Western Portugal
Iberia's Atlantic seaboard

16 - 23 March 2003

Teresa Farino
John Muddeman

Our second tour to the Lisboa area brought a fine variety of wildlife of all shapes and sizes. We recorded no less than 129 species of bird, with notable highlights being a group of four Glossy Ibis in the Entroncamento salinas, a Black-shouldered Kite on the last day, a superb Bonelli's Eagle over the Serra do Louro, a brief glimpse of a Purple Swamp-hen at the Lagoa de Albufeira, an unexpected Lesser Spotted Woodpecker at the Açude da Murta and a group of Iberian Azure-winged Magpies along the Pinheiro track.

Pride of place among the other vertebrates surely goes to the very obliging Bottle-nosed Dolphins in the Sado estuary, and we were also treated to close encounters with several species of reptile and amphibian, most memorably Sue E's Iberian Painted Frog, which joined our picnic under the Serra do Louro. The list of spring butterflies was headed for many by the Spanish Festoons under the cork oaks at Quinta da Serra, with others of interest including Green-striped White, Cleopatra and Spanish Brown Argus.

The weather, always variable at this time of year, certainly let us down on occasion, with driving rain all but ruining our first full day in the field, but thankfully improved as the week went on.

Sunday 16 March

transfer to Zimbros via the Lagoa de Albufeira

We all arrived safely and assembled at Lisboa airport, and once loaded into the minibuses, set off to have lunch beneath a huge stone pine Pinus pinea on the sandy plateau surrounding the Lagoa de Albufeira, where we met mild but breezy conditions. Even as we were setting out the picnic, a shout went up as a Goshawk cruised quickly across in front of us before dropping behind the treetops. A couple of Buzzards, including one repeatedly hovering and looking for all the world like a Short-toed Eagle, were also noted above the trees, with calling Crested and Long-tailed Tits and a singing Serin or two closer at hand.

After lunch, we back-tracked towards the reedbeds we'd passed earlier, and noted 'laughing' Iberian Pool Frogs, 'shouting' Cetti's Warblers, a calling and briefly singing Iberian Chiffchaff in the trees, Swallows and Sand Martins swooping over the reeds, and fly-by Grey and Purple Herons. Deep in cover were 'whinnying' Little Grebe and a sharming Water Rail.

Having exhausted the immediate ornithological interest, we moved on to the sand-dunes at the mouth of the lagoon, where despite the numerous wind- and kite-surfers, various loafing gulls included Lesser Black-backed, a young Great Black-backed and a couple of Yellow-legged, while plenty of Sandwich Terns fished and perched on the shellfish platforms. Some members of the party obtained brief views of both Common and Little Terns over the open water, while in the trees and scrub a couple of Sardinian Warblers showed beautifully, and a smart Stonechat sang from a bush-top.

The more botanically-minded members of the group were delighted with the colourful display of 'psammophiles' which thrive on the low dunes behind the beach, despite heavy trampling. Fluorescent-pink Silene littorea mingled with the paler lilac sand stock Malcolmia littorea and azure-flowered undulate anchusa Anchusa undulata, amid mats of bright yellow Ononis ramosissima, southern birdsfoot-trefoil Lotus creticus and sea medick Medicago marina. Of particular interest were the fleshy thyme Thymus carnosus, unique to southwestern Spain and Portugal, and the Afro-Iberian endemic succulent figwort Scrophularia frutescens. Towards the sea we found an abundance of the woolly-leaved cottonweed Otanthus maritimus, the distinctive 'galingale' Cyperus capitatus and the leaves of sea-holly and sea daffodil.

Eventually, as dusk beckoned, we reluctantly departed for our hotel, where we were soon ensconced in comfortable rooms, before tucking into a delicious meal of steak or swordfish.

Monday 17 March

Pinheiro montado, Zambujal rice-fields

A cold easterly wind and strongly angled rain were a poor start to the day, and it got little better! We headed inland into the cover of the Stone Pine and Cork Oak (Quercus suber) montado near Pinheiro to look at the flora and fauna of this acid, sandy area. Not surprisingly, the birds were difficult, though Serins and Chaffinches were common and we also encountered Mistle Thrushes, a singing Woodlark and even a dripping Tawny Owl, vainly trying to hide in a pine but being mobbed by numerous noisy passerines including several Nuthatches. A pair of Cirl Buntings fed in grass under the trees and a superb male Marsh Harrier quartered over a distant pool and adjacent meadows. Perhaps the highlight was a flock of Iberian Azure-winged Magpies (now considered a different species - Cyanopica cooki - from similar-looking relatives in E Asia), feeding under the pines as we moved on.

Our chosen lunch spot contained several pools teeming with thousands of tiny frog tadpoles, where the surrounding scrubs included a typical array of acidophilous shrubs such as French lavender Lavandula stoechas, gum cistus Cistus ladanifer, narrow-leaved cistus C. monspeliensis, Cistus crispus, Mediterranean mezereon Daphne gnidium, ling Calluna vulgaris and the spiny yellow-flowered legume Stauracanthus genistoides. Drifts of the delicate yellow-flowered Linaria spartea lined the waysides, and despite the wet and wind, we were treated to a number of soggy-looking Pallid Swifts beating their way low across the tops of the trees.

We were now thoroughly wet and cold after braving it out for lunch, and so dropped into a local cafe for warming coffees and hot chocolate, the climax being a pair of copulating White Storks on a huge nest on the nearby church roof as we departed. We finished the day with a short drive through the Zambujal rice-paddies, where we attempted to birdwatch from the minibuses. Driving rain against the windows made it all but impossible, but a flock of bright Common Waxbills livened up the proceedings as they fed unconcernedly in an adjacent field, and a host of waders roosting in the salinas included smart Black-winged Stilts and a large group of Avocets. In the end we voted to call it a day, and headed back to the hotel with fingers firmly crossed in the hopes of better weather on the morrow.

Tuesday 18 March

Estuário do Tejo: Alcochete/Hortas/Entrocamento

High and slightly broken cloud, but no rain, boded well and we headed north towards the Tejo estuary, stopping by the Lagoa de Albufeira first, where Cetti's Warblers and Iberian Chiffchaffs sang in the fringing willows while numerous House and Sand Martins flitted over the reedbeds, from where Little Grebe, Coot, Moorhen and Water Rail all called. As the sun broke through we hung around in the delightful conditions, though only Ian and 'the Johns' were sufficiently lucky to briefly glimpse a Purple Swamp-hen.

Once in Alcochete, we enjoyed coffee before pottering round the port, where House Martins were visiting the multiple nests on the church and Lesser Black-backed Gulls lined the mud by the pier. We scanned the mudflats and the expanse of the river Tejo itself visible from the sea-wall, turning up a mixed group of duck in the main channel, which included Wigeon, Shoveler and two fine male Pintail, with a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers rushing along in the rapidly rising tide. Underneath us, a Grey and two Ringed Plovers foraged in the mud.

We carried on to Hortas, where a variety of waders on the exposed mud included abundant Grey and a flock of Ringed Plovers, rather dull Bar-tailed but rather brighter Black-tailed Godwits, masses of Avocets, large numbers of Redshank and a small flock of confiding Greenshank, with the sight of all these wheeling around and then streaming past when disturbed by two soaring Marsh Harriers simply magnificent.

The plant highlight at Hortas was undoubtedly the drifts of three-leaved snowflakes Leucojum trichophyllum on the stony track margins, together with a few Barbary nut irises Gymnandriris sisyrhinchium amid the longer grass. Colourful roadside weeds here included crown daisy Chrysanthemum coronarium, winged vetchling Lathyrus ochrus, with pale-yellow 'sweet-peas', and the smaller, bluish-flowered L. angulatus, narrow-leaved lupin Lupinus angustifolius, purple viper's-bugloss Echium lycopsis and galactites Galactites tomentosa.

By contrast, the rather dull but more characteristic salt-tolerant vegetation of the ditches and swampy areas was dominated by chenopods such as shrubby sea-blite Suaeda vera, the rather similar Arthrocnemum macrostachyum and taller bushes of shrubby orache Atriplex halimus and Salsola vermiculata, with the abundant sea-purslane Halimione portulacoides parasitised by splendid spikes of the broomrape-like Cistanche phelypaea. Other plants of interest here included the rather insignificant arrow-grass Triglochin bulbosa, the fleshy-leaved lesser sea-spurrey Spergularia marina carpeting the edge of the mudflat, the sea-lavender Limonium ferulaceum and a couple of South African invaders: the composites Arctotheca calendula and buttonweed Cotula coronopifolia.

Clouded yellows and Swallowtails were the only butterflies in evidence, while a closer examination of one of the pools turned up several Iberian Blue-tailed Damselflies Ischnura graellsii. Lunch was a rather disjointed affair, being interrupted first by a flock of Spoonbills heading up the channel next to us, then by a circling Osprey.

After lunch, we walked through the nearby salinas and fish-ponds, where a female Hen Harrier spiralled up allowing us see its relatively broad wing-tip, while the waders in the pools included large numbers of smart Black-winged Stilts, chequer-backed Ruffs (and Reeves) and, roosting on some mud banks, good numbers of smaller species: Turnstone, Grey, Kentish and Ringed Plovers, Common Sandpiper, Redshank, Dunlin and Little Stint. An Avocet fed at close range, its pied plumage almost shocking in the bright sun, while Zitting Cisticolas called repeatedly, showing off their bouncing display flights.

As we boarded the minibuses so the reappearance of the Spoonbill flock in flight coincided again with an Osprey, which dived several times, flushing lots of birds, although it eventually flew over carrying a large fish. A short detour to a roadside lay-by provided views of four fine Glossy Ibis feeding actively in some adjacent pools, three of these with the white-flecked heads denoting full breeding plumage, though they're not known to nest in the area (yet!).

We rounded off the day with a drive along the Pancas track, stopping to admire some fine black bulls in an area which produced calling Little Owl and Green Woodpecker, although a fly-over Sparrowhawk and several circling Black Kites, one of which was carrying a stick in its beak, were more notable. Little new was added to the plant list, with the exception of some fine stands of field eryngo Eryngium campestre (extremely rare in the UK but a roadside weed over much of Iberia) and a swathe of the diminutive yellow 'poppy' known as Hypecoum imberbe.

Wednesday 19 March

Dolphins in the Sado estuary/Serra da Arrábida/

We set off slightly earlier than usual, passing through the attractive Serra da Arrábida en route to Setúbal, the headquarters of Vertigem Azul. After a short talk and slide show about the resident Bottle-nosed Dolphin population, we donned lifejackets, boarded a large RIB and were shortly speeding out onto the calm waters of the Sado estuary in search of the beasts themselves. Just when it seemed we were out of luck, we came across a group of dolphins feeding in the waters on the edge of the estuary. For over an hour we followed their movements, watching as they occasionally surfaced beside the boat or passed beneath, with several speeding along in the wake as we powered away at the end.

Our visit to the estuary was far from over, however, with scans of the water revealing small numbers of Red-breasted Mergansers, two Black-necked Grebes almost in full summer plumage, a flock of Greater Flamingos, and a fine adult and a 'drabber' young Great Black-backed Gull among the hoards of Lesser Black-backed Gulls lining the sandbanks.

Once back on dry land we headed up into the Serra again for lunch at a strategic viewpoint overlooking the Arrábida cliffs, although the proceedings were delayed by the most spectacular display of wild tulips Tulipa sylvestris ssp. australis on a roadside bank that any of us had ever seen: there must have been thousands, and in full bloom! Here too we spotted other gems such as palmate anemone Anemone palmata, shrubby pimpernel Anagallis monelli, friar's cowl Arisarum vulgare, Spanish bluebell Hyacinthoides hispanica mirror, yellow and dull ophrys (Ophrys ciliata, O. lutea and O. fusca respectively) and two-leaved gennaria Gennaria diphylla: altogether an extraordinary assemblage for just a few square metres of shady limestone bank.

At lunch, the overcast muggy and still conditions were characterised by a real paucity of bird activity, with the expected Blue Rock Thrushes notable only by their absence, but the views were spectacular. We also had time to add a few new plants to our list in the surrounding rock gardens, including yellow gromwell Neatostema apulum, the hound's-tongue Cynoglossum clandestinum, whose flowers never quite open, the delicate, white-flowered Omphalodes linifolia, Iberian milk-vetch Erophaca baetica ssp. baetica, and a tiny stemless composite which had us scouring the floras for several days, which was finally identified by Sue E on her return home as Gymnostyles stolonifera, native to South America.

We finished off the day with a stroll down to the tiny cove and fishing port of Portinho. Although the birds were once again rather inconspicuous, other than a number of Gannets out at sea, diving spectacularly while feeding, several fine Large Psammodromus lizards were of note closer at hand. A school of dolphins headed through the mouth of the estuary, towards the open sea: presumably those we'd seen earlier.

Botanically we had the opportunity to note the majority of the evergreen shrub species which comprise the lush Mediterranean vegetation of Arrábida, including Phoenician juniper Juniperus phoenicea, holly oak Quercus coccifera, Rhamnus lycioides ssp. oleoides, Mediterranean buckthorn R. alaternus, Phillyrea angustifolia, P. latifolia, lentisc Pistacia lentiscus, strawberry-tree Arbutus unedo, tree heath Erica arborea, myrtle Myrtus communis, shrubby hare's-ear Bupleurum fruticosum, Osyris lanceolata, laurustinus Viburnum tinus and common smilax Smilax aspera. Colour was provided by the yellows of shrubby scorpion-vetch Coronilla glauca, Genista tournefortii, wild jasmine Jasminum fruticans and fringed rue Ruta chalepensis, plus the pinks and purples of grey-leaved cistus Cistus albidus, Phlomis purpurea, rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis, cut-leaved lavender Lavandula multifida and intermediate periwinkle Vinca difformis.

Among the herbs of note were the aptly named caterpillar-plant Scorpiurus muricatus, yellow-vetch Vicia lutea, the stonecrop Sedum mucizonia, the white-and-yellow flowered woundwort Stachys ocymastrum, weasel's-snout Misopates orontium, wild gladiolus Gladiolus illyricus, tassel hyacinth Muscari comosum and some spectacular, if introduced, aeoniums on the roofs around the fort-cum-museum. Finally, as we sat having drinks in a café at the water's edge, so we were able to contemplate and compare Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed Gulls at leisure.

Thursday 20 March

Altiplano de Azóia/Cabo Espichel

A cracking, crystal-clear start to the day, the crisp air especially noted by those who went down to the Lagoa de Albufeira before breakfast. The mist was rising from the reedbed as we arrived, but as the sun broke through, so bird activity increased. A pair of Firecrests fed in the pines over the minibus, a Short-toed Treecreeper flitted from one tree to the next and a few Purple Herons in flight kept our binoculars busy. The air was filled with the songs and calls of Serins, Greenfinches, Spotless Starlings, Little Grebes and Cetti's Warblers, with a pair of smart Cirl Buntings attracting most interest. A couple of singing Sedge and a single singing Reed Warbler were early migrants, while more typical were a few Willow Warblers, characteristically flitting around in a willow in flower.

The morning was filled with a walk out of the hotel onto the limestone plateau to the south, where birds included a few Dartford Warblers, a Southern Grey Shrike and a couple of Crested Larks among the Common Stonechats and Sardinian Warblers, but it was the plants that really stole the show. Even before we set off, a mass of naked man orchids Orchis italica was discovered just behind the hotel, accompanied by a few spikes of yellow ophrys, which delayed the proceedings somewhat as avid photographers soaked their knees in the morning dew.

More 'orchidy' delights were in store as we explored the Altiplano, with all eyes on the ground to see what we could find. Apart from sheets of bumble-bee and sawfly ophrys (Ophrys bombyliflora & O. tenthredinifera) galore, sharp-eyed members of the group excelled themselves, with Christine locating some delightful woodcock ophrys Ophrys scolopax, Anne a few spikes of conical orchid Orchis conica, Brian some eye-catching pink butterfly orchids Orchis papilionacea and Janet a few champagne orchids Orchis morio ssp. champagneuxii. Man orchids Aceras anthropophorum were also found in abundance, as well as plenty of dull and mirror ophrys, while towards the end of the walk, Joy found stand of a rather curious orchids that turned out to be a hybrid between man and naked man.

Other plants of interest included spotted rock-rose Xolantha tuberaria, rosy garlic Allium roseum, the star-of-Bethlehem Ornithogalum orthophyllum, a few spikes of dipcadi Dipcadi serotinum, looking like slender brown bluebells, hoop-petticoat daffodils Narcissus bulbocodium ssp. obesus, more Barbary nut irises and a mass of rounded cushions of the gorse Ulex densus, endemic to the Lisboa/Arrábida area, just coming into flower. As we made our way back to the hotel, across a strangely acid sector of the limestone plateau, Sue E turned up yellow centaury Cicendia filiformis and allseed Radiola linoides, both diminutive plants new to our list for the area. The sunshine had brought out a number of butterflies, including Green Hairstreak, Small Copper and Swallowtail.

After a rather windswept lunch in the hotel garden, most of us took another walk down to the cliff edge, where the plants once again impressed us. The primary objective was to find the endemic tree spurge Euphorbia pedroi, and a few photographable plants were duly located, although the bulk of the 'colony' was well out of reach, clinging to the sheer, south-facing cliffs. The rock outcrops here also produced the fern Cheilanthes acrostica, Malling toadflax Chaenorhinum origanifolium, honeywort Cerinthe major, annual bellflower Campanula erinus, grape-hyacinth Muscari neglectum and a small star-of-Bethlehem which we could not identify later from John M's digital photo, beyond it being either Ornithogalum concinnum or O. unifolium, as we neglected to check the number of leaves (both seem to occur in the area). Painted Ladies and Clouded Yellows were also noted here.

We finished with a quick trip to Cabo Espichel which, in addition to the impressive nature of the coastline, was enlivened by a local couple crossing a cliff-face in totally unsuitable clothes to get to a cave, the lady showing her bloomers to all in the process .. well, all those with a telescope that is...

Friday 21 March

Península de Tróia/Açude da Murta

The day dawned bright and clear, though cool. After various pre-breakfast sightings, including Cuckoo again, we headed towards Setúbal once again, this time to catch the ferry across to the Tróia peninsula. First, however, we pulled over to check out a colony of Kestrels in some cliffs, only to find that, unusually, they were all Eurasian Kestrels and not the hoped-for Lessers, the colony being formed of at least half a dozen pairs. A big surprise, just as we were leaving, however, was a Red-rumped Swallow zooming back and forth along the face of the cliffs before suddenly disappearing.

After not buying 'genuine Rayban sunglasses' at least three times, we boarded the ferry; despite scouring the sea as we crossed, nothing of note was seen. Once on Tróia itself, we soon left the hotel complexes behind and strolled into the pinewoods in search of the fritillaries Fritillaria lusitanica that John M and Teresa had noted at the beginning of the month. Only a single, half-shrivelled specimen remained, however, and we could only conclude that 'someone' had picked them all. A colourful display of blue scrambling gromwell Lithodora diffusa and yellow Halimium calycinum was some compensation, however, as well as many 'pincushions' of the lovely Portuguese endemic crucifer Jonopsidium acaule on the firebreak, amid drifts of opium poppies Papaver somniferum. Apart from Serins, birds were scarce, but a loud male Great Tit, imitating both Chaffinch and Nuthatch kept us on our toes!

Further south, we embarked on a seawards transect of the dunes which lie within the Reserva Botánica. Birds were once again few and far between, allowing us to concentrate on the flora and invertebrates - the primary interest of the site - with a whole host of new and interesting species being found. Among the lepidoptera, an abundance of the Mother Shipton look-alike moth Cerocala scapularis caught our collective eye, as well as others such as The Vestal, Bordered Straw and a 'nest' of mullein moth caterpillars. Butterflies seen here included Spanish Brown Argus and Small Copper, with plenty of Swallowtails hill-topping of the dune ridge immediately behind the sea. A few Thekla Larks flew over at distance, and both Sardinian and Dartford Warblers scolded occasionally from the scrub.

Plantwise, new species for our list included masses of the sun-rose Halimium halimifolium, with greyish leaves, as well as a scattering of the Portuguese endemic lavender-cotton Santolina impressa, each bush harbouring a number of curious, stripy crickets, whose camouflage was almost perfect. If the Santolina is endemic to this part of the Portuguese coast, then no doubt these crickets are too, but there is a distinct dearth of field guides or even specialists in Orthoptera, in Iberia, so we remain unenlightened.

Further colour was added by the sky-blue Iberian endemic Anchusa calcarea, the delightful, pink-purple, climbing snapdragon Antirrhinum majus ssp. linkianum and drifts of the ragwort Senecio gallicus. Some rather more impressive fritillaries were also found, as well as a few plants of Cytinus hypocistis, here parasitising the roots of the sage-leaved cistus Cistus salviifolius.

As we neared the sea, plants more typical of primary dunes became more abundant, including Thymus carnosus, coastal crucianella Crucianella maritima, cottonweed, sea knotgrass Polygonum maritimum and sea rocket Cakile maritima, plus spiny thrift Armeria pungens and the longer-leaved Armeria rouyana, this latter endemic to southwestern Portugal, although neither was in flower. Once at the beach, the aquamarine waters of Atlantic looked inviting, but those who paddled confirmed that it was freezing!

Lunch was taken on a ridge overlooking the edge of the saltmarsh within the Sado estuary to the east, where impressive numbers of Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover and Dunlin hid good numbers of Redshank and Turnstone in their midst, with a couple of Kentish Plover also seen and Greenshank and Curlew both heard. Passing Kestrels and Marsh Harriers put them all up on several occasions, forming a tremendous spectacle as they wheeled around in front and below us before settling again. A few Red-breasted Mergansers and several Little Egrets added variety, as did half a dozen Oystercatchers out on a sandbank. Malcolm also noted a fly-by Mediterranean Gull, sadly our only one of the week.

We also had just enough time for a brief visit to the freshwater reservoir known as the Açude da Murta further south where, despite little of apparent note, a group of Little Egrets adorned a dead, largely submerged tree and a brilliant green Common Tree Frog was a great find. As we moved on so some of us got good views of a pair of Crested Tits, while the star bird was a delightful female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, found at very close range by Teresa, which fed unconcernedly in a burnt pine tree until we had to leave to catch our return ferry.

Saturday 22 March

Serra do Louro

A somewhat overcast and distinctly chilly start didn't bode well, but any potential fears were to be proved wrong: almost as soon as we headed inland, the skies cleared and the sun poured forth, while the light wind took on a westerly bent as rather murky air rolled in from the sea.

We headed up onto the windmill-bedecked limestone ridge of the Serra de Louro, where the commonest calls early on were "mind the bikes!", apart from those emitted by the Serins, Sardinian Warblers and Zitting Cisticolas. Butterflies included plenty of Swallowtails and Large Whites plus Green Hairstreak, Orange-tip, Clouded Yellow, Western Dappled and a Green-striped White (spotted by Helen), Red Admiral, Speckled Wood and Wall Brown, plus a single Humming-bird Hawk-moth and a Burnet Companion. A splendid violet carpenter-bee also put in an appearance.

We were also accompanied along much of the ridge by a lovely mixed flock of Alpine and Pallid Swifts zooming overhead, while raptors included a few Buzzards and a Short-toed Eagle which cruised over at height. Just before we started the descent, a superb adult Bonelli's Eagle suddenly appeared over the back-markers, who alerted the rest of the group such that we were all able to contemplate this very scarce species at ease as it circled repeatedly overhead.

New plants to us here included meadow saxifrage Saxifraga granulata, blue hound's-tongue Cynoglossum creticum, bellardia Bellardia trixago, dwarf convolvulus Convolvulus tricolor, Italian lord's-and-ladies Arum italicum, hollow-stemmed asphodel Asphodelus fistulosus, three-cornered garlic Allium triquetrum, some much-searched for early spider ophrys Ophrys sphegodes and a host of rather gone-over giant orchids Barlia robertiana.

Lunch was taken in seemingly 'any old' rough meadow at the base of the slope, but it soon proved to be ideal as a large Iberian Painted Frog leapt out from under Sue E's feet causing her to shriek (Sue, that is!) but providing us with a superb opportunity to see this rarely encountered amphibian, which occurs only in the western Iberian peninsula. . The sound of a distant calling Hoopoe led to a small ´twitch´, though no-one was able to get views: this proved to be one of the most elusive birds of the week, despite normally being fairly commonplace in the area.

We continued along the track at the foot of the Serra, pausing briefly to look for more orchids, then finished the day with a stroll in the Quinta da Serra estate, first noting Aristolochia paucinervis, then good numbers of the butterfly whose larvae feed on this species of birthwort: the eye-catching Spanish Festoon, one of which settled on John SM's fly! The plants were of lesser interest in this rather acid habitat, although we did turn up Mediterranean selaginella Selaginella denticulata, Erica umbellata and Spanish heath E. australis and Jersey fern Anogramma leptophylla.

We got back fairly early so as to allow plenty of time to pack, but mainly so that we could indulge in copious quantities of Portuguese champagne before dinner, which helped take the edge off the noise generated by a wedding reception that carried on into the early hours.

Sunday 23 March

Lezíria and return to the airport

A cool start with thick sea mist blowing in over the hotel. After an early breakfast we headed off to Lisboa, this time via the extraordinary Vasco da Gama bridge (almost 14km from end to end) on our way to explore an immense area of reclaimed grazing meadows, arable fields and rice paddies to the north of the Tejo estuary: the Lezíria. It may have been our last day, but it certainly wasn't the least.

Despite the breezy conditions, the number of singing Skylarks, Zitting Cisticolas, Corn Buntings and fly-catching Stonechats was simply remarkable. Other odd birds were also seen from our mobile hides, including multiple Marsh Harriers, a female 'ringtail' Hen Harrier, various gorgeously colourful male Iberian race Yellow Wagtails and a couple of Green Sandpipers, plus brightly coloured Linnets and largely dowdy Greenfinches. A side track revealed several Calandra Larks, their white underparts with striking black half-collars and triangular blackish underwings with white trailing edges being highly distinctive, in addition to their fluttering display flights.

We eventually worked our way to the edge of the estuary, noting several flocks of Common Waxbill en route, where we spotted a few Grey Plover, Curlew, Avocets and Teal on the mudflats, but again, the calling male iberiae Yellow Wagtails were the most striking. We then had lunch on edge of a meadow as the sun tried to break through the cloud, timing our arrival with the appearance of a fine Black-shouldered Kite, which hovered repeatedly over the field before apparently going off to digest its lunch somewhere frustratingly just out of sight.

Time was now moving on, so we took what appeared on the map to be a quiet back-track into the upper marshes, but which turned out to be a remarkably busy link road! Undaunted, however, we kept going and were rewarded with a beautiful stretch of tidal river with fringing riparian woodland, where a little feeder creek was full of water hyacinth Eichornia crassipes and a strange exotic climber with large woody fruits hung from the trees. Not all were foreigners however: a corrugated iron sheet sheltered a tiny Viperine Snake, while the adjacent ditches hosted croaking Iberian Pool and rasping Tree Frogs.

We reached the airport with plenty of time to spare and said our farewells before heading towards our respective homes, accompanied by memories of a terrific week's wildlifing in southwestern Portugal.



Bottle-nosed Dolphin Tursiops truncatus: A total of c.30 in the Sado Estuary and moving out to sea from Portinho on 19th.
Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus: Two in the Serra da Arrábida on 19th and two+ at different sites on 20th.
Shrew sp.: A large individual dead on a track near the cliff of the Altiplano de Azóia on 20th.
Badger Meles meles: A huge hole, presumably of this species on the Altiplano de Azóia on 20th.


Little Grebe: Seen and / or heard on four days at the Lagoa de Albufeira and Açude da Murta.

Black-necked Grebe: Just two singles nearly in full breeding plumage in the Sado Estuary on 19th.

[Northern] Gannet: A total of at least 50 feeding well offshore from Portinho on 19th.

[Great] Cormorant: Max. 40+ at the Lagoa de Albufeira on 16th, but plenty in the Tejo and Sado estuaries on several dates and from Portinho on 19th.

Cattle Egret: Small numbers seen on five days, with a maximum of 200+ in the Lezíria area on 23rd.

Little Egret: Noted on three days, with at least 12 on 17th, 10+ in the Tejo estuary on 18th and 15+ from the Península de Tróia and 17 at the Açude da Murta on 21st.

Grey Heron: Seen most days in at least small numbers in estuaries and rice fields.

Purple Heron: Two at the Lagoa de Albufeira on 16th, three in the Hortas / Entroncamento area on 18th, 3 - 4 at the Lagoa de Albufeira on 20th and 2+ in the Lezíria area on 23rd.

Greater Flamingo: Due to changes in the Hortas fish ponds (where they used to be regular), just 25, but seen beautifully, from the boat in the Sado estuary on 19th and 100+ in salinas as seen from the Vasco da Gama bridge on 23rd.

White Stork: A common breeder along the edge of the old floodplains of the Tejo and Sado rivers and noted on five days, including various pairs and singles on nests at close range on a couple of occasions.

Glossy Ibis: A rare bird in the area: four, three of which were breeding-plumaged adults in the Entroncamento salinas on 18th.

[Eurasian] Spoonbill: A flock of 17 in flight on several occasions over the Hortas fish ponds / salinas on 18th.

[Eurasian] Wigeon: About 40 out in the Tejo estuary from Alcochete on 18th.

[Common] Teal: Heard at the Lagoa de Albufeira on 16th and 18th, 25 on the river at Hortas on 19th, a few at the Lagoa de Albufeira on 20th and 50+ on the river at Lezíria on 23rd.

Mallard: Seen in small to moderate number on most days.

Northern Pintail: Two fine males with other duck on the Tejo estuary at Alcochete on 18th.

[Northern] Shoveler: Approx. 20 with other duck on the Tejo estuary at Alcochete on 18th.

Red-breasted Merganser: A pair in the Tejo estuary at Alcochete on 18th, a total of 20+ in the Sado Estuary and from Portinho on 19th and 6+ from the Península de Tróia on 21st.

Osprey: Two in the Tejo estuary on 18th, included one with a fish over the Entroncamento.

Black-shouldered Kite: An adult hunting over the Lezíria fields on 23rd was a terrific last new species.

Black Kite: Four, including one displaying by carrying a stick near Pancas on 18th.

Short-toed Eagle: A lovely brown-toned female hovering repeatedly over the Altiplano de Azóia on 20th and a more distant bird passing high over the Serra do Louro on 22nd.

Hen Harrier: A close female at the Entroncamento on 18th and another female on a few occasions over the Lezíria fields on 23rd.

Eurasian Marsh Harrier: Seen on four days in the Tejo and Sado estuaries, with a maximum of 6+ at Lezíria on 23rd.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk: One at Pancas on 18th and one on 21st.

Northern Goshawk: One briefly over the pines at the Lagoa de Albufeira on 16th.

Common Buzzard: Seen in small number on at least 4 days, including by the Hotel, at the Lagoa de Albufeira, Península de Tróia and Serra de Louro.

Bonelli's Eagle: A superb adult fairly low over the Serra do Louro on 22nd.

Booted Eagle: A dark phase bird watched from the buses as we left Alcochete on 18th.

Common Kestrel: One or two near the hotel on 6 days, plus 6+ pairs in a cliff-nesting colony near Setúbal on 21st and several over the Lezíria on 23rd.

Red-legged Partridge: Just one on the Pinheiro track on 17th plus one heard by the Lagoa de Albufeira and one seen on the Altiplano de Azóia on 20th.

Common Quail: At least 3 singing in the Lezíria area on 23rd.

Common Pheasant: Two females by the roadside at the Lagoa de Albufeira on 16th.

Water Rail: One - two calling at the Lagoa de Albufeira on 16th, 18th and 20th.

Purple Swamp-hen: A still very uncommon bird in the area, one seen very briefly at the Lagoa de Albufeira on 16th and one+ also heard there on 20th.

Common Moorhen: Only noted in small number at the Lagoa de Albufeira and the Lezíria ditches.

Common Coot: Just a few at the Lagoa de Albufeira on 16th, 18th and 20th.

[Eurasian] Oystercatcher: 6 or 7 in the Sado estuary on 21st.

Black-winged Stilt: 10 in the Zambujal salinas in the rain on 17th, dozens by the Entroncamento on 18th and c.10 in the salinas visible from the Vasco da Gama bridge on 23rd.

[Pied] Avocet: 40+ in the Zambujal salinas in the rain on 17th, 100s in the Tejo estuary, mostly at Hortas, on 18th, and 50+ in the Tejo in the Lezíria area on 23rd.

Grey Plover: Excellent numbers: 2+ in the Zambujal salinas in the rain on 17th, 200+ in flight at Hortas on the Tejo estuary on 18th, 100s in flight and settled in front from the Península de Tróia on 21st and 30+ in the Tejo estuary from Lezíria on 23rd.

Greater Ringed Plover: Only noted in the Entroncamento salinas where 30+ roosting on 18th.

Kentish Plover: Min. 10 in the Entroncamento salinas on 18th, and a few in the Sado estuary from the Península de Tróia on 21st.

Black-tailed Godwit: 200+ in flight over the Tejo estuary at Hortas on 18th.

Bar-tailed Godwit: Common in the Tejo estuary, though just 20+ seen from Hortas on 18th and several hundred in flight and perched in the Sado estuary from the Península de Tróia on 21st.

Eurasian Curlew: At least one from Hortas on 18th, five in the Sado estuary from the Península de Tróia on 21st and at least 2 on the Tejo in the Lezíria area on 23rd.

Common Redshank: Good numbers in the Sado and Tejo estuaries on 17th, 18th, 21st and 23rd.

Common Greenshank: Seven at Hortas on 18th and a couple heard in the Sado estuary on 21st.

Green Sandpiper: Singles on 17th, 18th and 20th, with 2+ in the Lezíria area on 23rd.

Common Sandpiper: 10+ in the Entroncamento salinas on 18th and 3+ on the riverbank at Lezíria on 23rd.

[Ruddy] Turnstone: 3+ in the Entroncamento salinas on 18th and 15+ in the Sado estuary from the Península de Tróia on 21st.

[Common] Snipe: 25+ in flight over the Zambujal salinas and rice fields on 17th, one briefly in flight at Entroncamento on 18th and one in flight at Lezíria on 23rd.

Sanderling: c. 20 in the Zambujal salinas on 17th.

Little Stint: c. 30 roosting in the Entroncamento salinas on 18th.

Dunlin: Singles noted in salinas on 17th and 18th, but lots in the Sado estuary from the Península de Tróia on 21st.

Ruff: About a dozen in the Entroncamento salinas on 18th.

Yellow-legged Gull: Seen along the coast and in the Tejo and Sado estuaries on five days, with a max. of 30+ at Portinho on 19th.

Great Black-backed Gull: A first-winter on a shellfish platform at the Lagoa de Albufeira on 16th and an adult and an immature in the Sado estuary on 19th were good finds.

Lesser Black-backed Gull: The commonest gull and very common on coastal and estuarine habitats. Seen daily with 100s present in the whole area.

Mediterranean Gull: Sadly just one adult seen by Malcolm in flight in the Sado estuary on 21st.

Black-headed Gull: Seen on 3 days, with small numbers in the Tejo and Sado estuaries and at the Lagoa de Albufeira.

Little Gull: A first-winter and a winter-plumaged adult at the Entroncamento on 18th were excellent finds.

Sandwich Tern: Only noted on 16th and 18th, but common at the Lagoa de Albufeira and in the Sado estuary respectively.

Common Tern: One seen by a few at the Lagoa de Albufeira on 16th.

Little Tern: One seen by just one or two at the Lagoa de Albufeira on 16th.

Feral Pigeon / Rock Dove: Small numbers noted almost daily; all were Feral Pigeons.

[Common] Wood Pigeon: Heard at the Lagoa de Albufeira on 18th, with one flying over there on 20th and heard again on 22nd.

Eurasian Collared Dove: Small numbers were present in most towns and villages and seen and/or heard on five days.

Common [Eurasian] Cuckoo: One heard and / or seen at the hotel early on 19th, 21st, 22nd and 23rd, with one seen from John's bus en route on 21st and another calling and seen at the Serra do Louro on 22nd.

Tawny Owl: One soggy individual in a stone pine on the Pinheiro track on 17th.

Little Owl: At least two calling in the Pancas area on 18th.

Alpine Swift: 7 - 8 feeding over the Serra do Louro on 22nd.

Pallid Swift: 6+ over the Pinheiro track woodland on 17th and 2 - 3 over the Serra do Louro on 22nd.

[Common] Kingfisher: One seen by the first bus at the Zambujal rice fields on 17th.

[Eurasian] Hoopoe: One heard at the Serra do Louro on 22nd and one in flight over the road near the Vasco da Gama bridge on 23rd.

Great Spotted Woodpecker: Two singles briefly along the Pinheiro track on 17th.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker: A terrific female feeding at close range in burnt pines by the Açude da Murta on 21st.

Green Woodpecker: One calling in the montado at Pancas on 18th.

Calandra Lark: At least three in amongst cattle on a grassy meadow on the Lezíria on 23rd.

Crested Lark: Small numbers at various sites on 4 days, especially near the hotel.

Thekla Lark: Only positively identified on the Península de Tróia, where 3+ pairs on 21st.

Wood Lark: One in song flight over the Pinheiro track montado on 17th.

[Eurasian] Sky Lark: One seen by Roy outside the hotel on 18th, but lots, including numerous singing birds at Lezíria on 23rd.

European Sand Martin: Small to moderate numbers at various sites, especially the Lagoa de Albufeira from 16th to 18th, but none thereafter in the better weather.

Barn Swallow: Seen almost daily in small to moderate number at numerous sites.

Red-rumped Swallow: One briefly feeding in front of the kestrel cliffs W of Setúbal on 21st.

Common House Martin: Also seen almost daily at numerous sites, especially over towns and villages.

Yellow Wagtail: A brief male at Hortas on 18th but lots in the Lezíria grazing meadows on 23rd. All were of the iberiae race, with grey-blue heads, white supercilium and white chin.

White Wagtail: One en route on 16th and a few at various sits, including en route on 23rd.

Meadow Pipit: One+ on 17th, several in the Tejo estuary salinas on 18th and a couple on the Península de Tróia on 23rd.

Water Pipit: One briefly in the Entroncamento salinas on 18th.

Southern Grey Shrike: One near Zambujal on 17th, two on the Altiplano de Azóia on 20th and 2 - 3 at various sites on 22nd.

Winter Wren: Recorded in small numbers, with singles seen or heard at a few sites on 5 days, including at the Lagoa de Albufeira, in the Serra de Arrábida, and in the Serra do Louro.

Common Blackbird: Heard and / or seen daily in small number at various sites.

Song Thrush: After one singing in montado along the Pinheiro track area on 17th, a few wary birds in scrub on 20th to 22nd, especially on the Altiplano de Azóia on 20th.

Mistle Thrush: Just 2 at the beginning of the Pinheiro track on 17th.

European Robin: Three singles on 17th, 18th and 20th at different sites.

Black Redstart: A female feeding by a garden near the Lagoa de Albufeira on 16th.

Common Stonechat: One of the commonest and most widespread birds, seen almost daily but with particularly large numbers on the Península de Tróia, Altiplano de Azóia and Lezíria areas.

Zitting Cisticola [Fan-tailed Warbler]: A widespread bird, generally in small numbers in many damp and scrubby habitats, but with very large numbers at Lezíria on 23rd.

Cetti's Warbler: Heard at most wetland sites on 6 days, but seen at the Lago de Albufeira.

Sedge Warbler: Two singing at the Lagoa de Albufeira early on 20th refused to show themselves.

[Eurasian] Reed Warbler: One singing at the Lagoa de Albufeira early on 20th also refused to show itself.

Willow Warbler: Two - three singing and feeding in willows at the Lagoa de Albufeira early on 20th and one in bushes on the Serra do Louro on 22nd.

Common Chiffchaff: Only noted in small number on 18th, 20th and 21st, including singing birds at the Lagoa de Albufeira.

Iberian Chiffchaff: Singing and calling birds at the Lagoa de Albufeira on 16th, 18th and 20th, especially the latter date.

Blackcap: A few seen and / or heard at different sites on 6 days.

Sardinian Warbler: Seen and / or heard at various sites on 7 days, with some excellent sightings during the period between the Lagoa de Albufeira on 16th to the Lezíria on 23rd.

Dartford Warbler: Though flighty in the windy conditions, several on the Altiplano de Azóia on 20th and a few on the Península de Tróia on 21st.

Firecrest: A pair feeding over the minibus at the Lagoa de Albufeira early on 20th.

Long-tailed Tit: Heard only on 16th and 22nd.

Crested Tit: One heard near the Lagoa de Albufeira on 16th, one seen there briefly on 20th and two briefly seen in the Serra do Louro on 22nd.

Great Tit: Surprisingly scarce and only heard in the Serra da Arrábida on 19th and seen in pines on the Península de Tróia on 21st.

Blue Tit: Also very scarce, with a few on 17th and 18th.

Eurasian Nuthatch: Several mobbing the Tawny Owl in the montado along the Pinheiro track on 17th.

Short-toed Treecreeper: One watched at the Lagoa de Albufeira early on 20th and one heard in pines on the Península de Tróia on 21st.

Eurasian Jay: Singles along the Pinheiro track on 17th and at the Lagoa de Albufeira on 18th.

Iberian Azure-winged Magpie: About 30 in montado along the Pinheiro track on 17th, heard at the Açude da Murta on 21st and one en route on 22nd; now best treated as a separate species: Cyanopica cooki.

Carrion Crow: Common and widespread; seen on at least 5 days.

Spotless Starling: Surprisingly scarce, only noted in small number from 16th to 18th plus one at Lezíria on 23rd.

Corn Bunting: Quite common and noted on 6 days, with lots at Lezíria on 23rd.

Yellowhammer: A noted by Christine at Cabo Espichel on 20th.

Cirl Bunting: A pair in the montado along the Pinheiro track on 17th and a superb pair by the Lagoa de Albufeira early on 20th.

Common Chaffinch: Only noted on 17th and 21st in wooded areas.

European Serin: Common and seen and heard daily, its jingling song to be heard almost everywhere.

European Greenfinch: Seen and/or heard in small numbers daily, most notably at Lezíria on 23rd.

European Goldfinch: Noted in small numbers daily at widespread sites.

Common Linnet: Recorded on 6 days, with most at Lezíria on 23rd.

Common Waxbill: Quite common and widespread, noted on 4 days including c.30 near Zambujal on 17th, several at Entroncamento on 18th and several at Lezíria on 23rd.

House Sparrow: Noted daily in small to moderate number, especially around the hotel.


Iberian Pool Frog Rana perezi: Several heard at the Lagoa de Albufeira on 16th & 20th.

Common Tree Frog Hyla arborea: One by the Açude da Murta on 21st and heard in the Lezíria on 23rd.
Iberian Painted Frog Discoglossus galganoi: A beauty under the Serra do Louro on 22nd.

Large Psammodromus Psammodromus algirus: Five in the Serra da Arrábida on 19th, 1+ on the Altiplano de Azóia on 20th and also seen on 21st and 22nd in small number.
Viperine Snake Natrix maura: A tiny one under a corrugated iron sheet on the Lezíria on 23rd.


Swallowtail: Noted daily from 18th to 22nd.

Spanish Festoon: Several at Quinta da Serra on 22nd.

Large White: Seen in moderate number on 6 days.

Small White: Only certainly recorded at Lezíria on 23rd.

Western Dappled White: Quite common, but only certainly recorded on 20th and 22nd.

Green-striped White: A beauty on the Serra do Louro on 22nd.

Orange-tip: Noted in small number on 16th, 19th and 22nd.

Clouded Yellow: Noted daily in small to moderate number from 18th to 23rd.

Brimstone: Possibly this species at Serra do Louro on 22nd.

Cleopatra: A male in the Serra da Arrábida on 19th and possibly this species at Serra do Louro on 22nd.

Wood White: Small numbers along roads in the Serra da Arrábida on 19th.

Green Hairstreak: Good numbers in scrub from 20th to 22nd.

Small Copper: Small numbers in open areas from 20th to 22nd.

Spanish Brown Argus: Several on the Península de Tróia on 21st.

Common / Holly Blue: One in the Serra da Arrábida on 19th.

Red Admiral: Seen in small numbers daily from 18th to 23rd.

Painted Lady: Noted on 16th and 18th to 22nd.

Speckled Wood: Only noted, but in quantity, on the Serra do Louro on 22nd.

Wall Brown: Seen in moderate number from 18th to 20th and on 22nd.


cf. Latticed Heath Semiothisa clathrata: one near Portinho on 19th.

cf. Yellow Belle Aspitates ochrearius: seen on 18th and 20th.

Blood-vein Timandra griseata: seen on 18th.

The Vestal Rhodometra sacraria: 2+ seen on the Península de Tróia and 3+ at the Açude da Murta on 21st.

Hummingbird Hawk-moth Macroglossum stellatarum: seen on 19th and 22nd.

Pine Processionary Thaumetopoea pityocampa: Caterpillar tents seen at Serra do Louro on 22nd.

Cerocala scapulosa: 5+ seen on the Península de Tróia on 21st.

Burnet Companion Euclidia glyphica: One on Serra do Louro on 22nd.

Silver Y Autographa gamma: seen on 20th to 22nd.

The Mullein Cucullia verbasci a 'nest' found on the Península de Tróia on 21st on Verbascum sinuatum.

Bordered Straw Heliothis peltigera: 2 seen on the Península de Tróia on 21st.


Mole Cricket Gryllotalpa gryllotalpa: The remains of one at Hortas on 18th, and heard early evening at the hotel on several days.
Migratory Locust Locusta migratoria: One at Hortas on 18th.
Egyptian Grasshopper Anacridium aegyptium: One on the Altiplano de Azóia on 20th.
Violet Carpenter Bee Xylocopa sp.: One feeding on flowers in the Serra do Louro on 22nd.
Oil Beetle Meloe sp.: One on the Altiplano de Azóia on 20th.
Dung Beetle Coleoptera sp.: Several on the Altiplano de Azóia on 20th and on the Serra do Louro on 22nd.
Iberian Blue-tailed Damselfly Ischnura graellsii: Several males + egg-laying females in a small pool at Hortas on 18th.
Red-veined Darter Sympetrum fonscolombii: Moderate numbers on 20th and 21st.

© The Travelling Naturalist 2003