HOTSPOT FACTSHEET: CAPE SAINT VINCENT
Location: Cape Saint Vincent; Vila do Bispo municipality, Western Algarve | Coordinates: 37º2’56.16”N, -8º58’0.35”W, (Lat/Long); 37.04893 N, -8.96676 W (decimal degrees) | Code: VB1 | Completion Time: up to 12-16 hours | Best Time for Birdwatching: September-December is the best period; Spring migration is also worthwhile; all seasons offer good birding opportunities; however, there’s a lower number of birds and bird species between July and August | Protection Status: Natural Park; Biogenetic Reserve; Important Bird Area (IBA); Special Protection Area & Special Area of Conservation (Natura 2000) | Activities: birding; nature walks; cycling, running & other outdoor activities; sightseeing; cultural travel; boat trips to observe cetaceans, pelagic birds and other marine fauna; extreme sports;
[PLEASE CHECK CAPE ST. VINCENT’S BIRD SPECIALITIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS PAGE] A varied assortment of raptor, soaring, passerine and marine birds takes centre stage between late August and mid-November. Among birds of prey, the most frequent migrants are the Booted Eagle, the Sparrowhawk, the Short-toed Snake-eagle, the Common and Honey Buzzards, the Kestrel and the rather impressive Griffon Vulture. However, the peninsula is deservedly famous as a hotspot for ‘frequent’ threatened, vagrant or rare species such as the Iberian Imperial Eagle (see also Cabranosa Birding Hotspot), and for noteworthy residents such as the Little Bustard and the Red-billed Chough. Cape St. Vincent proper offers excellent opportunities to spot a variety of seabirds, provided the right optical equipment is utilized. Depending on the season, Balearic and Cory’s Shearwaters, Northern Gannets, Common Scoters, Great and Pomarine Skuas, Parasitic Skuas, Razorbills and even (luck permitting) Grey Phalaropes are relatively easy to spot from Cape St. Vincent.
Shearwaters are a regular sight; nonetheless, especially in the case of the Balearic species (Europe’s only critically endangered seabird), birds are more abundant through late September and early December. Together with the Straits of Gibraltar, Cape St. Vincent represents a bottleneck in their at-sea movements; being so, Balearic Shearwaters are much easier to see around the Cape than in their far-northern range, off French and British waters. One other place where marine rarities make their appearance is Porto da Baleeira, in Sagres (check map above). Species like the Ring-billed and Sabine’s Gulls have been spotted close to the town in the past. Still, one of the best options to see those and other pelagic species up close is to embark on a boat trip. The cliffs are also used by European Shags and (peculiarly) White Storks as a base for their nests. November also marks the arrival of the Alpine Accentor and the Crag Martin, which join the ever present Eurasian Jackdaw in the vicinity of the lighthouse. The highly mimetic but confident Alpine Accentors favour sheltered, out-of-the-way rock faces capped by thickets of shrubby vegetation; throughout the coastline, scree slopes, as well as juniper-covered cliff-tops and vegetated gullies, are inhabited by the beautiful Blue-rock Thrush, by the Dartford Warbler, and by some wintering Ring Ouzels (see also Castelejo Trail). Grassland and abandoned farmland with scattered rocks, as well as young eucalyptus stands, are in turn occupied by the Black-eared Wheatear between late Spring and September, the same month when small groups of shy Ortolan Buntings arrive at the Cape on their way to the Maghreb.
Naturally, if you are planning to follow the main birding itinerary, your visit should start early in the morning in order to take advantage both of the available time and of the most favourable light conditions. Concerning the observation of marine species, it is also worthwhile to change your location throughout the various promontories surrounding Cape St. Vincent. A suggestion is to start from the north-side headlands during the early hours and then explore the southern areas later on. Under fair weather circumstances those south-side locations frequently provide excellent views of a large number of seabirds, notably of the Balearic Shearwater during their post-breeding dispersive movements (from July onwards), and particularly between October and November, a period at the Cape when this endangered species actually seems far more abundant than it is. One of the best places to observe marine birds is the small headland overlooking Mareta beach from the east; the spot is located between Sagres Point (where the Fortress stands) and Sagres. Bringing along a good telescope (preferably) and/or binoculars is of the utmost importance. You’ll need both a suitable wide-angle lens and a reasonable zoom. During autumn and winter, a strong maritime wind may blow throughout the peninsula: wearing warm clothes is also highly advisable.
Castelejo Environmental Trail: a short, signposted walking route through a densely forested gorge; the site is located west of Vila do Bispo, on the way to Castelejo beach. Many rare and endemic botanical species living in the Vicentine Coast Natural Park are here on floral display between January and May; the trail crosses several different habitats, and there is a seasonal stream, as well as a medium-sized pond, that attract many passerine and some non-passerine species; the high cliffs and Mediterranean scrubland around Castelejo might provide good opportunities to observe a few notable birds during their Spring and Autumn migrations. Also, enjoy the stunning view from the Castelejo and Torre de Aspa viewing points, as well as the significant geologic features at Telheiro Beach.
Sagres Fortress: an historical fortress, purportedly the place from where Prince Henry the Navigator launched Europe’s maritime expansion (early 15th century) and the ensuing Age of Exploration. Today, the Fortress is a bit run down and there’s a few tacky architectural and touristic features; however, the endless views, the rugged overhanging cliffs, the seabirds and the famous sunsets are well worth the trivial few euros for your admission. A visit requires a willingness to walk, since Sagres Point is a fairly large site.
Greater Short-toed Lark
Southern Grey Shrike