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Algarve & Alentejo 5 — 12 November 2019

Autumn birds in south Portugal

Superb coastal wetlands, craggy cliffs and extensive plains: the south of Portugal offers first-class birdwatching in a comfortable climate.

Autumn sees an appealing mix of residents, winter visitors and migrant birds, some moving along the coast or towards their winter quarters in Africa.

This holiday, in Algarve and Alentejo, incorporates a mixture of wetlands, coastal cliffs, oak forest, dry grassland and hilly areas. Highlights could include Iberian specialities, like black-shouldered kite, great and little bustards, black-bellied sandgrouse and azure-winged magpie, plus plenty of other wildlife and beautiful landscapes.

By staying inland and on the protected west coast, we can enjoy the undeveloped Algarve, moving past the better known beaches and golf courses, and head into the extensive grasslands of the remote Alentejo.

Azure-winged magpie (Steve Fletcher)
Azure-winged magpie (Steve Fletcher)

Barrocal, coast and Alentejo

At Alte, birdwatching in the traditional farmland areas of the limestone Barrocal may yield short-toed and Bonelli’s eagle, little owl, hoopoe and woodlark. The classified site of Rocha da Pena is a magnificent natural monument of great beauty. Scrub here may hold southern European birds such as southern grey shrikes, Dartford and Sardinian warblers, cirl and rock buntings, and blue rock thrush on the cliffs.

Migratory or late summer butterflies, like small copper, long-tailed and Lang’s short-tailed blues and painted lady could still be on the wing. At nearby Benémola spring, one of the few permanent streams in the Algarve, we can look for seasonal dragonflies, like western willow spreadwing, epaulet skimmer and red-veined darter.

Castro Marim Nature Reserve, in the Guadiana estuary near the border with Spain, has extensive marshes and salinas. Waders should include black-winged stilt, avocet and Kentish plovers, plus many migrants from the Arctic. Other waterbirds likely are good numbers of greater flamingos, spoonbill and egrets, and late terns could include Caspian.

At Ria Formosa Nature Park, at Quinta do Lago, the mudflats and lagoons of the area have a variety of waterbirds including specialities like purple gallinule, little bittern and red-crested pochard. Other unusual wildlife, like fiddler crabs and European chameleon, can be seen.

Another excellent coastal site is Salgados lagoon near Pêra. This small coastal lagoon can be crowded with migratory waterbirds.

lagoon at Formosa Chameleon
Lagoon at Ria Formosa; chameleon (Domingos Leitão).

Castro Verde Special Protection Area, in Alentejo, is the most important dry-grassland area in Portugal. During the day we explore the dry grasslands, which support more than 1,000 great bustards. Birds of prey can be outstanding here, including griffon and black vultures, golden and Spanish imperial eagles. Other grassland birds include little bustard, black-bellied sandgrouse and stone-curlew. Larks include calandra and Thekla, and Spanish sparrows occur in flocks.

Black-bellied sandgrouseSpanish imperial eagle (Steve Fletcher)Calandra lark (Steve Fletcher)
Black-bellied sandgrouse, Spanish imperial eagle, calandra lark (all by Steve Fletcher)

Atlantic Algarve

The second part of this holiday is based at Sagres in the far west of Algarve. Our route takes us via Monchique, the highest mountain in Algarve, and the greener landscape will attract passerines, butterflies and dragonflies.

The peninsula of Sagres includes Cape São Vicente, the extreme south-western point of continental Europe, from which seabird passage could include shearwaters, gannets, skuas and terns. The scrub and grassland above the impressive sea cliffs hold passerines and counts show a concentration of migrant raptors, though you have to be lucky, in the right place at the right time, to see them.

Cape St Vincent
Cape St Vincent

Autumn flowers can include autumn crocus, autumn and sea squills and autumn snowflake..

Holiday details

Our bases are the three-star Alte Hotel (5 nights), located outside the village of Alte, surrounded by small fields and Mediterranean scrub, and Hotel Mira Sagres (2 nights), in the small town of Vila do Bispo.

Price: £1,450 per person in twin room for a full week (Tuesday to Tuesday)

Single room supplement: £180

En suite facilities.

Flights: easyJet flights, London Luton to Faro. There may be other flights possible from elsewhere in the UK.
05 Nov: EZY2015 depart London Luton 11:15 arrive Faro 14:00.
12 Nov: EZY2016 depart Faro 14:30 arrive London Luton 17:25. 

Deposit: £300

Maximum numbers: (two leaders): 14


Rob Macklin was formerly the RSPB’s area manager on the Suffolk coast, covering Minsmere and North Warren among several nature reserves. He now lives in Devon and uses his years of experience in nature conservation as an environmental consultant.

The holiday is run in partnership with SPEA, the Portuguese BirdLife partner. The SPEA leader will be Lara Broom, who is SPEA's Sales and Membership Officer. She as born is Lisbon but is fluent in English: she spent time working for the RSPB on membership and for another holiday company before she joined SPEA's staff. More about Lara on SPEA's website here.

Originally Honeyguide's holidays in Portugal were co-led by Domingos Leitão, who maintains a close interest and help. When Domingos became SPEA's Executive Director, its senior staff member, it became impractical for him to take a week out to be a Honeyguide leader, though he will join the group for a time if his busy diary allows.

Conservation project

Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves (SPEA, BirdLife in Portugal) will receive our donation, and SPEA advises on a current priority project for funding.

This year (2019) we will be supporting the promotion of SPEA in the Algarve, namely funding a stand that, with the help of a local group of supporters, SPEA says will: "increase our street actions to promote and raise awareness about SPEA’s work in the Algarve. We need more members everywhere, but especially in the Algarve, where there are still lots of damaging developments to fight against."

The donation in November 2017 was directed to SPEA's Marine Conservation Department, to a campaign against oil drilling off-shore by the Algarve coast. New release and news coverage here.

Donations in Portugal for the holiday here in November 2015 supported campaigning against the illegal capture and sale of wild birds - more about that in our news release here. Also more on previous projects and Honeyguide's links with SPEA) here.


Portugal map
For prices, see Holiday Details at the bottom of the page.

travel aware

FCO travel advice for Portugal here.

Holiday reports

November 2019 

November 2017

October/November 2015

November 2013

There are more reports from our former spring Algarve holiday on our holiday reports page.


Autumn 2019: photos from Honeyguider David Bennett here.

SPEA autumn bird news

Sagres Birdwatching Festival, October 2015: more here.

Updates from SPEA about birds seen in south Portugal in autumn 2014 here, ranging from raptors to wetland birds and seabirds.

Similar Records from 2012 from late October here & early November here.

These all show the good birds there can be in south Portugal in late autumn.

Rocha da Pena

Rocha da Pena in the Barrocal.

silkweed with Monarch
There is a resident population of monarch butterflies in Algarve, here on bristle-fruited silkweed. More on Monarchs here.

Lagoa dos Salgados

Lagoa dos Salgados at Pera

Southern grey shrike (Steve Fletcher)

Iberian grey shrike (Steve Fletcher)

Fiddler crab

Fiddler crab (Nick Upton)

stork nests in Alentejo

Pylons are left for white stork nests by the road in Alentejo: the wires now run to the right. This is by the way into Castro Verde.

Little bustard (Steve Fletcher)

Little bustard (Steve Fletcher)

purple gallinule

Purple gallinule (or swamp-hen) - sometimes seen at Lagoa dos Salgados at Pêra (Steve Fletcher).

horseshoe whip snake

Horseshoe whip snake (Domingos Leitão)

Little egret (Brennan Aunger)

Little egret (Brennan Aunger)

Lara Broom

Lara Broom of SPEA

Hugo, Rob, Domingos (Karin Aunger)

Left to right: Hugo (SPEA leader in 2017), Rob, Domingos (Karin Aunger)

Facebook Honeyguide
... where there are many holiday photos to enjoy.

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