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Portugal The Algarve in Autumn

An 8-day, small group birdwatching tour to Portugal

An autumn birdwatching tour to the Algarve in southern Portugal, visiting the key coastal sites - west to the migration hotspot of Cape St Vincent. Features a half-day pelagic boat trip that can be excellent for seabirds plus a day trip to the fabulous Alentejo steppe seeking Great and Little Bustards. Migration can also be exciting in early October, when recent tour highlights have included Sooty, Great, Cory’s and Balearic Shearwaters, Wilson's Storm Petrel, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Grey Phalarope, Iberian Magpie and Bluethroat. Over the years our groups have found a surprising number of unexpected rarities, too... from Lanner and Rüppell's Vulture to Rosy Starling and the first record of Booted Warbler for Portugal!

Tour Dates

2019

Spaces
6

Leaders
Robin Chittenden
Second leader (tba)

Max Group Size: 10
Duration: 8 Days

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Cost: £1975

inc return flights from London Gatwick to Faro

Deposit: £300

Single Supp: £275
Land Only: £1800

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great shearwater arnoud van den berg

A fabulous close-up photograph of a Great Shearwater showing the underwing pattern nicely; this species is a feature of our pelagics out of Sagres © Arnoud van den Berg, The Sound Approach

Lying at the far southwestern tip of mainland Europe, and within striking distance of the African coast, the beckoning cliffs and littoral wetlands of Portugal’s beautiful Algarve region are a natural focus for birds migrating between the two continents. The area is arguably at its best for birding in early October, with seabirds moving off the coast and waterfowl, waders, birds of prey and passerines following the Atlantic shore south to Cape St Vincent and Ponta de Sagres. ‘Turning the corner’ here, they then head east along the coast of the Algarve, funnelling towards the Strait of Gibraltar - the shortest sea crossing between the two great continents.

Our autumn birdwatching tour to Portugal begins with a flight direct to Faro and an easy drive east to our first hotel at Tavira. We spend three nights here, staying at an excellent four-star property at the heart of the Ria Formosa Natural Park. From Taviria, we’ll explore the best of the Algarve’s wetland reserves - the threatened Lagoa dos Salgados, Quinto do Lago and the barrier islands and inlets of the Ria Formosa itself. Greater Flamingo, Little Bittern, Audouin’s and Slender-billed Gulls, Bluethroat and the tiny Common Waxbill are regularly present in autumn, alongside Little and Cattle Egrets, Black-winged Stilt, Kentish Plover and a variety of other wetland birds.

During our stay in eastern Algarve we will also enjoy one longer day out, travelling inland to Mértola to sample the very different birdlife of Portugal’s fabulous Alentejo region. Representing the westernmost extension of Spain’s more famous grasslands of Extremadura, the Alentejo’s rolling steppe is home to many Iberian specialities, including Great and Little Bustards, Calandra and Thekla Larks, and Black-winged Kite.

For the second part of our holiday we head west, right across the Algarve, to another excellent hotel - this time overlooking the harbour at Sagres, at the extreme south-western corner of mainland Europe.

In autumn, the magnificent sea-cliffs of Cape St. Vincent are a magnet to migrants - and virtually on our doorstep here. Blue Rock Thrush and Red-billed Chough are resident, and our previous October visits have really turned up trumps, seeing everything from Black Stork and Booted Eagle to Tawny Pipit and Rosy Starling. Our 2015 group even found a vagrant Booted Warbler at Cape St Vincent - the first record for Portugal!

One special highlight of all our recent tours has been a pelagic boat trip out from Sagres. Our last October trip produced excellent views of Cory’s and Great Shearwaters, along with two Wilson's and 8 European Storm Petrels, plunge-diving Gannets, Grey Phalarope and Great Skua. We will hope to be as lucky again this year!

With its appealing winter climate, the Algarve has been a popular destination with British holidaymakers and retirees. But this is a trip that will take you behind the more familiar tourist façade, to a land where the likes of White Stork, Western Swamphen and the endemic Iberian (Azure-winged) Magpie offer the prospect of a truly memorable birdwatching holiday.

Limosa has been operating birdwatching tours to southern Portugal since 1996. Our October 2019 trip will be our 20th visit there - and guide Robin Chittenden’s twelfth tour to the Algarve for us.

Join us for another wonderful week of autumn birding on Portugal’s sunny south coast!

Two tailed Pasha fig web SD

Butterflies seen on this trip include the exquisite Two-tailed Pasha (above), and we have also recorded the migratory North American Monarch © Stephen Daly/Daly Wildlife

Day 1
TO FARO & TAVIRA

Our autumn birdwatching tour to Portugal begins with a flight from London Gatwick to Faro. We transfer east to our first hotel, adjacent to the coast at Tavira - a journey of around 45 minutes.

Situated right at the heart of the Ria Formosa Natural Park in Portugal’s popular eastern Algarve region, the comfortable four-star Vila Gale Albacora Hotel will be our base for the first three nights of the holiday. Depending upon flight schedules, there may be time to enjoy our first Portuguese birding close by the hotel this afternoon. Night Tavira

Days 2 - 3
ALGARVE WETLANDS & ALENTEJO STEPPE

The Algarve’s varied landscape and appealing climate give added zest to a week of first-class autumn birding - one that has a definite ‘Mediterranean’ flavour, although here we are of course on Europe’s Atlantic shore!

Over these two days we will explore the Algarve’s premier coastal wetlands, ranging from the bird-rich Lagoa dos Salgados and Quinto do Lago in the west, to the islands and inlets of the Ria Formosa in the east. Spotless Starlings and Serins frequent the villages and gardens, and Cattle Egrets are a common sight in the fields. Little Egrets and Western Swamphens stalk the reedbeds at favoured coastal wetlands, and an October visit may well produce something scarcer, such as Little Bittern, Squacco Heron, Ferruginous Duck, Red-crested Pochard or Caspian Tern. Over the years, our groups more unusual ‘finds’ here have included Glossy Ibis, Spotted Crake, Lesser Yellowlegs and Pectoral Sandpiper.

Stretching for more than 50km along the coast (from Tavira in the east to Ancao in the west), the Ria Formosa can be a terrific spot for birds in autumn. This linear natural park safeguards almost the entire Formosa estuary and comprises a narrow strip of land separated from the sea by a barrier of protective sand dunes, behind which lies a labyrinth of lagoons and sandy islands, mudflats, marshes and canals. Greater Flamingo, Black-winged Stilt and Kentish Plover find a home here, along with Audouin’s, Slender-billed and Yellow-legged Gulls. Belts of fringing scrub and pine harbour Sardinian Warblers and endemic Iberian Magpies, and more or less any patch of coastal scrub might conceal passage migrants such as Whinchat, Common Redstart and Pied Flycatcher. We've often been lucky to find Bluethroat here in autumn, too.

North of the Algarve, the undulating steppe grasslands of Portugal’s superb Alentejo region are the westernmost extension of Spain’s Extremadura province. This sparsely populated plain is a major stronghold for Great and Little Bustards, although the post-breeding flocks of both species can sometimes be tricky to find amidst the seemingly endless fields! White Storks breed in big numbers in the peaceful Alentejo - in places, it seems just about every roadside telegraph pole is adorned with a nest - and Southern Grey Shrikes perch boldly on roadside wires. We’ll listen out for the tell-tale ‘chuckling’ of Black-bellied Sandgrouse as they scud rapidly over the autumnal grasslands and it is here that we have our best chances of finding Calandra and Thekla Larks, Lesser Kestrel and the scarce Black-winged Kite. Two further nights Tavira

Days 4 - 7
MONCHIQUE, CAPE ST VINCENT & SAGRES PELAGIC BOAT TRIP

Having explored the Algarve’s principal wetland sites, we leave Tavira today and travel west along the coast to our second hotel, at Sagres.

We spend four nights here, staying at the stylish Memmo Baleeira, a contemporary four-star hotel overlooking Sagres harbour and magnificent ocean views. In autumn, the cliffs of nearby Cape St Vincent (just 10 minutes drive from our hotel) are a major migration hotspot

Along the way today, we may take a detour off the highway, up into the hills inland of the coast. The wooded hillsides around the upland village of Monchique hold Dartford Warbler, Black Redstart, Crested Tit, Firecrest and Short-toed Treecreeper. Cirl Buntings also breed on the sunnier south-facing slopes and, higher still, we can check a couple of likely haunts for Rock Bunting, a scarce and localized bird in these parts. At this time of year, there’s always the chance we could encounter the odd pocket of migrants, too: Ring Ouzel, Common Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher and Garden Warbler are among species we’ve seen here before. If time allows, we will continue up to the summit of Foia - at 998m (3250 feet), the highest point in the Algarve - to savour the panoramic views from the top back down to the coast.

The port of Sagres sits right outside our hotel. During the 15th century, Henry the Navigator chose this as the location of his famous school of navigation, which produced such nautical alumni as Ferdinand Magellan and Vasco da Gama, legendary Portuguese explorers whose impact on the world is still felt today. Although we won’t be embarking on such great voyages of discovery ourselves, if conditions are suitable during our stay we will enjoy either a morning or an afternoon pelagic boat trip in search of seabirds off the spectacular coast.

In autumn, good numbers of shearwaters congregate out to sea beyond the cliffs - and, with any luck, it won’t be long before we spot our first Cory’s Shearwater beside the boat! The presence of trawlers can attract crowds of Gannets and Yellow-legged Gulls, which in turn lure passing Great Skuas looking to steal an easy meal. Our October 2015 group also encountered more than 30 Great Shearwaters, two Wilson's Storm Petrels, 8 European Storm Petrels and a Grey Phalarope. The discovery of a lone Scopoli’s Shearwater on our 2010 tour was the first record for Portugal, while on another trip a pod of 100 Common Dolphins raced alongside our boat and it was thrilling to see them jumping in the air as they ploughed their way through the crystal clear blue water. Though we can’t guarantee that we’ll be as lucky every year, we have good chances of seeing exciting seabirds and cetaceans close up.

Sitting at the extreme southwestern tip of Europe, a visit to Cape St Vincent is a ‘must’ in autumn. Blue Rock Thrush, Black Redstart and Red-billed Chough are resident on the rugged sea-cliffs, with the likes of Cory’s and dusky Balearic Shearwaters possible offshore. Early October also sees peak numbers of birds of prey moving through southwest Portugal and the jutting Cape acts as a focal point for these. Over the years, our tours have encountered as many as 14 different species of raptor here, including Black Kite, Egyptian and Griffon Vultures, Hobby and Short-toed, Booted and Bonelli’s Eagles. If conditions are right, falls of passerine migrants can bring warblers, wheatears, chats and flycatchers, too.

Like any European headland worth its salt, an autumn visit is enhanced by the prospect of stumbling across the unexpected. Each year will be different of course, but surprises from our previous visits here have included Rüppell’s Vulture, Red-footed and Eleonora’s Falcons, a melanistic Montagu’s Harrier, Little Bustard, Black Stork, Hoopoe, Wryneck, Short-toed Lark, Tawny Pipit, Spectacled Warbler, Iberian Chiffchaff and juvenile Rosy Starling. Rarest of all, our October 2015 group found and photographed Booted Warbler - the first record for Portugal!

Although primarily a birdwatching tour, this holiday has much to offer those with a more general wildlife interest. Iberian Hare, Large Psammodromus, Moorish Gecko and Iberian Marsh Frog, along with several species of Praying Mantis and late-flying dragonflies and butterflies are among the many other fascinating creatures seen by our groups. On more than one occasion, we have even been lucky to find the exquisite Two-tailed Pasha and migrant Monarch butterflies, too. Four nights Sagres

Day 8
TO FARO, FLY LONDON

If flight schedules permit, we will enjoy some final birding in the Algarve today as we make our way back to Faro - though we can't promise to find anything quite so rare or unexpected as the Rüppell's Griffon Vulture seen by one of our previous October groups!  

Return flight from Faro to London Gatwick, where our autumn birdwatching tour to Portugal concludes.

Blue Rock Thrush Monfrague Spain David Cottridge

Blue Rock Thrushes are found year-round on the seacliffs at Cape Trafalgar © davidcottridge.com

What To Expect

An autumn birding tour to the Algarve in southern Portugal, visiting the key coastal sites - west to the migration hotspot of Cape St Vincent. Features a half-day pelagic boat trip that can be excellent for seabirds plus a day trip to the fabulous Alentejo steppe seeking Great and Little Bustards.

Migration can also be exciting in early October, when recent tour highlights have included Sooty, Great, Cory’s and Balearic Shearwaters, Wilson's Storm Petrel, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Grey Phalarope, Iberian Magpie and Bluethroat.

Over the years our groups have found a surprising number of unexpected rarities, too... from Lanner and Rüppell's Vulture to Rosy Starling and the first record of Booted Warbler for Portugal!

The Algarve enjoys a Mediterranean-type climate, but tempered by the Atlantic.In early October, it is typically warm and sunny with daytime temperatures ranging between 14-23C (57-74F) and averaging 19C (66F). It can sometimes be misty first thing, and occasionally cool and windy, especially at the coast. Some showers possible but these rarely last for long at this time of year.

Chances of some good opportunistic bird photography on this tour - including possible seabirds and cetaceans from the boat.

Birds

140-165 species.

Good general wildlife interest too, including some nice autumn butterflies and dragonflies.

Butterflies

We have seen Two-tailed Pasha and the migratory North American Monarch on this tour.

Accommodation

7 nights accommodation in Portugal, based at two comfortable 4-star hotels - three nights at Tavira in eastern Algarve and four nights at Sagres in western Algarve. All rooms are en suite and both hotels have a swimming pool. 

Meals

All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with dinner at the hotel on Day 1 and concluding with lunch on Day 8.

Breakfasts and evening meals will be at our hotel. Lunches will usually be picnics but we occasionally ring the changes with lunch at a local cafe.

Walking

Easy. Short walks. Comfy walking shoes recommended.

Travel

We fly from London Gatwick to Faro with British Airways (or Easyjet according to best available schedule).

Ground transport by minibus.

Boat Trips

We will take either a morning or an afternoon pelagic boat trip off Sagres to look for shearwaters, petrels and other seabirds. The boat trip usually lasts around 2-4 hours, during which time our group will have exclusive use of the boat.

As ever, please note this trip is subject to availability of the local operator and is also weather permitting - but we haven't had to miss out yet!

Greater Flamingos Andalucia Spain Stephen Daly andalucianguides.com 6537

The Algarve's coastal saltpans hold Greater Flamingos and Black-winged Stilts © Stephen Daly/Daly Wildife

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1 ST, Portugal - Algarve tour Both guides absolutely first class and also good company. Very knowledgeable about flora and fauna, as well as birds. [empty string]
2 ET, Portugal - Algarve tour Could not fault Robin. Great Bustard right next to the vehicle, and the boat trip with Common Dolphins and Great Shearwaters were superb. [empty string]
3 TM, Portugal - Algarve tour Robin was excellent as a guide and travelling companion. Good pelagic trip, with a memorable encounter with 100+ Common Dolphins as well as a good mix of seabirds. [empty string]
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