HOTSPOT FACTSHEET: VILAMOURA REEDBEDS
Location: Vilamoura (Caniçal de Vilamoura/Parque Ambiental de Vilamoura) / Loulé municipality, Central Algarve | Coordinates: 37° 5′ 33.075″ N, -8° 7′ 39.8748″ W (Lat/Long); 37.092521 N, -8.127743 W (decimal degrees) | Code: LL4 | Completion Time: up to 2-3 hours | Best Time for Birdwatching: Spring, Autumn and Winter; July and August are probably the poorest months | Legal Status: None; however, it is considered an Important Bird Area (IBA – Birdlife International) | Activities: birding; nature walks/hiking; cycling, running & other outdoor activities; sightseeing;
[PLEASE CHECK VILAMOURA’S BIRD SPECIALITIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS PAGE] The wetland and adjoining areas are located to the west of the town of Vilamoura. Together, they form the Parque Ambiental de Vilamoura (meaning ‘Vilamoura Environmental Park’). Its trails are easy to navigate…but only after you find the non-descript access to them. On the way to the park, there is a bridge across the small lake that splits the Oceânico golf course. This vantage point is good for Purple Heron, Little Bittern, Purple Swamphen, Waxbill and Black-headed Weaver (please check the Vilamoura map above). These species are normally found on places with dense aquatic vegetation nearby; the thick reeds also shelter important populations of Bluethroats and Penduline Tits in autumn and winter, and occasional Great Reed Warblers in spring and summer. Zitting Cisticolas are present throughout the year. Just past the narrow trail giving access to the park, there is a water treatment plant that attracts large roosts of gulls (like the Mediterranean Gull) and ducks, as well as a few herons and terns (such as the Little Tern). Separating the treatment plant from the main path, you’ll find a shallow ditch. Look in there for passerines like the Chiffchaff or Willow and Cetti’s Warblers, as well as for larger species, such as the fine-looking Squacco Heron.
Along the way, you might spot Red-legged Partridges, Spotless Starlings and Hoopoes. Presently, the park has a pair of bird-spotting hides. Access to the first of them is made along a tree hedge to the left of the main trail. Depending on the season, regularly seen species include the Great Crested and Little Grebes, Grey Heron, Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Red-crested Pochard, Mallard, Little Egret, Great Cormorant and Cattle Egret. The Glossy Ibis and the Eurasian Bittern are also sometimes observed. Booted Eagles, Peregrine Falcons and Ospreys are occasional visitors to the area, while the eye-catching Black-winged Kite presents a regular sight in the course of the colder months and in spring; however, among birds of prey the highlight goes to the strong harrier party, which includes the Hen (in winter), Montagu’s (rarer) and Marsh Harriers (resident). At the park year-round, the illusive and largely nocturnal Stone-curlew is much more difficult to pin down than the overflying raptors. On the way to the second, smaller hide, visitors traverse farmland and wooded patches. The latter are inhabited by three striking species, the Golden Oriole, the Iberian Green Woodpecker and the Iberian Azure-winged Magpie. Only the strident magpies are easily observed, though the energetic woodpeckers are sporadically caught out in the open. Here, the dense foliage of the emblematic carob trees are a haven not only to Orioles but also to Serins, Goldfinches, Nightingales, Blackcaps and Greenfinches. In the open grass and farmland areas, it is possible to observe Corn Bunting, Meadow Pipit, Stonechat, Northern Wheatear and Wagtails.
In fact, the rural areas around Vilamoura are of the utmost importance as a waypoint or wintering area for many passerine species, and should be vehemently preserved. The smaller bird-spotting hide may present a second opportunity to observe species like the the Black-crowned Night Heron and the rare Ferruginous Duck, among other commoner species, such as the Water Rail and the Pochard. The Ferruginous Duck has to be an ingenious bird: despite being a globally near threatened species, it has found a way to carry on breeding (albeit ineffectively). No suitable pair available to share some spring love? No worries – there’s always a Common Pochard around. Cases of hybridization between these two species are relatively frequent in the Algarve, making an exact identification a whole lot trickier. Rarities that have been observed in Vilamoura include the White-headed Duck, the Ruddy Shelduck, the Moustached and Aquatic Warblers and the first North American passerine ever recorded in mainland Portugal, the Common Yellowthroat. The Parque Ambiental may not be the most scenic area in the Algarve. It is not. And it lacks the dimension of Ria Formosa or Castro Marim. It also lacks legal protection status, just like the Salgados Lagoon. However, it is a precious piece of an ever-shrinking natural and rural reality. We sincerely hope that visitors get lucky, and are able to observe some noteworthy, vanishing species. It might be the last time they see them in Vilamoura, or in truth, anywhere around.
All the main trails are signposted within the Parque Ambiental de Vilamoura. The terrain is essentially flat and the area is easy to navigate on foot. Perhaps the biggest difficulty that new visitors face is to find the unremarkable (eastern) entrance to this park. That entrance, located besides the ETAR Vilamoura, is pictured on the image. The best lighting conditions occur in the evening – regarding the bird-spotting hides – and early morning.
Praia da Falésia coastal path: the cliff-tops of Praia da Falésia (Falésia Beach: please check the map of Vilamoura above) are covered by a rich kind of Mediterranean scrubland and pinewood that provide shelter for a variety of passerines, such as the Sardinian Warbler, Serins and Goldfinches, as well as to larger species like the Hoopoe , the Iberian Azure-winged Magpie and the Short-eared Owl. The coastal landscape is very pleasant and the expansive beach is truly lovely. Delight in the small gorges, chiseled landforms and spectacular colours along the gently sloping plateau. The path is not signposted (it is hard to lose your bearings, though) and runs for about three kilometers (1.88 miles) until it reaches Aldeamento Alfamar in Albufeira municipality. Take food and water with you, even in winter, and avoid the actual cliff edges, which generally are quite unstable.
By car, it takes about 45-50 minutes to the Salgados Lagoon birding site, one of the most significant freshwater wetlands in Western Algarve (you can check directions using the Google Map above: right-click on the map to get directions to or from a given location). Northwest of Vilamoura, in Paderne – and about 40 minutes away, by car – the Quarteira stream has carved a narrow valley through the limestone hills of the Algarvian countryside. There you’ll find a very particular Mediterranean flora, the ruins of a curious Moorish castle from the 12th century, and some bird species that are usually absent from the coast, such as the Orphean Warbler, the Red-rumped Swallow and the Iberian Chiffchaff, among others.Image: Muffinn
Great Reed Warbler
Spring/Winter | Rare
Winter | Rare
Greater Short-toed Lark
Iberian Azure-winged Magpie
Erratic / Autumn-Spring
Black-crowned Night Heron
Erratic | Rare
Iberian Green Woodpecker