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Being the most important wetland system in Western Algarve, the Alvor Estuary is an essential staging area for many wintering and migrant waterbirds. The Ria de Alvor is also a very enjoyable place, making it one of the finest year-round sightseeing and birding sites in the Algarve. 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 variations of mosaic-type habitats; to the south, the area is limited by the ocean and by an extensive 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. This can be a highly rewarding area.

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] The estuary and surrounding quarters are home to several noteworthy residents, such as the illusive Stone-curlew, the Cattle Egret, the Black-winged Stilt, the minute Kentish Plover, and the Greater Flamingo (a species that roams the deserted salt pans together with 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 (annual, in small numbers).The Osprey is a wintering species with some records during spring and summer, whereas the Black-winged Kite is a resident that breeds in the area.

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 while 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. The Purple Heron is common in spring in small numbers but Richard’s Pipit is a rare bird across the area. Rarities include Cream-coloured Courser, Terek Sandpiper, White-crowned Wheatear, Royal Tern and the critically endangered Sociable Lapwing.

 

IMPORTANT TIPS & SUGGESTIONS

Waders are best seen at high tide as they tend to congregate in only a few places. 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. It is not possible to walk around the marsh anymore, and the area gets completly flooded at high tide; going to the saltpans is also complicated at high tide. 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.

 

PLACES OF INTEREST NEARBY

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. The area surrounding Ponta da Piedade is inhabited by Cattle and Little Egrets, as well as Western Jackdaws, wild Rock Pigeons and Spotless Starlings. Don’t miss a boat trip to the stunning sea caves, as the coastal scenery is truly unique.

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).

 

BIRD SPECIALITIES: ALVOR ESTUARY & BOARDWALK | ALVOR BIRDING HOTSPOTS
Apus pallidus Algarve Apus pallidus
Pallid Swift
Mar.-Oct.
Ardea purpurea Purple Heron Algarve Ardea purpurea
Purple Heron
Jul.-Sep.
Burhinus oedicnemus Stone-curlew Algarve Burhinus oedicnemus
Stone-curlew
Resident
Calidris ferruginea Curlew Sandpiper AlgarveCalidris ferruginea
Curlew Sandpiper
Winter | Rare
Calidris minuta Little Stint Algarve Calidris minuta
Little Stint
Autumn-Winter
Charadrius alexandrinus Kentish Plover Algarve Charadrius alexandrinus
Kentish Plover
Resident
Chlidonias niger Black Tern Algarve Chlidonias niger
Black Tern
May-Jun./Aug.-Sep.
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
Estrilda astrild Waxbill Algarve Estrilda astrild
Waxbill
Resident
Galerida cristata Crested Lark Algarve Galerida cristata
Crested Lark
Resident
Gelochelidon nilotica Gull-billed Tern AlgarveGelochelidon nilotica
Gull-billed Tern
May-Sep.
Haematopus ostralegus Oystercatcher Algarve Haematopus ostralegus
Oystercatcher
Winter
Himantopus himantopus Black-winged Stilt Algarve Himantopus himantopus
Black-winged Stilt
Resident
Larus audouinii Algarve Larus audouinii
Audouin’s Gull
May-March
Luscinia svecica Bluethroat Algarve Luscinia svecica
Bluethroat
Jan.-Mar./Aug.-Dec
Merops apiaster Bee-eater Algarve Merops apiaster
Bee-eater
Mar.-Sep.
Milvus migrans Black Kite Algarve Milvus migrans
Black Kite
Mar.-Aug.
Pandion haliaetus Algarve Pandion haliaetus
Osprey
Erratic
. Passer hispaniolensis Algarve Passer hispaniolensis
Spanish Sparrow
Winter
Phoenicopterus roseus Greater Flamingo Algarve Phoenicopterus roseus
Greater Flamingo
Resident
Ptyonoprogne rupestris AlgarvePtyonoprogne rupestris
Crag Martin
Autumn-Winter
Recurvirostra avosetta Pied Avocet Algarve Recurvirostra avosetta
Avocet
Oct.-Mar.
Sterna caspia Caspian Tern Algarve Sterna caspia
Caspian Tern
Aug.-Mar.
Sturnus unicolor Algarve Sturnus unicolor
Spotless Starling
Resident
Sylvia melanocephala Algarve Sylvia melanocephala
Sardinian Warbler
Resident
Tachymarptis melba Algarve Tachymarptis melba
Alpine Swift
March-September
Tringa glareola Wood Sandpiper Algarve Tringa glareola
Wood Sandpiper
Mar.-Apr./Aug.-Sep.
Upupa epops Algarve Upupa epops
Hoopoe
Resident