“There we were, at the summit of Picotta – a mountain to the north of Silves in The Algarve, Southern Portugal – the sun was beaming down and we were sweaty with the effort of getting there. The perspiration, I knew, could be to our advantage. I shoved my hands into my armpits and then held them out steady in front of me, much to the disgust of some! Almost immediately the large, dark butterfly I had seen when we arrived alighted on my hand. It was a Two-tailed Pasha, one of the largest and most beautiful butterflies to be found in Europe and one of the best places to find it is here in Southern Portugal. What a privilege it was to have this beauty on my hand.”
I have been re-reading my journal from a trip my wife and I made to the Algarve in Southern Portugal a few years ago and the paragraph above was taken from it. I wanted to remind myself just what a fantastic place for birds and other wildlife Southern Portugal is in autumn.
Sitting in the southwest corner of Europe, the Algarve is perfectly situated to catch south-bound migrants before they follow the coast eastward into Spain and finally across into Africa at Tarifa and the Straits of Gibralter. Millions of birds make this journey every year, raptors, storks and other soaring birds, swifts, swallows, bee-eaters, rollers, warblers and flycatchers all pouring through Southern Portugal.
Another paragraph jumps from the pages of my journal, concerning the raptor migration watch point outside the port town of Sagres, in the southwest corner of the Algarve. Here, every year, volunteers count the numbers of raptors passing south. On the day concerned we joined two Portuguese counters and a British birder. Thousands of Honey Buzzards passed overhead along with hundreds of Booted Eagles, Black Kites, Sparrowhawks and Short-toed Eagles. We had just seen a juvenile Spanish Imperial Eagle when I noted the following:
“One of the Goshawks swerves to avoid a ‘doing’ by another raptor, a falcon. Everyone gets onto it quickly and we soon realise it is an Eleanora’s Falcon! We get superb views of this rich, rufous bird as it displays to us why they are such masters of the sky. What a display of flying skill. If I were to come back as a bird I can think of no better.”
We had two Hen Harriers wing past us as we left the count site with 11 Booted Eagles above the car. Just along the road, at Cabo de Sao Vicente, the coastal bushes and trees were full of Red-backed Shrikes, warblers and some Pied Flycatchers, while Blue Rock Thrush, Red-billed Chough and Peregrine were seen around the cape itself.
Southern Portugal is richly deserved as one of the best birding destinations in Europe where in estuaries Flamingos, egrets, countless waders and Glossy Ibis can be found; reserves like Castro Marim hold large flocks of Little Bustard and in the rolling landscapes of the southern Alentejo Great Bustard, Black Vulture and Spanish Imperial Eagle exist. The combination of habitats and geography within an accessible area makes Southern Portugal truly rewarding at any time of year, but particularly in the autumn.
Noisy flocks of Iberian (Azure-winged) Magpies wing passed golfers teeing up on the numerous golf courses along the coast. These courses have lagoons and reed beds where Purple Gallinule can be ridiculously close and Kingfishers are on the hunt for small fish. Pretty much everywhere one looks there are birds. The skies are rarely without large flocks of White Storks and Black-winged Kites are nearly a common bird!
For all of these reasons I put together a tour to Southern Portugal this autumn, taking in the well-known and hidden corners of this magical country. Julian and I will delight you with the relaxed delights that Southern Portugal can provide and I havn’t even begun to talk about the wine, food, Fado (wonderful traditional singing with guitar) or one of the warmest welcomes one can receive anywhere in the world. Come with us and find out for yourselves how marvellous Southern Portugal is.