Extending for about thirty hectares, the expansive reedbeds of Vilamoura are the largest habitat of its kind in southern Portugal. Being located on fertile alluvial soils, most of the terrain was once wholly devoted to traditional forms of agriculture. Tourism took off on the second half of the 20th century, gradually dislodging the rainfed orchards and horticultural smallholdings in favour of the now prominent Algarvian golf courses. However, a large part of the area has somehow maintained a high degree of environmental heterogeneity: apart from the reedbeds (and the sprawling urban fabric), there are channels, man-made lakes, orchards, farmland, grassland, pinewoods and a few patches of Mediterranean scrubland, all arranged in a mosaic-like structure. For breeding species like the Purple Heron, the Little Bittern – and especially – for the once locally threatened Purple Swamphen, almost all the conditions have thus been met for the establishment of stable communities.

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.

IMPORTANT TIPS & SUGGESTIONS

Parque-Ambiental-de-Vilamoura-ETAR-east-entrance-parkAll 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.
 
 
 

PLACES OF INTEREST NEARBY

Praia-da-Falésia-Vilamoura-Algarve-PortugalPraia 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.

 
Salgados-Lagoon-Pera-Marsh-Algarve-Portugal-by-MuffinnBy 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
 
 
 

BIRD SPECIALITIES: VILAMOURA REEDBEDS | LOULÉ COASTAL LAGOONS BIRDING HOTSPOTS

 

Acrocephalus-arundinaceus-great-reed-warbler-algarveAcrocephalus arundinaceus
Great Reed Warbler
Mar.-Aug.
Aquila pennata Algarve
Aquila pennata
Booted Eagle
Sep.-Oct.
Ardeola ralloides Squacco Heron Algarve BirdsArdeola ralloides
Squacco Heron
Summer/Autumn
Aythya nyroca Ferruginous Duck AlgarveAythya nyroca
Ferruginous Duck
Spring/Winter | Rare
Apus pallidus Algarve Apus pallidus
Pallid Swift
Mar.-Oct.
Ardea purpurea Purple Heron Algarve Ardea purpurea
Purple Heron
Mar.-Sep.
Botaurus stellaris Eurasian Bittern AlgarveBotaurus stellaris
Eurasian Bittern
Winter | Rare
Bubulcus ibis Cattle Egret AlgarveBubulcus ibis
Cattle Egret
Resident
Burhinus oedicnemus Stone-curlew Algarve Burhinus oedicnemus
Stone-curlew
Resident
Calandrella brachydactyla Greater Short-toed Lark AlgarveCalandrella brachydactyla
Greater Short-toed Lark
Resident
Ciconia ciconia Algarve Ciconia ciconia
White Stork
Resident
Cisticola juncidis Algarve Cisticola juncidis
Zitting Cisticola
Resident
Cyanopica cooki Iberian Azure-winged Magpie Algarve Cyanopica cooki
Iberian Azure-winged Magpie
Resident
Elanus caeruleus Black-winged Kite Algarve Elanus caeruleus
Black-winged Kite
Erratic / Autumn-Spring
Estrilda astrild Waxbill Algarve Estrilda astrild
Waxbill
Resident
Galerida cristata Crested Lark Algarve Galerida cristata
Crested Lark
Resident
Himantopus himantopus Black-winged Stilt Algarve Himantopus himantopus
Black-winged Stilt
Resident
Ixobrychus minutus Little bittern AlgarveIxobrychus minutus
Little Bittern
Apr.-Sep.
Luscinia svecica Bluethroat Algarve Luscinia svecica
Bluethroat
Jan.-Mar./Aug.-Dec
Merops apiaster Bee-eater Algarve Merops apiaster
Bee-eater
Mar.-Sep.
Netta rufina Red-crested Pochard AlgarveNetta rufina
Red-crested Pochard
Resident
Nycticorax nycticorax Black-crowned Night Heron AlgarveNycticorax nycticorax
Black-crowned Night Heron
Apr.-Sep.
Oriolus-oriolus-golden-oriole-algarve Oriolus oriolus
Golden Oriole
Apr.-Sep.
Oxyura leucocephala White-headed Duck AlgarveOxyura leucocephala
White-headed Duck
Erratic | Rare
Pandion haliaetus Algarve Pandion haliaetus
Osprey
Erratic
. Passer hispaniolensis Algarve .
Passer hispaniolensis

Spanish Sparrow
Winter
Picus-sharpei-iberian-green-woodpecker-algarve Picus sharpei
Iberian Green Woodpecker
Resident
Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus AlgarvePlegadis falcinellus
Glossy Ibis
Sep.-Mar.
Ploceus melanocephalus - Black-headed Weaver AlgarvePloceus melanocephalus
Black-headed Weaver
Resident
Porphyrio porphyrio Purple Swamphen galinulle AlgarvePorphyrio porphyrio
Purple Swamphen
Resident
Ptyonoprogne rupestris AlgarvePtyonoprogne rupestris
Crag Martin
Autumn-Winter
Remiz-pendulinus-penduline-tit-algarve Remiz pendulinus
Penduline Tit
Oct.-Mar.
Sturnus unicolor Algarve Sturnus unicolor
Spotless Starling
Resident
Sylvia melanocephala Algarve Sylvia melanocephala
Sardinian Warbler
Resident
Tachymarptis melba Algarve Tachymarptis melba
Alpine Swift
Mar.-Sep.
Upupa epops Algarve Upupa epops
Hoopoe
Resident