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The far south-western corner ofEurope offers much for the naturalist,yet Portugal is a country so oftenoverlooked in favour of the largerlandmass of neighbouring Spain. Thisholiday is timed to get the best from thisbeautiful region's rich flora and diverserange of breeding and migratory birds at,what is coincidentally, one of the mostpleasant times of the year weatherwise.From the windswept cliffs, dunes andheaths of the west coast to the marshesand saltpans of the south, and from theCork Oak forests of the Monchique Hills tothe wide open grass plains and parklandof the Alentejo, we will encounter much ofinterest and wonder. All the time we will beimmersed in the rich culture and history ofsouthern Portugal, which is reflected in thefine Moorish architecture, excellent cuisineand wines, and rich contrasts from the20th century bustle of the Algarve coast tothe near medieval subsistence agricultureof the Alentejo valleys, where ploughingwith mules is the norm.Our tour starts in the beautiful hilltop townof Mertola, with its Roman ruins andspectacular Moorish castle. Perched highabove the Guadiana River, Mertola offersfine opportunities to explore both thestunning flower-studded plains aroundCasto Verde - where we hope to seeboth Great and Little Bustards, StoneCurlew and numerous Montagu's Harriers- and the rugged, seldom exploredsavannah country towards the Spanishborder, where we might encounter Black-shouldered Kite, Black Vulture, GreatSpotted Cuckoo and Black-belliedSandgrouse. Oscillated Lizards, thelargest European lizard, are common inthis area, and the rivers are full of terrapinsand water snakes.One of the highlights during our 3-night stay at Mertola might be a journeynorth to the spectacular gorge andwaterfall in the Guadiana valley at Pulo doLobo, where Black Stork and Bonelli'sEagle have bred. Mertola itself has a largecolony of Lesser Kestrels and the sight ofseveral dozen of these beautiful birdswheeling around in the evening sky abovethe castle and 14th century Franciscanconvent is something to be remembered. During the second part of our holiday wewill be based at a delightful innoverlooking the quiet mountain village ofMonchique. Just a short drive from thehighest point in the Algarve, our positionoffers wonderful panoramic views from theAlgarve to the Alentejo. Cork Oak forestsin these picturesque hills are home to awealth of woodland birds, including Azure-winged Magpies, and a range of colourfulbutterflies including Swallowtails andSouthern Festoons.Down on the Algarve coast, dunes,heathland, pine woodland and valleyfarmland will provide excellent botanisingin delightful surroundings. Local birds willinclude Bee-eaters, Short-toed Eagles,Nightingales, Red-rumped Swallows,Woodchat Shrikes, Cirl Buntings and manymore. We will visit various sites along thewest coast, including the dramatic CapeSt. Vincent, the south-western extremity ofEurope, with its towering cliffs completewith Choughs and Peregrines, and thenearby Sagres Point which offers us thechance to enjoy an extraordinary limestoneflora, resident Blue Rock Thrushes andThekla Larks, and Henry the Navigator's15th century School of Navigation. The Algarve coast has suffered much fromdevelopment for the tourism industry overrecent decades, but a few outstandingcoastal marshes still remain. One such isthe Quinta da Rocha near Portimão. Herethere is a bird observatory and field centrepoised on a picturesque peninsulacovered in almond and olive groves,scrubland and pine woodland, andsandwiched between two small riverestuaries. The range of plants and animalsto be encountered here is huge. Mirrorand Tongue Orchids, asphodels andbroomrapes abound. Bee-eaters, Hoopoesand Woodchat Shrikes are everywhere.Black-winged Stilts and Kentish Ploversbreed on the marshes which ring to theircalls and to the songs of Short-toed Larks,Fan-tailed Warblers and Yellow Wagtails.We will spend a rewarding day here,rounded off with an evening visit to thespectacular cliffs and stacks of Ponta daPiedade that house a large colony ofCattle and Little Egrets.Such are some of the delights of southernPortugal in spring that, by the end of thisholiday, we are sure, like many of our tourleaders, you will be truly under the spell ofthis charming country.Spring in Southern PortugalAn 8-day holiday of botanical and birdwatching walks and excursions in the hills, steppes, woodlands and coastal wetlands of southern Portugal.Saturday 6th April -- Saturday 13th April Cost: £1,295 Saturday 13th April -- Saturday 20th April Cost: £1,295Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationSPAINALJEZURCARRAPATEIRACAPE ST. VINCENTSAGRESLAGOSFAROLISBONPULODO LOBOCASTROVERDEOURIQUEMERTOLAMONCHIQUEATLANTICOCEANPORTUGAL RIO GUADIANA Outline itineraryDay 1Fly to Faro and transferto Mertola.Day 2/3Birdwatching andbotanising excursionsfrom Mertola.Day 4/7Birdwatching andbotanising excursionsfrom Monchique.Day 8Transfer to Faro, and flyUK.AccommodationA 2-centre holiday. Three nights ina traditional pensão in thedelightful, cobbled hilltop town ofMertola; four nights in acomfortable family-run inn on theedge of the quiet mountain villageof Monchique. All rooms withprivate facilities.Food All included in the price.GradingGentle day walks, part-day walks,and natural history excursions.Grade A.FocusBirds, flowers and butterflies.LeadersAndy Smith (ornithologist) and PaulHarmes or Phil Thompson(botanist).Single room supplement£160.ExtensionsArranged on request in hotel orself-catering accommodation, withor without car rental.Web quick search: PRT04109Algarve coastlinePaeonia broteroiLesser Kestrel

Lying at the far south-western tip ofmainland Europe, Portugal's beautifulAlgarve region occupies a strategicposition on the 'eastern Atlantic flyway', andis one of the continent's top birdwatchingdestinations in late September. Famous forits golf courses, beaches and wintersunshine, there's another side to theAlgarve, away from the high-rise hotels andbeach-bound holidaymakers - and on thistour we'll take you off the tourist trail, to thewindswept cliffs, sand dunes and heaths ofthe west coast, the marshes and saltpans ofthe south, and the Cork Oak forests andwide open plains of the Alentejo. Thoughoften overlooked in favour of the muchlarger neighbouring landmass of Spain,Portugal has a very distinct identity of itsown. A relaxed pace of life prevails awayfrom the tourist hot-spots and we're sureyou'll soon be seduced by southernPortugal - not only by its excellent birdwatching opportunities, but also by itsbeautiful language, charming people, anddelicious food and wine. As we make dailyexcursions in search of the region's specialbirdlife, we'll also find ourselves immersedin the rich history and culture of the south,where fine Moorish architecture and thenear-medieval subsistence agriculture of theAlentejo provide a stark contrast to the 21stcentury bustle of the Algarve coastline.Our tour begins with a flight to Faro (flightsavailable from around the UK) from where it'sjust a short drive to our accommodation forthe next four nights - a superb hotel in theheart of the Ria Formosa Natural Park. This isthe perfect base from which to explore thelagoons, reed beds, saltpans and marshes ofthe Algarve's flagship reserves: Rio Formosaitself, Castro Marim and Quinto do Lago.Among the many species that we will searchfor during gentle excursions each day areSpoonbill, Greater Flamingo, White Stork,Little Tern, Audouin's Gull and CollaredPratincole. At this time of year the lagoonsand saline-rich marshes along the coastprovide an important stopover for migrantbirds and rarities. While researching this tourwe saw both Buff-breasted and UplandSandpipers, as well as Little Bittern, SquaccoHeron, Black-winged Stilt, Glossy Ibis,Kentish Plover, Caspian Tern, Red-crestedPochard, confiding Bluethroats and manymore species.From the coast we will also drive north for aday to the wide plains of Castro Verde in theAlentejo. Within the Castro Verde SpecialProtection Area we hope to see Europe'slargest flying bird, the Great Bustard, aswell as Little Bustard, Black-belliedSandgrouse and Stone Curlew. Severalexciting raptors hunt over these open plainsand we'll survey the rugged steppe countryfrom the region's highest point, Sierra deAracelis, for Hen Harrier, Black and GriffonVultures, Black-winged Kite, the magnificentSpanish Imperial Eagle, and Little Owl. Nextwe head towards the River Cobres, atributary of the Guadiana River, whichprovides an opportunity to enjoy theAlentejo's famous 'montado' scenery ofCork and Holm Oak woods. Among thebirds we'll be hoping to find in the steppesand scrub here are Crested, Thekla andCalandra Larks, Corn Bunting and Azure-winged Magpie.Having explored the lagoons and wetlandsof the central and eastern Algarve, we nowtravel west to our next base - a verycomfortable hotel situated just a stone'sthrow from a fort which served as Henrythe Navigator's 15th century School ofNavigation. The volume and variety of birdspecies passing across the southern tip ofPortugal each autumn is impressive andmakes for some exciting migration-watching, particularly of raptors. From ourstrategic viewpoint, and accompanied byPortuguese researchers and other keenbirders from around the continent, we'll belooking for circling Egyptian Vultures,Honey Buzzards, Booted and Short-toedEagles, harriers, and many other birds of prey.The seabird-watching between Sagres andthe Cape can be equally exciting and duringa morning's boat excursion from Sagres weshould see a mouth-watering selection ofspecies including Balearic, Cory's andGreat Shearwaters, European and Wilson'sStorm-petrels and Great Skua, particularly ifwe are lucky enough to encounter a trawler.Add to this an exciting encounter with ahuge pod of Common Dolphins and this'mini-pelagic' could be the highlight of ourAutumn week away!Cape St. VincentSPAINCAPE ST. VINCENTSAGRESFARORIO FORMOSANATURAL PARKLISBON CASTROVERDEATLANTICOCEANPORTUGAL RIO GUADIANA 110Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.ukfor your free Trip ItineraryOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Faro.Day 2/4Rio Formosa NaturalPark and environs.Day 5/6Daily birding excursionsfrom Sagres.Day 7Fly UK. AccommodationA 2-centre holiday, based in verycomfortable 4-star hotels.FoodAll included in the price.GradingGrade A. Easy day walks. FocusBirds (particularly migration).LeaderPhilip Thompson or Dave Nevitt.Single room supplement£160.ExtensionsExtra nights gladly arranged onrequest, with or without car rental.Web quick search: PRT07Autumn Birding inSouthern Portugal A relaxing 7-day holiday to enjoy the autumn bird migration, beautiful scenery and pleasant climate of southern Portugal. Sunday 23rd September - Saturday 29th September 2012 Cost: £1,195Wednesday 25th September - Tuesday 1st October 2013 Cost: £1,295Little BitternHoopoe