During my professional life as The Urban Birder, I have been very lucky to have been invited around the world to some pretty special places to watch some amazing birds and other wildlife as well as to meet up with some equally amazing conservationists. I have also been fortunate enough to have been hosted in some wonderful accommodations. They have ranged from warm family homes to the full-on luxury of 5-star hotels and lodges. I really do consider myself to be one of the luckiest birders on two legs!
During the autumn of 2023, I was invited to spend a few days at the Wyndham Grand Algarve in southern Portugal to explore the bird life in the area. Of course, I accepted. Seated within 2,000 acres of the quite picturesque Ria Formosa Natural Park and within walking distance from Quinta do Lago Beach, indeed, it was an invitation that was hard to resist.
The Algarve is a well known spot for golf lovers and, needless to say, the whole area around which I was based was peppered with golf courses. Now, golf courses may not initially represent a birder’s idea of great birding. It is true that they do not offer the best habitat for finding birds especially when they are frequented by loads of golfers. However, when you think of them as a grassland habitats you may begin to see them in a slightly different light. It is always worth checking the courses for birds. Walking past the many courses during my stay I noted multiple species frequenting the mown grass looking for food including everybody’s favourite – the Hoopoe.
I saw several of these unique-looking birds variously lazing on the grass and probing the soil in search of invertebrates. On the courses bordering the Ria Formosa, Common Moorhens and Cattle Egrets were also commonly seen looking for prey items in the grass. I am not a stranger to this beautiful part of Portugal, as I remember leading an autumnal birding tour a few years ago during which I discovered a lone and very confiding European Golden Plover on a golf course. This elegant shorebird is a winter visitor to the Iberian grasslands before returning to arctic regions in the spring to breed. Normally shy and not allowing close approach this particular individual showed no fear of humans and I watched, stunned, as it came with six feet of me and my group.
Birding around the Wyndham Algarve itself was a little limited with the main entertainment provided by the ubiquitous House Sparrows supported by numbers of Spotless Starlings, Collared Doves and Wood Pigeons. As soon as you hit the wilder areas of the Ria Formosa Natural Park you really do begin to see a wider variety of species. The Ria Formosa forms a lagoon and is a system of barrier islands that connects to the sea through six inlets. In 2010, the lagoon was recognised as one of Portugal’s seven natural wonders. It is a fabulous place for shorebirds and other waterbirds.
During my stay I saw many Ruddy Turnstone, Dunlin, Grey Plover and elegant Whimbrel. They were feeding on the exposed mudflats on hightides or even on the edges of the golf courses bordering the estuary along with Common Sandpipers. Among the multitudes of Black-headed, Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed Gulls were a few of the scarcer Audouin’s and Slender-billed Gulls. The latter species being very similar to the far more common Black-headed Gulls. They are principally separable by having longer, slenderer heads and beaks. Grey Herons, Great and Little Egrets and Glossy Ibis were all regularly seen in the muddy areas whilst overhead, I enjoyed watching overflying Sandwich and Caspian Terns.
My favourite birding moments came when I hooked up with Ricardo Correia from the local conservation group Vita Nativa in Quinta do Lago. We watched a wetland area of reedbed alongside the Ria Formosa. Seeing as it was autumn, we were treated to a number of migrant birds including Reed and Sedge Warblers rummaging through the waterside vegetation. We watched a Black-winged Stilt bizarrely strutting along a track away from the water whilst a Western Swamphen made an appearance from the reedbed. On the open water were a small array of duck that included Northern Shoveler and Gadwall and I was convinced that I had flushed a diminutive Jack Snipe from the edge of the reedbed. All the while, Ricardo informed me of the great conservation work being undertaken by Vita Nativa.
I had a great time birding the environs around the Wyndham Algarve and it goes without saying that I had a fabulous stay at the hotel. I was well looked after and the staff were very attentive. If you are ever thinking of staying in the Algarve for a birding break I implore you to treat yourself at the Wyndham Algarve!