The Algarve is the southernmost area of Portugal covering approximately 2,090 square miles with a resident population of about 450,000. It’s Europe’s most famous secret, or so publicity tells me. Is it though? Every year about 1.9 million Brits visit Portugal (and that’s not to mention tourists from other countries). In the summer they come for the weather and the beaches and in winter the weather and the golfing. But, if there is more to Portugal, why is it just known for the beaches and the golfing? Well that is something that I was lucky enough to try and find out.
I’m Louise, part of The Urban Birder Team, and one day in September I got a phone call from David Lindo, The Urban Birder, about the possibility of me being sent to the Algarve. I jumped at the chance. But to be honest with you, I didn’t know much about Portugal before I went - other than there’s good beaches and golfing!
My fellow passengers on the flight out didn’t change that idea. The plane was mainly filled with two groups; a big group of already slightly drunk 20-something year old guys and the other a group of slightly older gentlemen that were off on a golfing holiday - and by the sounds of things, planning on being very drunk very soon!
Any idea that beaches and golfing was all that the Algarve had to offer was disproved as soon as I got into Portugal. There is so much that the Algarve has to offer, you just have to discover it. Walking, hiking, cycling, watching wildlife, the culture and the heritage are just some of the hidden treasures.
For nature lovers there are so many options for you. There are a number of nature reserves all over the Algarve with so many fascinating conservation efforts.
It was a big change from the UK autumn. Part of my brain was thinking it would be similar weather to back home, but not quite. Autumn and winter in the Algarve is usually 18-20 degrees C which is why it’s great to visit at this time of year. Wandering around in t-shirt and shorts in October did feel a little bizarre.
We started out by going to the Castro Marim Reserve, or rather one small section of it. To be honest, when we got out I looked round and the first thing I saw was a mountain of salt. I mean it – a mountain! There were trucks driving over it and everything! I thought, “where are we”? But then I turned, and saw a couple of pools of salt-marsh stuffed full with birds… now I get it!
The reserve is located in the Guadiana River Estuary, near Villa Real de Santo Antonio on the eastern side of the Algarve - just a small way from the border with Spain. Made up of salt marshes, salt-pans and creeks the reserve is home to a large range of wildlife. In fact, it’s so good that the site is internationally recognised for its importance as a wetland site under the Ramsar Convention. Over 150 different species of birds, over 400 plant species and a variety of reptiles, amphibians and mammals can be found on the reserve.
Overlooking this small section of water and in the surrounding areas we quickly saw a whole host of wildlife including: Black-winged Stilt, Curlew Sandpiper, Greater Flamingo, Spoonbill, Slender-billed Gull, Glossy Ibis, Little Owl and a variety of dragonflies.
The headquarters of the Castro Marim Nature Reserve is a strange brick building in the middle of this very odd landscape, but it works and I loved the White Stork nesting on the roof.
The salt pan was very interesting. It consisted of short vegetation, some bare ground and a network of streams run through the landscape – all providing a great habitat for breeding birds. Looking over the salt-pan, I saw not only Spain, but a variety of birds and to my great excitement, a Swallowtail Butterfly!
After unsuccessfully running around trying to get a picture of this amazingly colourful butterfly we had to head off.
Castro Marim is a fabulous nature reserve; I wish I had had more time to explore. The salt-pans are a fascinating habitat, worth exploring. It’s a little gem in the middle of salt mountains!
Thanks to the Algarve Promotion Bureau for facilitating my trip. For more information on the Algarve visit: www.visitalgarve.pt and www.algarvepromotion.pt
More next time…