Ria Formosa Natural Park: A Birdwatcher’s Paradise is a Self-Drive Birdwatching Tour designed to discover the special and diverse ecosystems of this region, one of the most attractive birdwatching spots in Europe. The Algarve is a famous resort, but is also an amazing site for nature observation, being home for hundreds of endemic bird species, and a wintering and feeding station for many others, which thrive in its rich wetlands, saltmarshes, saltpans, and woods.
Natural Park Ria Formosa
Based in the most important wetland area in the Algarve, the Ria Formosa Natural Park, this personalised tour will also take you to the Guadiana River Estuary and the Castro Marim Natural Reserve. More than a week of holidays, it’s a true chance to escape from the frantic daily life, while surrounded by nature.
Supported by detailed instructions and route notes, you’ll find opportunities not for just for birdwatching, but for nature and bird photography; painting and illustration; scientific research; the pursuit of rarities (twitching), etc.
The Ria Formosa Natural Park covers an area of around 16,000-hectares and consists of coastal lagoons, vast areas of tidal flats, saltmarshes, saltpans and woods that are enclosed by a belt of 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. The area is classified under the Ramsar Convention.
Great Crested Grebe
Winter brings wintering waders, such as Oystercatchers, Avocets, Dunlins, and Little Stint, amongst others. Wildfowl is also present in impressive numbers, 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.
Breeding birds include Purple Swamphen, Little Bittern, Purple Heron, Collared Pratincole and Audouin’s Gull. 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.
Birdwatching Algarve Sardinian Warbler
In the surrounding woodlands, species like Great Spotted Woodpecker, Woodchat Shrike and Golden Oriole are present.
The Castro Marim Natural Reserve presents the visitors with glimpses of European Goldfinches, Short-toed Tree Creepers, and Sardinian warblers, just to name a few. At the 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. 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 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 on 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 organised! The tour is designed to be enjoyed no matter your level of birding ability and expertise.
And 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.
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 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 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.
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 – 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 are the Greater Flamingos at least some of which can be found all the 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 saltmarsh 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.
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 – 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 8- 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 Self-drive Holidays, Guided Birdwatching Tours and Self-Guided Birdwatching Tours. 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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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.