A birding diary of the Algarve

A birding diary of the Algarve

If you want to see the best of the Algarve, try exploring with someone who really knows the area well. Rocha Brava manager, Jorge Ferreira, put together an excellent week of birdwatching for his guests.

Frank Jones recounts his six-day adventure down in Portugal.

At the introductory meeting, we received the week’s programme and praise has to be given to the guides, who were flexible enough to change the programme as and when required.

There were seven of us altogether and Jorge made the introductions before taking us to the excellent ‘O Farol’ onsite restaurant for a welcome dinner. This set the standard for the meals we were to enjoy throughout the week.

Day one: binoculars and cameras at the ready, and one mad fool in shorts (there was a coolish breeze). We set off to the Lagoa dos Salgados, a coastal lagoon, the habitat of wading birds and wildfowl. Rudi, our guide for the first two days, was able to help identify the birds spotted around the lagoon. In the afternoon we moved to the Ria Formosa and from Olhao we went to the island of Culatra for lunch, incorporating a selection of freshly-grilled fish – delicious. The tour continued in Armona Bay before ending in Olhao.

Day two: The West Coast Tour. We were taken to the eroded cliffs at Ponta da Piedade (pictured above) and then to Europe’s most westerly point – Cape St Vincent, near Sagres. The last port of call was inland, at the spa of Caldas de Monchique.

Day three: rest day (thank heavens). The storms rolled in from the Atlantic and drenched the Algarve.

Day four: as it was uncertain whether the storms would abate, sailing was off the agenda and we went to a more sheltered lagoon at Ludo. In fact the storm had blown through during the night and the sun was up. This was a good day for bird watching; we had an osprey, whimbrels, plovers and spoonbills putting on a show for us. Lunch at Fuseta: wonderful fresh fish. Back to Ria Formosa and a boat trip along the waterways for bird watching. Sadly, it was high tide and we didn’t see many varieties of wading birds.

Day five: the sailing trip was back on! First we went to the markets at Olhao and after lunch Ricardo, our captain, set sail for open water. The sun was out and the breeze slight. But the real highlight of the trip and probably the whole week was an unexpected visitor. Landing on our boat was a tiny subalpine warbler, migrating from Africa on its way to Europe. The poor thing was exhausted but happily hopped about the boat, resting on two of its ‘crew’, and after a 20-minute breather set off for the three remaining miles to Europe.

Day six: Jorge came with us for the final day of bird watching – but we suspect it was only for the octopus dishes that awaited us at lunch. We first explored the wonderful town of Tavira, with its old market hall, Roman bridge and castle. Tiago was our guide for the day and he took us to Cabanas and by boat along the water channels to observe the coastal birds near Tavira Island and beyond. We stopped at Santa Luzia for a tasting of octopus, before returning to Cabanas. The final stop was at the Tavira saltpans to see the avocets, stilts, flamingos, plovers, red and greenshanks, storks and many more waders. The last night of the week, Jorge entertained us back at the ‘O Farol’ restaurant, where we were treated to another superb meal.

The highlight, I think we all agreed, was the subalpine warbler landing on our sailing boat; but there were many others. The black-winged stilts, so elegant both when wading and in flight; the spoonbills searching for food; and the osprey, perched on a pole. The sailing boat trip was an unexpected delight, and the wonderful fresh fish served at the lunchtime restaurants ensured we ate both heartily and healthily.

Our thanks go out to the boys of the Passeios Ria Formosa for their knowledge of the Algarve and the wildlife we saw throughout the week. Our special thanks go to Jorge for organising this very special Theme Week.

Rocha Brava will be hosting a variety of Theme Weeks including ones on birdwatching, culture, nature and gastronomy along the Algarve. Portugal is much more than beaches and the week introduces you to a host of new experiences. The Algarve is situated on many of the main migration routes and is a great destination for birdwatching and natural history.

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