Birdwatching and Wildlife Tour in the Ria Formosa is a Self-Drive Birdwatching Tour designed by keen local birders.
Rightly famed for its golden beaches, golf courses, and wonderful year-round climate, the Algarve is also a secret destination for great birding. At almost any time of the year, there is something of interest to see!
Whether you be an experienced birder or a first-timer, birdwatching is always a pleasure. They are such fascinating creatures, and there is always something new to discover or to smile at! This tour is designed to be enjoyable, no matter your level of birding ability and expertise.
Centred in the Ria Formosa Natural Park, a complex of saltwater lagoons and barrier islands, with mudflats, sandbanks, dune systems, and saltmarshes, the tour extends to another wetland area, in the Castro Marim Nature Reserve.
The Ria is a Special Protection Area under the Ramsar Convention, being of great importance for numerous species of breeding, wintering and staging water birds.
It’s a place of astonishing beauty and natural interest, where it’s not unusual to spot 40 or more bird species in just a few hours. At the right time of the year, you get to see hundreds of them! Our local birders know where they nest and feed, giving you valuable hints to make the best of your birding holidays.
Between year-round residents and wintering species, we can find Black-tailed Godwits, Ringed Plovers, Little Stints, Little Bittern, Purple Swamp-hen, Purple Heron, Red-crested Pochard, Collared Pratincole, Kentish Plover, European Bee-eater, Red-necked Nightjar, Woodchat, Southern Grey Shrikes, Little Tern, and Marsh Harriers. Booted Eagles are a regular sight during winter.
In the largest area of reed beds in the Algarve, you can see Ferruginous Ducks, Purple Herons, Black-winged Kites, Penduline Tits and Blackheaded Weavers, when in season.
This self-guided tour includes simple and easy to use route notes, and you can carry it at your own pace and will. Every itinerary has maps, descriptions, and hints about the most interesting species to be found, with valuable tips.
We’ll make sure you have an unforgettable experience: don’t waste time looking for places to stay, arranging transports, or researching the best birding spots!
Our tour is complete, includes all the services you need, and, most of all, is perfectly thought through and organised!
Day 1 – Arrival in Faro Airport and rental car pick up
Individual arrival to Faro Airport or Faro Train station and rent a car vehicle pick up. Drive to Hotel in Faro.
Day 2 – Olhão Salt-pans & Quinta de Marim
You should aim to visit the Salinas at high tide when thousands of gulls, waders and terns may be present during the hours when their feeding areas on the salt marshes are temporarily submerged.
There are many paths to explore around the Salinas and birds can be found on any of the pans depending on the state of the tide and the season. Please take care not to cause undue disturbance to birds whether nesting or roosting. Care should also be taken after rain as the paths and tracks around the Salinas can be become very muddy.
Except in high summer the most numerous species are usually Avocets, Dunlin, Sanderling and Black-tailed Godwits. But look carefully as it was in this area that a rare long-billed Dowitcher was once found. Slender-billed, Mediterranean and Audouin’s Gulls can often be found amongst the countless Lesser Black-backs. This is also a good place to find one or two Caspian Terns roosting and in the breeding season Little Terns should also be here. Except for a few weeks in late summer you should see White Storks on or around their nests which are easy to spot atop the tall chimneys.
During migration times and even in winter look out for an Osprey in this area.
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.
Day 3 – Tavira & Santa Luzia Salt-pans (Salinas)
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 shell fish 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 4 – Free Day
This is an ideal opportunity to relax and enjoy the attractions of the Algarve. You can walk/tour independently, or visit local places of interest. From Faro there is a wide variety of sightseeing available (we can advise and/or recommend options according to your interests). For birdwatching you may wish to visit Sagres to the West or Vila Real de Santo António to the East.
Day 5 – Quinta do Lago Wetlands
In Quinta do Lago there’s a small coastal lagoon protected from the sea by dunes. The lake is edged with tamarisks, bulrushes and reeds which give cover to species such as Little Bittern, Purple Swamp-hen and occasionally Squacco Heron.
There is a trail which leads to an observation tower and is a good spot for photography.
Eurasian Coots are common and there should be several species of ducks including Gadwall and Common Pochard. Little Grebes and Common Moorhen nest here.
Several heron species are seen regularly. There is also the chance to see Black-headed Weaver. During the winter, the ponds attract small flocks of Northern Shoveler and a few Crag Martins. From time to time Glossy Ibises and Spoonbills are also seen.
Near the pine cone areas you can observe several species of land birds such as the Turtle Dove, Bee-eater, Short-toed Treecreeper, Eurasian Jay and Azure-winged Magpie.
It is also possible to observe more secretive species – Little Bittern and Purple Swamp-hen.
Trafal is a small wetland bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, golf courses and pine woodlands. 200 meters to the west of Trafal is the small coastal lagoon, Foz do Almargem. The lagoon is surrounded on three sides by pine woods and is edged by reeds. The beach and dunes border the lagoon to the south. In rough winter weather the dunes are sometimes breached.
Azure-winged Magpies are very common in this area, as are Jays. Black-winged Kites and Hoopoes can often be seen perched on the poles, and Marsh Harriers can regularly be seen quartering the wetland. If you are lucky a Booted Eagle might show too.
Day 6 – Lagoa de São Lourenço & Ludo
The Lagoa de São Lourenço is a body of water which is largely surrounded by a golf course. The Lagoa is rich in aquatic vegetation, edged by reeds and bulrushes and thus is rich in avifauna. In winter large numbers of ducks including: Northern Shoveler, Eurasian Teal, Common Pochard, Eurasian Wigeon and Tufted Duck gather. However there are many special birds which make their homes here all year round including Red-crested Pochard, Little Bittern, Purple Swamp-hen, Black-headed Weaver and Great Crested Grebe. They are joined in summer by Little Terns, hirundines and swifts.
At the southern end of the lake are the channels, salt marsh, lagoons and sandy barrier islands of the Ria Formosa which, depending on the tide and the season, can be teeming with waders, gulls, herons and egrets. To the east of the golf course is an area of pines which open onto Ludo, a busy salt producing farm where it is possible to see Greater flamingo, Eurasian Spoonbill, Booted Eagles and many nesting White Storks.
Day 7 – Lagoa dos Salgados and Vilamoura
This is probably the most extensive area of reed beds and lagoons in the Algarve. It is bordered by farmland with cereal fields and orchards to the south, a sewage treatment plant, favoured by gulls and ducks, to the east and golf courses to the north. This is one of the most important sites in the Algarve for migrating passerines, especially warblers and hirundines, Corn Buntings in winter and is a hunting area for various raptors including Black-winged Kite, Marsh Harrier, and Booted Eagle and, in winter, Short-eared Owl.
In the Parque Ambiental, Vilamoura, half a decade ago, there where farm lands covered with irrigated orchards, cereals and pasture. Over the years, the land was replaced with reed beds, alongside the man-made artificial ponds and irrigation channels.
The riparian vegetation of the river of Quarteira and the bordering golf courses, constitutes a habitat of great diversity of birds and small mammals.
This pond has good patches of reed and reed mace and holds several interesting birds. Regular species here include Little Grebe, Moorhen, Purple Swamp Hen, and Kingfisher, as well as some passerines, such as Cetti’s Warbler; in winter, there are usually Bluethroat, Chiffchaff and Penduline Tit. In the surrounding fields it is possible to find several passerines, such as Northern Wheatear on autumn passage, or White Wagtail and Meadow Pipit in winter.
In Lagoa dos Salgados, at certain times of the year, along the banks of the lagoon is not difficult to find waders. Black-winged Stilt, Turnstone, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Sandpiper, Common Redshank and Greenshank are some of the common species that can be regularly observed. Sometimes Bar-tailed Godwit turns up. Other interesting birds that can usually be seen this site are Coot, Greater Flamingo, Glossy Ibis, Spoonbill, Marsh Harrier and Caspian Tern.
The surrounding areas may produce Kestrel and several species of passerines like Crested Lark, Stonechat and Zitting Cisticola; in autumn, a few trans-saharan migrants put in appearance, like Whinchat and Northern Wheatear, whereas in winter there are Skylark and White Wagtail.
Day 8 – Individual departure or extra days
Hotel Eva, Faro
Hotel Eva, Faro
Hotel Eva (4****) or similar
Embraced by the Marina and the stunning landscape of Ria Formosa, Hotel Eva is a landmark hotel in the Algarve and in particular in the city of Faro. Integrated in the historic and commercial centre of Faro, a few kilometres from the airport and the islands of Faro, Hotel Eva leaves nothing to chance and it is an excellent choice for those seeking to combine work and leisure.
The facilities of the hotel include a panoramic restaurant, a bar, an outdoor pool and a health club.
Faro, capital of Algarve, stands out from the popular Algarve cities for its history, heritage, cultural life and natural beauty.
You must be adequately insured to join our Guided and Self-Guided holidays. We do not insist that you insure with us but we require that you are adequately insured for the nature of your holiday.
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