye! It is of course the Sardinian Warbler. It loves flying in and out of the scrub around the edges of the lagoon and salt pans, and fortunately for me has a habit of perching a few metres ahead of us. Almost as though it is waiting for me to take the picture!

Black headed Warbler
Their Portuguese name is Toutinegra-de-cabeça-preta

They are a year round resident in Portugal, and are seen throughout the country often in large numbers. They certainly seem to have increased in numbers around Olhão’s salt pans.

Passerine birds (passiformes) are the dominant avian group, with more than half of the bird species falling into this group. They are identified by their toes – three pointing forward and one back – which enable them to perch almost anywhere. Some are tiny and are others large, and they can be found on all continents except Antarctica. The majority of them are insect eaters, such as my next bird in this collection, the Zitting Cisticola.

Don’t you just love the name! It describes both their call and their habit of dwelling in low lying shrubs. They are considered to be a year round Portuguse resident but numbers, or at least observations of them, vary enormously from year to year. They are a tiny bird, and like the Chiffchaff difficult to photograph thanks to their constant movement.

Zitting Cisticolas
Their Portuguese name is Fuinha-dos-juncos

The Eurasian Stonechat is far easier to spot, not only is it everywhere in the Algarve and much of Portugal but it just seems to love posing. The male is very easy to identify with its black head, white collar and reddish chest but interesting in recent years it is the female I seem to photograph more. Maybe because at the time I take the shot I am not always 100% sure what I am photographing and these days I’ve noted I have a tendency to photograph what I don’t recognise or am uncertain about. Anyhow whatever for the reason I have, as you can see, multiple photographs to share!

It is an insect eater but will also enjoy seeds and fruit such as blackberries. Its name gives you a hint as to its call – it sounds like two stones being knocked together. This is a bird that is conspicuous in sound as well as by sight. And best of all is beautifully displaying below the three toes pointing forward.

Female Stonechat
Their Portuguese name is Cartaxo-comum

Now I hope you are all still with me as I still have quite a few favourites to share with you, the first being the Yellow Wagtail. Who can resist that tail going up and down, I certainly can’t, especially as their arrival in the Algarve indicates spring is approaching. They winter in Africa, and return to southern Europe around the same time or sometimes even earlier than the swallows.

Yellow wagtail
Their Portuguese name is Alvéola-amarela

They particularly like estuaries so the Ria Formosa is a great place to observe them, but you will also find them in highland pastures. The females and males have similar markings, but the males are more vivid in colour. Their food, yes you have guessed it, are insects.

Now I just have one final species to focus on before I finish with a gallery of some of the larger passerines, and I thought I’d share a few photographs of a bird that everyone must have seen as they have colonised most of the world and probably are the most common bird in Portugal. It is also the bird from whom the name passerine is drawn from. Recognise it yet?!

Their Portuguese name is Pardal-comum

It is of course the sparrow. I believe all of these are the House Sparrow, rather than the Spanish Sparrow, Dunnock or Tree Sparrow. Although there is always the possibility they are hybrids as the Spanish and House Sparrow are know to mix it up a little.

And so there we go a passerine collection for a Saturday afternoon. Aren’t they incredible. No wonder birding is so addictive, and with around 10,000 species of birds (of which more than half are passerines) it is a hobby that could keep you going forever. Although their numbers are tiny when compared to the number of insect species; there are around 950,000 types of insects and that doesn’t include molluscs or crustaceans. Good job I guess with all these passerines eating them! However as always I am becoming sidetracked. It is time I let you go, so here’s my final gallery; perching in the Ria Formosa.

You may have spotted I didn’t say perching birds in my gallery introduction. It was deliberate as not all of these are passerines, but do you know which of them are not? Happy Saturday!

Author: BeckyB

It's a good life walking, cooking, photographing, volunteering, reading, blogging, and best of all spending time with family, friends & the cat!

54 thoughts

  1. Thank you for sharing this blog, Becky. I’m not a birder but enjoy trying to spot unusual birds (usually unsuccessfully) when walking in the Algarve. It was lovely to see your beautiful photos and they will hopefully help me spot some of the smaller birds next time I’m in the Algarve.

  2. Thank you for sharing this blog, Becky. I’m not a birder but enjoy trying to spot unusual birds (usually unsuccessfully) when walking in the Algarve. It was lovely to see your beautiful photos and they will hopefully help me spot some of the smaller birds next time I’m in the Algarve.

  3. I must be the most unobservant person in the universe, Becky. I’ve seen lots of sparrows but very few of the others you feature (except hoopoes, of course 🙂 )

    1. Hee hee, I’m sure you’ve seen them all but they flit so quickly unless you know what to look for it is easy just to see them as another small bird!

  4. Beautiful photos Becky. I love the Hoopoe – although they do sometimes arrive in the south of England (and have been seen in Cornwall) I have not ever seen one. Not even in Africa!

        1. Home of the cricketers? I love the sense of humour, Jude, but anyone would trade this weather. Unless you were a duck, of course 🙂 🙂 And this place couldn’t be less ‘homely’! But it’s great to see the youngsters. A trade off! 🙂

        2. Being fair, we’ve had some lovely days out here, Becky. Bolton Abbey with the Strollers was great, and on Thursday we visited a fabulous old watermill just along the canal from James, in glorious sunshine, but it’s definitely taken a turn for the worse and the forecast’s not good 🙂 🙂

        3. A shame you couldn’t have found a nice cottage nearby, but since they are living in the middle if Leeds city I guess the commute to pick up the youngster would have been too much. Next time rent a lovely penthouse!!

  5. The horrendous fact that the Ria Formosa is polluted,throughout its length,so much so,that even after the new WWTP, was opened last year,further fishery bans have been imposed.
    In addition to this ,the indigineous Seahorse colonies have been decimated by the above and poaching.
    One of the rarest sightings is in effect the Blue flag,denoting safe bathing.Count the number along the 27 kms on the land side of the barrier islands!
    Bird life is flourishing,but then so is the human pollution.
    Be aware!

    1. One of the reasons we never buy the local shellfish the pollution! It is dreadful how bad it is given this is a national park and meant to be a protected region . . . we are always shocked by how much modern building work is allowed.

      Really sad though to hear about the seahorses, if it is becoming this polluted then the bird life will soon stop flourishing 🙁

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