The Ria Formosa is the most important birding site in the Algarve. It can be easily reached from The Quintassential. It covers 60km of coast and comprises large areas of dunes and lagoons, channels and islands, saltpans, pools and river mouths. The Ria Formosa is of great importance for a wide range of breeding, passage and wintering birds.
Little Bittern and Purple Heron both breed as well as Egrets, White Stork and Stone Curlew. In the spring breeding Red-Crested Pochard and Purple Gallinule are easily seen. The Purple Gallinule is a huge rail, larger than a chicken, brilliantly coloured with an enormous red bill. Big but skulking it often appears at the edge of reed-beds. This bird is only found in Southern Spain and Portugal. It is declining and is the symbol of the Portuguese equivalent of the RSPB. Golden Oriole, Dartford Warbler and Short-toed Lark are also common breeders in the area and Azure-winged Magpie and Short-toed Tree creeper can be seen in Stone Pine woodlands. Common Waxbill is established in the area.
The greatest diversity of species occurs during passage periods with spring seeing the arrival of Great Spotted Cuckoo, Redstart, Whinchat, Black-eared Wheatear, and warblers such as Spectacled and Sub alpine. Woodchat Shrikes adorn the top of many trees and bushes and Beeaters arrive from wintering Africa from late March. Cetti’s warblers, although almost never visible when singing is abundant and Great Reed Warbler’s sway on the long straight reeds that often form ‘islands’ in many of the lagoons.
In winter Black-necked Grebe, Greater Flamingo, Glossy Ibis and Spoonbill are regular as well as Caspian Tern and waders including Black-winged Stilt. These birds tend to linger during the spring passage and can still be seen well into April with Black-Winged Stilts being regular breeders. A colony of Greater Flamingos are resident all year round.
At The Quintassential Beeeaters regularly fly over particularly in the early evening along with Hoopoes, Spotless Starlings and Serins. Various Owls can be heard and with luck seen in the nearby woodland, including Tawny, Little and from early April Scops Owl. More common birds such as Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Sardinian Warblers, Jays and Sparrows are regular visitors to the birdbath.
Swallows, Swifts and Martins are abundant during spring with many Pallid Swifts and Red Rumped Swallows to be seen in nearby Loule.
A drive north to the area of Alentejo is probably the best birding area particularly between the towns of Mourao, Moura and Barrancos. Species found in this area include Red, Black and Black-shouldered Kites and Montagu's Harrier. The rockier areas particularly near Barrancos have Egyptian and Black Vultures, Short-toed and Booted Eagles and small numbers of Spanish Imperial and Golden Eagle. Blue Rock Thrush, Crag Martin, Rock Sparrow and Rock Bunting can be found in the gorges.
The Spanish border is about a 45 minutes drive, to the Rio Guadiana where the diversity of birds is bound to delight. Marsh Harriers hunt and Avocets are almost within an arm's length. Fan Tailed Warblers ‘zit’ in the grassland and if lucky, Collared Pratincoles can be seen flying tern like across the saltpans.
Also well worth a visit is Cape St Vincent - Ponta de Sagres. These two headlands lie at the furthest south-west tip of the European mainland and by using the motorway can be reached in just over one hour. The western coast can be very windy but to the south there is more shelter and although much of the coastline is rugged cliffs there are small bays with beaches at various points.
Although best known as a site for migrants the area has an interesting selection of breeding birds. Shag, Peregrine and Yellow-legged Gull breed on the cliffs as well as Blue Rock Thrush and Red-billed Chough. The farmland close by supports Tawny Pipit, Spotless Starling, Thekla Lark and Spectacled, Sardinian and Dartford Warblers. Woodchat Shrike and Little Bustard can be seen along the road from St Vincent to Sagres. Lesser Kestrel can usually be seen diving into rock face nests.
The journey to or from this area can be broken by a visit to Alvor Estuary, depending on the weather and the time of year.