Photos with this report (click to enlarge)
I flew out to Faro airport from London with BA and hired a car for the week. I stayed at the Vila Gale Albacora Hotel, just outside Tavira, in the Ria Formosa National Park. The hotel is very comfortable and is surrounded by saltmarsh and coastal waters, so a great base for birding. Most days I did my bird watching in Tavira or close by, as there is plenty to see.
From Tavira town following the signs to Isla de Tavira,the road passes through several gridded areas filled with brackish water. These are very close to the water's edge, and can be packed with waders, so photo opportunities are great. I spent 2 hours in the morning and returned for another hour or so, in the evening, every day. Today I saw 50+ Dunlin, 3 Grey Plover, 1 Greenshank, 12 Redshank, 4 Spotted Redshank, 20 + Curlew Sandpipers and 2 Common Sandpipers.
The rest of the day was spent investigating the hotel grounds, where I spotted a Little Owl, that turned out to be resident, 2 Sardinian Warblers, 2 Linnets and numerous Serin.
Today I drove a short distance along the coast to Cabanas, where I have previously stayed. This is also in Ria Formosa and turns up a good number of species. In the town, is a small rough car park area, I noticed a lot of Swallows and House Martins visiting a puddle for mud and drinking water, so I parked up and waited. After 10 minutes or so, they felt confident enough to return. I stayed here for 2 hours, until lunch and the toilet beckoned me away. I saw 30+ House Martins, 20+ Swallows, 3 Red-rumped Swallows, 4 Linnets, 3 Serin, 6 Collared Doves, 1 Turtle Dove and 4 Common Waxbills. All these birds used the puddle, alas later the puddle dried-up and all the birds had gone. On my evening visit to Tavra I came across a pair of Hoopoes, the male was feeding the female and I managed to grab a shot before they spotted me. There was also a gang of Eurasian Spoonbill in the distance.
Today's morning visit to Tavira turned up a few more species, as well as the usual suspects. I saw 25 Avocets, 6 Turnstones,2 Ringed Plovers,1 Little Ringed Plover, 3 Blue-headed Yellow Wagtails and a Curlew. After a couple of hours I headed inland to a reservoir, I had seen on the map. The roads are in great condition, so driving around was a pleasure. The hillsides were covered in White Cistus flowers and French Lavender, that attracted several butterflies. At the reservoir was another small car park, with another small puddle, that was as popular with the birds as the previous one I mentioned. Here I saw plenty more Swallows and House Martins and also 3 Corn Buntings, 1 Little Ringed Plover, 2 Kestrels and a White Wagtail.
Today I drove eastwards to Castro Marim, near the Spanish border, there is a large wetland area, a lot of which is a nature reserve. The weather was a bit hit and miss, windy and wet with sunny spells, there didn't seem to be the abundance of birds I had read about on the internet. I saw 1 Curlew Sandpiper, 12 Dunlin,2 Kentish Plover and 2 Crested Larks. The weather cleared later in the day and on the road that led to my hotel, I got my first sightings of White Storks. I stopped the car next to one of the pools in the saltmarsh, to get a closer look, when out of the sky 40 or so Greater Flamingo landed about twenty yards away. I hadn't seen much in these pools up to now, but they proved to be productive for the remainder of the holiday.
I stayed around the hotel grounds today, after my usual morning jaunt to Tavira. I spotted the Little Owl as usual, who seemed to enjoy giving me the run around, trying to get a decent photo. There were several Spotless Starlings and Goldfinches in the grounds and a pair of Northern Wheatear by the car park. In the evening I went for a quick stroll and came across a couple of very jumpy Hares and a blonde Hedgehog, there was also a mass gathering of House Sparrows, well over 200.
Last full day today, so I drove inland again for a few miles, through a farming area. First birds today 20+ Bee-eaters, circling around an orchard. Then a couple of Azure-winged Magpies appeared, fighting over, what looked like an unfortunate lizard. Along the series of tracks I spotted a Black-eared Wheatear, several Stonechats and Crested Larks. On my way back to the hotel, in the marsh pools I spotted a small group of Slender-billed Gulls mingled with the ever present Yellow-legged Gulls.
Homeward bound today, but not until the afternoon, so still a little time for birding. Still lots of waders present in Tavira. I decided to stop at the reserve headquarters of the Ria Formosa on my way to the airport, as it is fairly close. Not a bad place to visit, some recent improvements to the hides, have really helped .Here in my brief visit I saw lots of Azure-winged Magpies and Bee-eaters, Chiffchaffs, Eurasian Jay, wagtails, (Yellow and White), Crested Larks, Meadow Pipits and both Blue and Great Tits.
Little Ringed Plover