Birding in Tavira and Ria Formosa: Your Nemesis Bird Destination is a 5 days Self-Drive Birdwatching Tour based in one of the most typical and quaint towns in the Algarve, Tavira. The Algarve region is a famous summer resort, but is also an amazing site for nature observation, being home to hundreds of endemic bird species, and a wintering and feeding station for many others, which thrive in its rich wetlands, salt marshes, saltpans, and woods.
Western Swamp-hen, easily seen along the southern coast and on the west coast up to and including the Tagus estuary – Photo Peter Dedicoat
This professionally designed birding tour aims to show you the best of the diverse wildlife and flora in the Ria Formosa Natural Park, with detailed instructions and route notes.
The Ria Formosa Natural Park covers an area of around 16,000-hectares stretching from Manta Rota in the east to Ancão beach 60km west. The Ria consists of coastal lagoons, vast areas of tidal flats, saltmarsh, and saltpans that are enclosed by a belt of sand dune islands and peninsulas.
It is of particular importance as a wintering area for many birds from northern Europe and as a resting and feeding station for birds migrating between Africa and Europe.
Eurasian Teal, normally an over-wintering species – Photo Peter Dedicoat
Classified as Nature Reserve in the 70s, this protection status was elevated to a Natural Park in 1987. The Ria Formosa is also classified under the Ramsar Convention as a Wetland of International Importance and as a Special Protection Area under the EU Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds.
Winter brings wintering waders, such as Oystercatchers, Avocets, Dunlins, Little Stint, and Black-winged Stilts, amongst others. Species like Curlew Sandpiper, Red Knot, or Ruff mostly pass through during the autumn migration. Wildfowl is also present in impressive numbers in the ponds and pools, and some of the most common species are Wigeon, Sholever, Pintail, and Pochard. Other interesting birds to be found are Greater Flamingo, Glossy Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill, Black-winged Kite, Caspian Tern, Bluethroat, and the scarcer Penduline Tit. Slender-billed Gull has been regularly sighted in recent years.
Birdwatching Algarve Ria Formosa Hoopoe, flourish in the pine forests. – Photo Peter Dedicoat
Breeding birds include Purple Swamphen, Little Bittern, Purple Heron, Collared Pratincole, and Audouin’s Gull, which breeds regularly but in fluctuating numbers. The site has also the particular aspect of being the only one in Portugal where Lesser Short-toed Lark occurs. The barrier islands hold the largest colonies of Little Tern in Portugal, regularly seen fishing in the shallow waters, as well as a small population of Eurasian Thick-knee and Little Bustard. Interesting breeding birds also include Pallid Swift, Spectacled Warbler, European Bee-eater, and Black-eared Wheatear.
In the surrounding woodlands, species like Great Spotted Woodpecker, Woodchat Shrike, and Golden Oriole are present.
Spoonbills, resident year-round the numbers increase significantly in the winter- Photo Peter Dedicoat
This self-guided birdwatching tour is great for nature photography in general and bird photography in particular; painting and illustration; scientific research; the pursuit of rarities (twitching), etc. Find with us an escape from the frantic daily life!
The route notes are designed to be a simple, easy-to-use field guide for all who enjoy watching birds in their natural habitat. Each itinerary is accompanied by a map and a description of how to get there, the most interesting species to be found there, and various tips about the best way to visit.
We’ll make sure you have an unforgettable experience, with no time-consuming search for places to stay, no research on the best birding sites – our tours are complete and most of all perfectly thought through and organized! The tour is designed to be enjoyed no matter your level of birding ability and expertise.
And in order to fully enjoy all the wonders of this tour, you’ll be roosting in the centre of Tavira, just 2km away from the closest bird observation spot!
Day 1 – Arrival at Faro Airport and rent-a-car pick up
Individual arrival to Faro Airport and rent-a-car vehicle pick up. Drive to Hotel in Tavira.
Mediterranean Chameleon – Photo Peter Dedicoat
Day 2 – Tavira & Santa Luzia Salt-pans (Salinas) & Sítio das Quatro Águas
The Tavira salinas consist of numerous tanks, channels, creeks, and drainage ditches. In autumn and winter, the large tanks on the south side attract large numbers of waterfowl.
The tanks are a popular high tide roost for waders and gulls and Greater Flamingos can usually be found. It is a site best visited at high tide.
These are home to numerous wading birds at high tide including Dunlin, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Sanderling, and Kentish & Ringed Plover. Common Shelduck can often be found on the bunds amongst the roosting Lesser Black-back & Audouin’s Gulls.
Little Egrets and Kingfishers may be in the channel on the left and Spanish Sparrows often congregate on the fences. An Osprey sometimes perches on the poles eating fish and a Peregrine might fly past as it searches for prey.
The road to Quatro Águas is bounded on the east by Salinas and then the River Gilão, on the west by an extensive area of Salinas, creeks, and disused fish farms, and on the south by the tidal Tavira channel.
The pans are best at high tide but the channel is best at low tide when the mud and shellfish beds are exposed.
It is sometimes possible to see the six common species of gull found in this area, including Audouin’s and Slender-billed Gulls, on the same pan. Caspian Terns can also be found. Grey Herons, White Storks, Little Egrets, and Spoonbills are often seen here.
Day 3 – Quinta de Marim
The Natural Park is state-managed and the headquarters of the Ria Formosa is here. Currently, the entrance costs 2.5€ and you can obtain information about the fauna and flora either at the entrance or at the headquarters building. There are sign-posted trails around the park.
The park is an area of approximately 40 hectares comprising salt marsh, saltpans, Mediterranean scrub, and pine forest, freshwater lagoons, beaches, and mudflats. With such a range of habitats, it is possible to see a wide range of bird species.
If you are visiting in the spring look out for orchids in the wooded areas and in the summer months look out for Mediterranean Chameleon.
Tide mill Ria Formosa. The tide mill used the tides as a source of energy for grinding cereals.
Day 4 – Castro Marim
A day visiting the Reserva Natural do Sapal de Castro Marim e Vila Real de Santo Antonio, an enormous area of wetland, saltmarsh, and salt-pans at the eastern end of the Algarve which is home to a wealth of birdlife. One of the major attractions here is the Greater Flamingos at least some of which can be found all year-round. A varied selection of gulls, wildfowl, and wading birds can be expected in spring, autumn, and winter.
At the “Cerro do Bufo” saltpans it is possible to watch several species of water birds, including the Audouin’s Gull, Little Tern, Collared Pratincole, and Yellow Wagtail (spring/summer); Shelduck, Shoveler, Black-necked Grebe, and Caspian Tern (Autumn/winter).
All year round it is possible to find Flamingos, Black-winged Stilts, Spoonbills, Greenshanks, and Avocets. Kingfisher is regular at this location and, during migration times, Black Tern often turns up.
The Slender-billed Gull seems to be a regular visitor here during autumn and winter. In the surrounding areas, it is possible to find Stone Curlew and Little Bustard, along with a passing Garganey. Crested Lark is a resident in this area.
The salt marsh and the salt pans are located near the Interpretative Centre/Headquarters for the Castro Marim Nature Reserve and are the best place to observe Caspian Tern, Common Redshank, and Black-winged Stilt.
According to registered observations, there have been recent sightings of Red-necked Phalarope in this area.
Audouin’s Gull, considered to be the most beautiful of all gulls and it’s also one of the rarest- Photo Peter Dedicoat
Day 5 – Individual departure or extra days (on request)
Maria Nova Hotel, Tavira
Maria Nova Hotel, Tavira
Maria Nova Lounge Hotel (4****) or similar
Located a 5-minute walk from Tavira’s bustling town centre, Maria Nova Lounge Hotel – Adults Only enjoys a quiet hillside location. Its modern rooms feature a private balcony. Facilities include indoor and outdoor pools.
Maria Nova Lounge Hotel’s rooms are decorated with tiled floors, wooden furniture, and large windows. All rooms have a minibar, satellite TV, and an en suite bathroom. The rooms have panoramic views.
The Bar Panorâmico offers an extensive list of cocktails and stunning views over Tavira. Poolside snack bar Alagoa has a thatched Caribbean-style terrace and serves light snacks, drinks, and ice creams. The main restaurant offers an international menu.
You must be adequately insured to join our Guided Birdwatching holidays and Self-Drive Birdwatching holidays. We do not insist that you insure with us but we require that you are adequately insured for the nature of your holiday.
BeCool Travel has partnered with WorldNomads.com to keep you travelling safely. WorldNomads.com Travel Insurance is designed for independent and adventurous travellers, with coverage for overseas medical expenses, cancellation, baggage, and other expenses.
Please consult our Travel Insurance page, where you’ll be able to get more detailed info about insurance requirements and an immediate quote for your trip.