Header image: White stork; Alentejo coastline; Pyramidal orchid
In Spring 2023, Tour Directors Peter Exley and Harriet Allen led an ACE group to explore the landscapes and wildlife of the Alentejo and Algarve regions of Portugal. Here, Peter shares some of his photos from the tour, and looks back on what made this tour so special.
To many, southern Portugal conjures up images of busy beaches, green golf courses and sprawling tourist resorts. But there is another side, one that Harriet and I explored in our Algarve and Alentejo tour – the remarkable landscapes, historic towns and abundant wildlife. Verdant colourful swathes of flowers can be found along the cliffs of Cape St Vincent and Burgau in spring, including mirror, pyramidal and bee orchids, tiny daffodils and at least 4 species of cistus. Red-rumped swallows, Thekla larks and corn buntings are abundant, as are colourful butterflies such as swallowtails. Surprising numbers of waterbirds can be found on the many wetlands, from ospreys to spoonbills, black-winged stilts and glossy ibises. Cork oak covered hills rise behind the coast, reached by roads lined with white storks nesting atop telegraph posts, their vast nests home also to colonies of Spanish sparrows.
(l-r) Mirror orchid; Thekla lark at Burgau; Swallowtail butterfly
The second part of our tour took us to a very different landscape with fewer communities and virtually no tourists, the rolling plains of the Alentejo. Here we found little and great bustards, woodchat shrikes and crested larks, and views of some of Portugal’s rarest birds, the Iberian imperial eagle, booted eagle and short-toed snake eagle (actually carrying a snake!). Even our base for these days, the stunning medieval fortress town of Mertola perched on the Guadiana river, provided abundant wildlife experiences. The buildings are festooned with nesting house martins, lesser kestrels hawk amongst the swirling swifts, and at dawn and dusk, nightingales sung loudly along the river banks.
(l-r) Woodchat shrike; White stork; Spoonbill
"A fascinating tour. Harriet and Peter were incredibly well informed and enthusiastic about their subjects, as well as being great fun as tour leaders. I felt that I learned a great deal. I was impressed by the way that they put specialist subjects in context and put the emphasis on conservation."
Although the Alentejo and Algarve is not on our schedule for 2024, see below for other nature tours led by Peter and Harriet.
All other images © Peter Exley