HOTSPOT FACTSHEET: ALVOR ESTUARY & BOARDWALK
Location: Ria de Alvor / Alvor; Lagos and Portimão municipalities, Western Algarve | Coordinates: 37°7’35.094″N, -8°35’45.744″W (Lat/Long); 37.126415 N, -8.596040 W (decimal degrees) | Code: PT1 | Completion Time: up to 2-3 hours | Best Time for Birdwatching: Spring, Autumn and Winter; all seasons offer good birding opportunities; however, there’s a lower number of birds and bird species between July and August | Protection Status: Ria de Alvor Special Area of Conservation (Natura 2000); Ramsar Site | Activities: birding; nature walks; cycling, running & other outdoor activities; sightseeing; cultural travel; water sports; extreme sports;
[PLEASE CHECK ALVOR’S BIRD SPECIALITIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS PAGE] Its high natural diversity arises from the very rich patchwork of different ecological niches packed in a relatively compact area: to the north, the Quinta da Rocha peninsula and Vale da Zorra are covered by several Mediterranean types of mosaic-type habitats; to the south, the area is bound by the ocean and by an extensive, unspoiled dune system; surrounding the central neck of land, four different freshwater streams feed the shallow Alvor lagoon, as well as numerous salt pans, mudflats, sandbanks and marshy areas. Its birdlife interest is not, however, restricted to spring and autumn migrants. The estuary and surrounding quarters is home to several noteworthy residents, such as the illusive Stone-curlew, the Cattle Egret, the Black-winged Stilt, the minute Kentish Plover, the Oystercatcher, the Avocet (resident in the Algarve, but more numerous between October and March in Alvor) and a few Greater Flamingos, a species that roams the deserted salt pans together with the rare Audouin’s Gull. This is also one of the best places in the region to observe a few species of terns. Caspian Terns – the World’s largest tern – winters in the estuary between late summer and March-April, the same months that signal the arrival of the breeding Little Terns and the migrant Wood Sandpipers.
Those birds join the resident Sandwich Terns around the attractive lagoon and, on occasion, a few passing Black Terns. The plentiful fish present in the sheltered estuary exerts a pull on the Osprey – whose relative abundance is highly variable from one year to another – and its generally pleasant winter conditions also draw the Little Stint, the Water Pipit and the beautiful Bluethroat. This bird is not at all uncommon but it may be hard to pin down; a cautious and small species, it spends the day hiding its bright blue bib in thick shrubbery, gleaning plants for invertebrates and a few fruits and seeds. Shorebirds like the Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, Dunlin, Grey and Ringed Plovers, Whimbrel, Green and Redshanks can be especially numerous at different times throughout the colder months. On the other hand, Spotted Crakes are invariably rare. The Black-winged Kite, as well as the Richard’s Pipit and the magnificent Purple Herons and Rollers are occasional visitors to the estuary. Rarities include the African Sacred Ibis, Cream-coloured Courser, Terek Sandpiper, White-crowned Wheatear, Royal Tern and the critically endangered Sociable Lapwing.
Waders are best seen at low tide when feeding on the mudflats. Also, during some periods of bad weather, large aggregations of seabirds gather in the Alvor lagoon, providing an opportunity to search for unusual species. Arrive early in the morning to take advantage of the best lighting conditions and bird activity. During July and August, the best times to visit the Alvor Estuary are very early in the morning or a couple of hours before sunset. Winter months can be windy. Especially between February and August, please stay on the main tracks at all times to avoid disturbing nesting birds. See also the Alvor Boardwalk & Estuary Trail page to obtain further advice.
Ponta da Piedade: the spectacular rock outcrops at Ponta da Piedade are a real treat to the eyes. Arrive just after the sunrise to observe seabirds, or at sunset to delight in the game of colours reflected by the golden cliffs. In summer, those times are also the best ones if you want to avoid large gatherings of visitors. Ponta da Piedade is classified as an IBA (‘Important Bird Area’) i.e., an area internationally recognized as being a globally important habitat for the conservation of avian populations. During the breeding season, hundreds of Cattle and Little Egrets nest on the surrounding cliffs, and there is also a sizable resident population of Western Jackdaws, wild Rock Pigeons and Spotless Starlings. Don’t miss a boat trip to the stunning sea caves: the coastal scenery is something truly unique. Image: Guy MOLL
Arade Estuary: not as rich and diverse as other birding sites in Algarve, still the Arade Estuary has some noteworthy inhabitants, like the Spoonbill, the Great Black-backed Gull, the Bluethroat, the Cattle Egret, the Black-winged Stilt, and occasionally, the Greater Flamingo. Some species of common shorebirds can be locally abundant, like the Ruddy Turnstone and the Green Sandpiper. One of the best places to inspect the marshes and mudflats is located in Mexilhoeira da Carregação (not an easy name to remember, and not an easy site to find, either: please check the map above for directions). The estuary is a Ramsar Site, and home to several legally protected, EU-classified priority habitats (Habitats Directive). Image: Patrícia Nunes
Winter | Rare
Apr. & Sep.
Iberian Azure-winged Magpie