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Extending for about thirty hectares, the expansive reed beds 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 richness: apart from the reed beds (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 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 eastern entrance to this place (more on that later). On the way to this eastern entrance, there is a bridge across the small lake that splits the Oceânico golf course in two parts. This vantage point is good for Purple Heron, Little Bittern, Purple Swamphen, Waxbill and Black-headed Weaver. These species are normally found in places with dense aquatic vegetation; 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 ducks and large roosts of gulls (like the Mediterranean Gull), 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 there for passerines like Chiffchaff or Willow and Cetti’s Warblers.

Along the way, you might see Red-legged Partridges, Spotless Starlings, and Hoopoes. Presently, the park has a pair of bird 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 is also sometimes present. Booted Eagles, Peregrine Falcons and Ospreys are occasional visitors to the area, while the eye-catching Black-winged Kite is a regular sight during the spring and winter months; however, regarding birds of prey the highlight goes to the strong harrier party, which includes the Hen (in winter), Montagu’s (rarer) and Marsh Harriers (resident). Present 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 will cross 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 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.

The rural areas around Vilamoura are of the utmost importance as a waypoint or wintering area for many passerine species, and should thus be vehemently preserved. Depending on the season, the smaller bird-spotting hide presents an opportunity to observe species like the the Black-crowned Night Heron (a rare passage migrant) and the Ferruginous Duck, among other commoner species, such as the Water Rail and the Pochard. The Ferruginous Duck has to be an ingenious bird because, despite being a 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 for the Ferruginous, as there’s always a Common Pochard around. Indeed, 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 White-headed Duck, Ruddy Shelduck, Moustached and Aquatic Warblers, and the first North American passerine ever recorded in mainland Portugal, the Common Yellowthroat. The Parque Ambiental is not the most scenic area in the Algarve. Far from it. 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.

IMPORTANT TIPS & SUGGESTIONS

All the main trails are signposted within the Parque Ambiental de Vilamoura. The terrain is essentially flat and the area is very 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 is located besides the ETAR Vilamoura. The best lighting conditions occur in the evening and during early morning. Just before sunset, the atmosphere throughout the Park is usually filled with many birds, both large and small.

PLACES OF INTEREST NEARBY

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 pinewoods that provide shelter for a variety of passerines, such as the Sardinian Warbler, the Serin and the Goldfinch, as well as for 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. Enjoy the small gorges, chiseled landforms and spectacular colours of the gently sloping plateau. The path is not signposted (it is hard to lose your bearings, though) and runs for about 3 kilometers/1.88 miles before reaching Aldeamento Alfamar. Take food and water with you, even in winter, and always keep a safe distance from the unstable cliff edges.

By car, it takes about 45-50 minutes to reach the Salgados Lagoon birding site, one of the most significant freshwater wetlands in Western Algarve. 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 abandoned 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.

 

BIRD SPECIALITIES: VILAMOURA REED BEDS | 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.
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
Passage Migrant | Rare
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