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A Report from

Eastern Algarve, Portugal, 15th – 22nd September 2013,

Nigel Webber


We were based at Santa Luzia, about 2 miles west of the historic town of Tavira. The other three in the group were not birdwatchers so it was by no means wall-to-wall birds and most of my spotting took place around the others and the usual holiday pursuits of sightseeing and relaxation.

Our accommodation in Santa Luzia was an apartment with a splendid roof-top terrace from which I could scan the marshes of the Rio Formosa national park. Santa Luzia is at the eastern end of this beautiful 40 mile stretch of protected coastline and adjacent lagoons and as it turned out, practically all my birdwatching was centred upon it.

To help me I had the latest edition of Gosney’s “Finding Birds in South Portugal” (absolutely indispensable), plus the Collins Bird Guide and the MacMillan Birder’s Guide to European and Middle Eastern Birds (published 1996). Before leaving the UK I also purchased an excellent Marco Polo 1 : 150,000 map of the Algarve, which proved invaluable and bang up-to-date.

Travelling by Easyjet, their luggage restrictions and the need for my birdwatching to fit around the others meant that no telescope accompanied me, just binoculars. I probably missed a few species as a result but not many as most birds gave excellent views.

The weather was fabulous with temperatures varying between 29-34C and only one dull morning; no rain whatsoever. As a consequence, a drive inland to such places as Castro Verde and Mertola did not happen as the weather was just too good (and too hot) to spend hours in the car! So that’s for next time…

The week also coincided with a series of spring tides which meant that waders in particular, were pushed very close to the promenades and boardwalks. I saw 88 species, comfortably exceeding my target of 80.

Birdwatching Locations

Santa Luzia & Praia Barril – At each end of the Rio Formosa, the beaches are accessible by bridges, otherwise it is necessary to catch a river bus/taxi. The beach closest to Santa Luzia is called Praia Barril. One advantage of Praia Barril is that the walk to the beach takes you past lagoons, marshes, a line of pine trees and adjacent scrub, so migrants were possible. Every time I did this walk I saw something different. There is also a miniature train that can bring back the less energetic to their cars.

All the beaches are large and unspoilt. There are a few cafeterias and facilities, and they can get busy at the weekend, but walk a few minutes and the beach will be almost empty. Of course, most have some nude sunbathing too, but more discrete than at some other places we have been to. Santa Luzia is known as the ‘capital’ of the octopus and we had a couple of lovely meals in local restaurants. Otherwise it was self-catering and watching the sunset from the terrace.

Tavira Salt-pans – these were a revelation and one group of salt-pans were very close to the town centre. An excellent variety of waders were seen, a large flock of Audouin’s Gull on one evening, flamingos by the hundred and Black-winged Stilts everywhere. The main square in Tavira also had a rare sight in the UK these days; a roosting flock of several hundred House Sparrows!

Tavira itself is well worth strolling around, it’s picturesque and there is an excellent choice of restaurants.

To update Gosney, I struggled to find the track to ‘Quatro Aguas’ but found an alternative access point to the lagoons by going down the last road heading east to Santa Luzia (Rua Eng. Jorge Rao) and turning right at the track at the end. Single track at first, it widens later on and a normal hire car is fine. Bear in mind that the salt pans are being worked so I respected ‘no entry’ signs.

Fuzeta - for me this was the place to get great views of waders as the tide pushed them very close to the promenade. It was also where the four of us took a ‘birdwatching’ boat trip along the Rio Formosa west, to see marshes, lagoons and islands that would otherwise be inaccessible. The guide spoke perfect English and was knowledgeable about the traditions, history and wildlife. He was also prepared to adapt the trip to my requirements and comes highly recommended. Costing €25 each, it lasted about 2 hours. 

Quinta do Lago – surrounded by some very impressive houses, the manicured golf course and the famous ‘ornamental’ pond delivered all the species I had hoped for (Little Bittern, Purple Swamphen, Azure-winged Magpie etc), plus several others to add to the holiday ‘list’. However, we all agreed we preferred Santa Luzia to stay at as Quinta is rather artificial and probably expensive. It is the other place where the beach is accessible by bridge and as with elsewhere, the beach was magnificent. If you are a birdwatching golfer, then this place would be perfect. Incidentally, you do also get excellent views of the aircraft landing into Faro from Quinta (I’m also a bit of a plane-spotter….).

The species


A few seen here and there, but overall, this holiday was too early for good numbers of duck in the national park


Only seen on the boat trip from Fuzeta and at Quinta do Lago


Just a few seen


Only one bird seen on the Quinta do Lago lagoon


No Red-crested’s at all!

Common Scoter

Just one seen close to the beach at Barril on our first day and was a bit of a surprise

Little Grebe

Several at Quinta do Lago, but nowhere else

Great Crested Grebe

Just one bird at Quinta do Lago

Cory’s Shearwater

Seen offshore on every visit to Praia Barril, but on the first visit they were plentiful and feeding close to the beach


Regular off Praia Barril with at least 100 seen on our first visit


Regular in ones and twos throughout

Little Bittern

Seen from the hide at Quinta do Lago, a female slowly emerged from the reedbed and was seen extremely well

Cattle Egret

Regularly seen as the week went on, sometimes in small flocks

Little Egret

Everywhere in the salt pans and lagoons

Great Egret

Not common, just a few were seen

Grey Heron


White Stork

A few breed at Tavira and although not common (not at this time of year anyway), a number of individuals were seen very well. They are majestic to see

Glossy Ibis

Just a single bird at Quinta do Lago


Seen at most locations, nicest were the evening flocks that flew past our terrace


Probably the bird of the holiday as I never imagined I would see so many. Some flocks were 100+ at Tavira and Quinta do Lago


Two from the boat at Fuzeta. These were the first the guide had seen for the autumn

Booted Eagle

Impressive, despite being not much larger than a Buzzard. As it slowly gained height from some trees near Ludo Farm (adjacent to Quinta do Lago) the ‘landing lights’ were clearly visible

Marsh Harrier

Just one seen, at distance from our terrace as it flew across the marches the other side of Rio Formosa

Common Buzzard

On the last morning, two see soaring above the marshes from the terrace


Only seen twice at Tavira salt pans





Purple Swamphen

An astonishing bird; large and brightly coloured, they are definitely not shy either as several were seen very well at Quinta do Lago




Quite common on the salt pans and commuting between them across the national park

Black-winged Stilt

Hundreds on the salt pans at Tavira, many seen at close range. Common on the boat trip too

Little Ringed Plover

Outnumbered by Ringed and Kentish; easily over-looked. Only seen at Santa Luzia and Fuzeta

Ringed Plover


Kentish Plover

Seen at all locations and in increasing numbers as the week went on

Grey Plover

Common throughout


Only two seen on separate visits to Fuzeta


Seen more or less everywhere





Curlew Sandpiper

A small passage was evident later in the week. Really close views at Fuzeta

Little Stint

Two on the salt pans at Tavira

Common Sandpiper

Increasingly seen as the week went on



Spotted Redshank

One at Santa Luzia and one at Tavira


After a few seen from the boat, good numbers were evident on the salt pans later in the week

Black-tailed Godwit

Probably the most common wader and seen at all locations in large flocks

Bar-tailed Godwit

Another bird seen in the splendid flock of waders close to the promenade at Fuzeta on the rising tide


Far less common than Whimbrel and only seen at Santa Luzia and on the boat trip


Noisy and constantly heard from our terrace. Seen everywhere

Black-headed Gull


Mediterranean Gull

The commonest gull on the beaches, but out-numbered by the ever-present Lesser Black-backs and Yellow-legged on the lagoons and salt pans

Yellow-legged Gull


Audouin’s Gull

Having identified one in a flock of large gulls resting on a salt pan near Tavira, two evenings later there was a flock of 40+ in the same place (from the Rua Eng. Jorge Rao track)

Lesser Black-backed Gull


Little Tern

A couple of summer stragglers feeding above one of the salt pans near Tavira

Sandwich Tern

Not many seen, but the commonest tern remaining

Caspian Tern

Always impressive, single birds were seen on separate visits to Fuzeta , feeding in the main channel

Collared Dove


Little Owl

One bird was seen near the beach buildings at Praia Barril, the other by the Tavira salt pans


Unfortunately only a couple of ‘common’ Swifts were seen from the terrace


One briefly seen on the walk from our apartment to Praia Barril, but the other was feeding on the golf course at Quinta do Lago, next to an Azure-winged Magpie!

Crested Lark

It took me a couple of days to work out what was making a distinctive call coming from some waste ground behind out apartment, but once learnt I saw them in most locations

Sand Martin

Surprisingly, just one seen from the boat near Fuzeta



Red-rumped Swallow

Seen well from the terrace, they easily outnumbered ‘barn’ Swallows

House Martin


Yellow Wagtail

A few calling overhead


A few birds seen on fields near Santa Luzia and Tavira


A family seen every time on the walk to Praia Barril



Garden Warbler

In bushes adjacent to the golf course at Quinta do Lago

Sardinian Warbler

Seen everywhere

Zitting Cisticola

Another common and confiding bird. Once learnt, its call is distinctive

Willow Warbler

A small group near Ludo Farm (close to Quinta)


Several on the walk to Praia Barril after the one cloudy night we had when a small ‘fall’ of migrants was apparent the next morning

Spotted Flycatcher

As above, several were seen the following day and a couple remained for the rest of the week

Pied Flycatcher

As above, up to 10 were seen on the walk to Praia Barril and several remained thereafter

Iberian Grey Shrike

Surprisingly, just a single bird seen from the path to Praia Barril

Woodchat Shrike

An ever-present immature bird was half-way on the walk to Praia Barril, next to the miniature railway sheds; gave excellent views

Azure-winged Magpie

Only seen at Quinta do Lago, on the golf course and from the hide. They are beautiful birds and not at all shy





House Sparrow







Adjacent to the golf course at Quinta do Lago

Black-headed Weaver

Unfortunately just brief flying views of these brightly-coloured birds from the hide at Quinta do Lago

Common Waxbill

An unexpected bonus as we stopped to watch Flamingos at the salt pans near Tavira. A pair were perched on a wire fence

This is an excellent area for birdwatching, not at all busy and certainly not as developed as I believe some other parts of the Algarve are. I will definitely return and this time will venture inland too.


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