Portugal is less than three hours flight time from most UK starting points and might not at first seem to be the most adventurous of destinations for a bird watching break. But think again! My six-day visit exceeded all expectations. Having chosen Joao Jara's BIRD AND NATURE TOURS the visit was divided between three vastly contrasting habitats:- Algarve Salt Pans and Lagoons, the Alentejo and the Tagus estuary.
Barely an hour after landing we were watching a Little Owl, Sardinian Warbler, Black-Winged Stilts, Bee-eater, Audobin's Gulls and scores of waders at nearby Tavira. On the Formosa Lagoon close to the runway of Faro airport, Purple Swamp-Hen, Little Bittern, Serin, Azure-Winged Magpie, Hoopoe and others were soon seen. The last destination before heading for the Alentejo was Castro Marim by the Spanish border where Flamingo and Woodchat Shrike were added.
The Alentejo was colonised by the Romans and is a complete contrast to the commercial Algarve. A delightful blend of vast grasslands, eucalyptus trees, small whitewashed villages and hilltop chapels. We were based at Mertola on the Guadiana river for two nights and within 24 hours had discovered 5 species of Eagle, 2 species of Vulture, Lesser Kestrel, Great and Little Bustard, Black Stork, Blue Rock Thrush, Golden Oriole, Black-Eared Wheatear, Roller, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Black-Bellied Sandgrouse, Crag Martin, Rock Bunting, Calandra Lark, Stone Curlew, Southern Grey Shrike. Quite simply, I have not enjoyed my bird watching more anywhere!
With some sadness we moved on to the Tagus estuary and spent the final two nights at Alcochete overlooking Lisbon and the Vasco da Gama Bridge. Through carefully developed relationships and co-operation with a number of local landowners, Joao has striven to conserve habitats for a number of prime species. New species for the trip included Melodious Warbler, Black & Black-Winged Kites, Purple & Squacco Herons, Cuckoo, Collared Pratincole and Gull-Billed Terns. A final highlight was a visit to a massive heronry on an island on the Tagus where species of Ibis, egret and heron were seen
Joao Jara was Chairman of the Portuguese (Bird) Rarities Committee as recently as 2011 and is a superb guide and was great company throughout. His bird identification skills are flawless, either visual or by call. Try testing him on their Latin names!
The hotel accommodation was well chosen, agreeable and suitably located. The restaurants were all welcoming with interesting local dishes and splendid red wines at reasonable prices.
Richard Draper, West Wickham, Kent. UK
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