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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary


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Great Bustard is one of Portugal’s special birds Photo: Pedro Marques

Portugal offers a surprising of habitats, and consequently, of birds in a relatively small area. One can find within half an hour’s drive from Lisbon city center and its International Airport, the Tagus Estuary and the Sado Estuary Nature Reserves. These two remarkable protected wetland areas have extensive bird lists that include White Stork, Booted Eagle, Dartford, and Melodious Warblers, and an excellent selection of ducks, waders, gulls and terns.

A further one hour’s drive takes you to the different habitats and  new bird species in the Alentejo. Here, we’ll visit both the rolling plains of Castro Verde, home of Great and Little Bustards, Montagu’s Harrier, and Rufous Bush Robin, among others,  and the bluffs and hills of the Guadiana Valley Nature Park, noted for species like Black Stork, Spanish Imperial Eagle, and Blue Rock Thrush.

After exploring the Alentejo, we’ll travel a short 45 minutes to the Algarve, a region rich in protected wetland areas situated on a major flyway for migrants from Africa, and notable in particular for waders and passerines. Some of the places we’ll visit, namely the Ria Formosa Nature Park and the Castro Marim Nature Reserve, are unique in Portugal as sites for rare and highly localized species, like Audouin’s Gull and Lesser Short-toed Lark. They are also excellent spots for close views of scarce species like Purple Swamphen and Eurasian Hoopoe while Spectacled Warbler and Iberian Magpie are particularly abundant here.

Days 1-2: The tour begins at 9:30 am at the Lisbon airport. After gathering everyone, we’ll spend  the rest of the day and the next birding some of the local hotspots around the most important wetland in Portugal, the Tagus Estuary Nature Reserve. Time spent at the saltpans should produce Collared Pratincole, Black-winged Stilt, Ruff, Little Stint, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Green, Wood, Common and Curlew Sandpipers, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, Pied Avocet, Kentish, Little Ringed Plovers, Gull-billed and Little Terns, as well as the chance of a rarity or two. Black-winged Kite is a speciality of the area and Booted Eagle, Black Kite and Marsh Harrier are numerous. We’ll visit a heronry in the river Tagus, where Cattle, Little, Grey, Black-crowned Night and Squacco Herons breed, as well as Eurasian Spoonbill and Glossy Ibis. The wet fields here are good for Yellow Wagtails (of the Iberian race) but also for populations of three introduced species, namely Common Waxbill, Yellow-crowned Bishop and Black-headed Weaver, adding a slightly surreal touch to some wonderful Mediterranean birding. Other interesting passerines of the region, especially in the cork oak woods habitat, include European Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Woodchat Shrike, Short-toed Treecreeper, Sardinian Warbler, Pallid Swift and European Serin. Nights in Alcochete.

Day 3: After breakfast we’ll drive into the heart of the Alentejo region. Once we leave the coast we’ll be in bustard country and we may see our first Great Bustards before reaching our hotel. The rolling hills can hold good numbers of this species, which can often be easy to spot on the distant plains. Other birds we should find in this habitat include Little Bustard, Stone Curlew, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Griffon and Cinereous Vultures, Short-toed Eagle, Red Kite, Lesser Kestrel, Montagu’s Harrier, Great Spotted Cuckoo, European Roller, Calandra and Greater Short-toed Larks, Tawny Pipit, and Black-eared Wheatear. Spotless Starling and Spanish Sparrow nest on the many White Stork nests that line the roadside. Night in Mértola.

Days 4-5: Before breakfast we’ll scan the river Guadiana, just a few steps from our hotel. Kingfishers fly back and forth and we should hear and see Golden Oriole, Rock Bunting and Blue Rock Thrush. We’ll visit some spectacular river gorges to look for Spanish Imperial, Golden and Bonelli’s Eagles, Eurasian Eagle Owl, Black Stork, the scarce White-rumped Swift, Thekla Lark, Crag Martin, and Red-rumped Swallow, while busy groups of Iberian (Azure-winged) Magpies seem to be everywhere. During these two days we’ll have the opportunity to visit again the great Castro Verde rolling plains, looking for any possible missing species. We’ll return to our hotel in time for dinner, maybe stopping along the way for Iberian Green Woodpecker, Little Owl, or even an early Red-necked Nightjar. Night in Mértola.

Days 6-7: We’ll travel to the Algarve region where we’ll look at the complex of canals, salt flats and salt pans of the Castro Marim Nature Reserve and visit the reed beds, lagoons and pine woods of the Ria Formosa Nature Park. We’ll be looking for rare and highly localized species such as Audouin’s and Slender-billed Gulls and Lesser Short-toed Lark. However this region is rich in birds and we’ll encounter many other species such as Purple Swamphen, Little Bittern, Eurasian Hoopoe, and European Bee-eater. Sardinian, Dartford, and Spectacled Warblers are particularly abundant here. The selection of ducks and waders is also impressive. Nights in Tavira.

Day 8: After breakfast we begin our journey back towards Lisbon, visiting on the way the Salgados lagoon and the intertidal salt marshes, salt pans and rice fields at Comporta and Carrasqueira (Sado Estuary Nature Reserve). We’ll cross the river Sado by ferry, where we’ll have a good chance of seeing small pods of Bottle-nosed Dolphins. Just before arriving to Lison, we’ll visit the Pancas woods, in the Tagus estuary, a great place for passerines and raptors. In the afternoon we’ll continue to Lisbon. Night in Lisbon.

Day 9: The tour concludes after breakfast at our Lisbon hotel.  

Updated: 10 May 2018

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* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

Maximum group size seven with one leader.