PORTUGAL – November 14th to 28th 2006 – Trip Report by J. H. Johns

Portugal in November, what’s it like for birding? Having just got back from 2 weeks there I found it excellent, with good numbers and variety of birds in many areas along the Algarve.
I managed 133 species without trying to rattle up a large list, going more for photography and spending most of my time on this rather than birding, ending up with 72 species photographed, a best ever for me on a trip.

Dawn was about 7am and dusk about 5.20pm (note: no time difference in Portugal and Britain) giving full days out at a leisurely pace, (the areas visited could easily be covered in a week).
Weather was generally excellent, not at all cold, on several days temperatures were up in the 70’s, most days were dry, some with rain overnight, and rain one afternoon, after the recent miserable weather at home this alone made the trip worthwhile.
I stayed at the Oasis Village on the outskirts of Vilamoura in a 1 bedroom SC apartment costing £106/week (for the apartment not per person) and found it excellent, I would recommend it to anyone. Vilamoura is also an excellent base to work out from being roughly in the centre of the Algarve, 10 minutes to the A22 dual carriageway then easy motoring in any direction, Cape St. Vicente 1¼ hours, the Spanish border 1 hour and Castro Verde 45 minutes.
Car Hire was booked through Carjet at £70/week all inclusive insurance, I’ve used them several times in Portugal and Spain and can’t fault them in any way, I even had a refund when my flight to Seville was cancelled 15 mins before take-off last year.
Flight was with Easyjet from Bristol, £58 return.

I arrived at Faro Airport at 11.15 and by 12.00 had picked up the car, a Peugeot 206, and was on my way to one of my favourite places, Quinto do Lago, for the afternoon. The sun was shining, bright blue skies and temperature in the 70’s so off with the coat and jumper and on with the sunglasses, summer’s back.
Quinto do Lago is one of those luxury developed areas where villas cost in the millions and is golf orientated but it also has the Ria Formosa on it’s doorstep, full of waders and gulls and a good variety of other birds, it also leads into the famous Ludo saltpans and Faro marshes. The tide was in when I arrived so most of the waders etc. had moved into the saltmarsh further along the estuary, I didn’t bother too much with this but headed for the lake for some photography, coming earlier on another day would give better chances of wader shots at close range as the tide pushed them in. The walk to the lake and a couple of hours here gave a good start to the holiday with 53 species seen:-
Dunlin, Sanderling, Little Stint, Turnstone, Ringed, Kentish and Grey plover, Bar and Black-tailed Godwits, Redshank, Greenshank, Curlew, Whimbrel, Oystercatcher, Snipe, Common Sandpiper, Little Egret, Grey Heron, White Stork, Cormorant, Little Grebe, Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler, Teal, Pochard, Red-crested Pochard, Tufted Duck, Coot, Moorhen, Purple Gallinule, Black-headed, Lesser Black-backed Gull (c.2000), Yellow-legged Gull, Sandwich Tern, Swallow, Meadow and Water Pipits, Crested Larks, Robin, Blackbird, Great Tit, Serin, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Hoopoe, Azure-winged Magpie, Sardinian, Fan-tailed and Cetti’s Warblers, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Waxbills and Black-faced Weaver – although I’m not sure this is it’s correct name, like the Waxbills it’s of African origin and colonised parts of the Algarve.
Well satisfied with my afternoon I left about 5pm and headed for Vilamoura, picked up some groceries etc at the nearby supermarket and booked into the Oasis Village.
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To save repeating a lot of the birds seen, and cut down the size of the report, I’ll just put “usual waders and gulls” from now on as most of the coastal sites hold the same species, I’ll just mention anything different.
Chiffchaffs, Meadow Pipits, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Robin and Blackbird are also so widespread I won’t mention them either.

15th Nov. – A cloudy and windy start to the day then rain – the only rain I had in the daytime. Another favourite spot today, Pera Marsh, about 30km away.
On arriving I couldn’t believe what I saw, the whole marsh had been drained, empty!! There were still quite a few birds here but nothing like it usually is, no Flamingos, Avocets, Black-winged Stilts or wintering duck.

I found out later the sewage works for the area is not large enough to cover the many tourists to the area and effluent overflows into the marsh, this creates bacteria etc which is lethal to the birds, and of course must smell terribly, their answer is to drain it and let it refill naturally, which it does and the birds return.
This was the only disappointment of the holiday. Saying that there were still plenty of birds to be found:-
11 Spoonbill, Little and Cattle Egrets, Grey Heron, White Storks, Cormorants, Moorhen, 5 Purple Gallinules, Little Grebes, usual waders and gulls plus 2 Caspian Terns, several Mediterranean Gulls, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Green Sandpiper, 3 Bluethroats, Sardinian and Fan-tailed Warblers, Water Pipit, White Wagtail, Stonechat, Crested Lark, 50+ flock of Skylarks, Serin, Corn Bunting, Black Redstart, Marsh Harrier, Kestrel.

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16th Nov. – Heavy rain overnight but sunshine by 8.30am. Quinta da Rocha and the Cruzinha Ringing Centre near Alvor today,. Cruzinha is only open to the public on Thursdays. No ringing today due to last night’s rain but a warm welcome from Rachel and a coffee and slice of cake as she told me about the conservation and educational work the A Rocha organisation does, not just in Portugal but worldwide.
After an hour here I carried on down the track to the sea and the disused saltpans to see what was about, as usual some excellent birds were present. On getting out of the car I was greeted by a Waxbill on a nearby bush followed by several Spanish Sparrows in with a flock of House Sparrows. The tide was in and had pushed the waders etc. into the saltpans, one in particular held many waders, gulls and 7 Caspian Terns at reasonable digiscoping range, needless to say to good an opportunity to miss so a couple of hours was spent here.
A circular walk around the pans produced 65 species including:-
Short-toed Eagle, Osprey carrying a fish, Kestrel, Little Owl, 2 Bluethroats, 10 Waxbills, lots of Sardinian Warblers, Fan-tailed Warbler, Blackcap, Crested and Skylark, Collared Dove, Stonechat, Corn Bunting, Water Pipit, White Wagtails, Serin Linnet, Hoopoe, Southern Grey Shrike, Azure-winged Magpie, Jackdaw, Water Rail, c.30 Flamingo, White Storks, Little and Cattle Egrets, 7 Caspian Terns, 12 Mediterranean Gulls, Black-winged Stilt, Golden Plover, Lapwing and perhaps the most unexpected of all a Griffon Vulture.

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17th Nov. – Up at 6.15 today and left for Castro Verde area in the Alentejo at 7.30. Weather dry and sunny.
The newer A2 motorway makes getting there so much quicker and easier than the old road, it’s a toll road costing 4.85 euros each way but well worth it considering it only takes just over 30 minutes from the A22 to Castro Verde. I picked up the N123 for Mertola in Castro Verde (still have the concrete sheep on the roundabout), and headed into Bustard country with fingers crossed, it worked!
Random stops produced a few good birds but also revealed the extent of damage done to the countryside by the recent heavy rains, river banks washed away, fields still waterlogged, some tracks impassable etc.
Just after the turning for Rolao I spotted 2 Great Bustards feeding in a large field, while watching these 2 more flew over then another 6, all heading east. I then picked up on a funny ‘croaking’ sound coming from an adjacent field and located 36 Little Bustards feeding in the tall grass/weeds, I haven’t heard this sound from Little Bustard before, it certainly wasn’t the usual males’ raspberry call.
From here I moved on to Sao Marcos da Ataboeira but the first track I tried was very quiet and very soggy so I tried another one a bit further along with a Little Bustard sign at its entrance, this was also pretty wet but gave another 3 Great Bustards before it became un-driveable for a small car. I decided to try the Entradas area so backtracked to Castro Verde, stopping for another look at the Little Bustards still feeding in the same field.

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Birds so far:- several Red Kites, Buzzards, Kestrels, Little Owls, 13 Great Bustards, 36 Little Bustards, Calandra, Crested and Skylarks – some good flocks of Calandra, 100’s Corn Buntings, White Wagtails, Lapwing, Green Sandpiper, Moorhen, Grey Heron, White Stork, Little and Cattle Egrets, Song Thrush, Stonechat, House and Spanish Sparrows, Linnet, Serin, Chaffinch, Sardinian and Fan-tailed Warblers, Raven, Carrion Crow, Azure-winged Magpie, 4 Hoopoe, min.10 Southern Grey Shrikes, Red-legged Partridge, Collared Dove, Common and Spotless Starlings.
A bonus was while watching the bustards a Monarch butterfly flew right beside the car – beautiful.

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Pulling off the N802 onto the old Castro Verde – Entradas road, (there’s a small opening onto it about 3km out of Castro Verde), I tried the first track, with a large barn on the skyline, this was very quiet so moved on to the Ambiente Centre track, this was better with several Red Kites, male Hen Harrier, Buzzard, Kestrel, Carrion Crow, Raven, Corn Buntings, Stonechats and the three previous larks.
Carrying on towards Entradas a ringtail Hen Harrier flew in front of the car and several Southern Grey Shrikes perched on overhead wires, more larks etc were also seen. Then just before you can rejoin the N802 I picked up some Little Bustards feeding in another long grass/weedy field, a count of these revealed over 100, while watching these another 3 Great Bustards flew over, heading north.
Back on the N802 I took the next left turn for Carrogueiro, 2-3km along here a pair of Great Bustards were walking along the skyline in a field on the right near a sign for Cumeada Nova, another ringtail Hen Harrier, Red Kites, Southern Grey Shrikes, Larks etc. were also seen. Another good day’s birding over it was back to Vilamoura with a glorious sunset, then something to eat and a glass (or two) of very cheap but good red wine.

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18th Nov. – Up at 7.30, warm, sunny and dry. Tavira today to see what the saltpans hold – quite a lot as usual. An Osprey hunting the river was a good start followed by an adult Audouin’s Gull sitting near 5 Caspian Terns on the banks of the first saltpans, 58 species seen including the usual waders and gulls plus about 10 Little Terns, Mediterranean Gulls, a few Great Black-backed Gulls, Avocets, Spotted Redshank, Curlew Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt, Crested Lark, Skylark, Water Pipit, Black Redstart, min. 4 Bluethroats, Serin, Spanish Sparrows, 2 Waxbills, Sardinian, Fan-tailed and Cetti’s Warblers, 12+ Spoonbill, 8 Flamingo, Grey Herons, Little and Cattle Egrets, White Storks etc
Things were going extremely well until suddenly the air was full of birds, hundreds of small waders, 1000+ Black-tailed Godwits, Spoonbills etc. I never did see what put them up but they all headed towards the sea and didn’t return to the pans by the time I left at 2.30.
As it had gone a bit quiet here I decided to have a quick look at the Natural Park of Ria Formosa at Olhao.
It was a bit late in the day for a good look around and I’d already missed the waders etc coming in from the estuary as the tide was in, there were still a few on the move including a flock of 100+ Bar-tailed Godwits. A Caspian Tern sat in one of the saltpans giving good views plus several Mediterranean Gulls, altogether I counted over 120 of these flying over, presumably going to roost. A quick walk around part of the reserve gave Buzzard, Azure-winged Magpie, usual finches and warblers, usual gulls and waders, Bluethroat, Water Pipit, Little and Cattle Egrets, Purple Gallinule and a pair of White Storks Displaying on their nest etc.

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19th Nov. – Up at 6.30 and left at 8 for Quinto do Lago, spending all day here. Weather hot and sunny all day. Birds pretty much as on the 14th around the lake and estuary with a lot more waders and gulls seen plus 4 Spoonbills. As the tide came in a collection of waders were pushed onto small mud islands just before the first tidal saltpan, giving some good photo opportunities so I spent some time here.
A walk around the first two pans revealed at least 6 Bluethroats, Sardinian, Fan-tailed and Cetti’s Warblers. A Blackcap was singing at the lake and c.20 Waxbills present along with a pair of Hoopoes, plus the usuals.
Walking on past the lake into Ludo saltpans gave 15+ Azure-winged Magpies, Crested Tit and Short-toed Treecreeper in the pines along the path, while just before you reach the gate into Ludo a large lake held c.80 Spoonbills, only 8 Flamingos (usually 100+ here), 100’s Wigeon and Coot, c.50 Avocet and several Great Crested Grebes.
Ludo itself was fairly quiet, 100’s gulls, mainly Lesser Black-backs, Marsh Harrier, Jay, Little and Cattle Egrets, Water Pipit, Sardinian and Fan-tailed Warblers.
On my return several Long-tailed Tits were present near to the car park

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20th Nov – Up at 6am and left at 8 for Quinta do Lago again for another try at photographing a Bluethroat that was singing from a post around the saltpans. I spent all morning lined up on the post and as usual with this sort of thing it showed only twice, preferring to use another post on another side of the pan! Obviously it didn’t like me there even though I was 30 yards away from the post.
A Caspian Tern patrolled the estuary as some compensation.
After getting a few more photos of the usual birds on the lake I left at 3pm. for Vilamoura to stock up on groceries etc. A quick stop by the bridge over the road by the lake on the Falesia Beach road gave several Cetti’s Warblers and 2 or 3 marsh Harriers.

21st Nov – Up at 6am and left for Cape St. Vicente at 7.30 arriving 8.45. Bit cloudy and windy today. The drive between Sagres and the cape produced a few good birds, Little Owl, ringtail Hen Harrier, Sardinian and Dartford Warblers and Southern Grey Shrikes. Just before the stalls selling souvenirs 6 Red-billed Chough were feeding along the cliff-tops. A walk around this area also gave Thekla Lark, Skylarks, Black Redstart (Iberian race), male Blue Rock Thrush singing, Stonechat, Linnets, Serins, more Sardinian and Dartford Warbler etc. Just offshore a stack held a colony of Yellow-legged Gulls and several Rock Doves – all seemed genuine.
A seawatch for 20 minutes produced good numbers of Gannets, several small groups of Razorbills, 1 Great Skua, 1 Mediterranean Shearwater and a flock of c.30 Common Scoter. I now drove back towards Sagres and took the first tarmac road on the left, 50 20t was the only sign at its entrance. Some excellent mixed habitat up to and around the T-junction with a farm on both sides of the road. Lots of Kestrels in the area, Peregrine Falcon, pair of Little Owls on the ruined building before the farms, Southern Grey Shrike etc. I turned right at the junction and immediately ran into a little hotspot of birds, large numbers of Corn Buntings, Goldfinches, Linnets, House Sparrows, Meadow Pipits, Crested and Skylarks, Lapwings, Golden Plover, c.100 Spotless Starlings, Stonechat, Sardinian and Fan-tailed Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Southern Grey Shrike, another Little Owl on the farm roof, Buzzard, Kestrel and a superb male Hen Harrier trying to dive into a bush, presumably after something it dropped in there.

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Carrying on from here, through more of the same open habitat but with woodland on one side, I passed a track with ‘50’ the only sign at its entrance and drove for a few more kms, seeing more of the same birds, before turning back and taking the ‘50’ track, which led to Vila do Bispo. Not wanting to leave the area yet I turned around to do it all in reverse as it had been so good and, guess what, on the return trip I hardly saw a bird!!
Coming back to the Sagres road I turned left then took another track on the left, one with a row of street lights along it. As you come to the first left hand bend along it there’s another small track on the right, this area proved to be another little gem with Blue Rock Thrush, Black Redstarts, Stonechats, Serins, Linnets, Sardinian and Fan-tailed Warblers, Spotless Starlings, Crested Larks, Red-legged Partridge and 2 pale phase Booted Eagles over the woods just inland.
On the return trip to Vilamoura I paid a brief visit to Martinhal seeing several Crag Martins and a variety of gulls, a Hoopoe near Vila do Bispo, White Storks and best of all a Black-shouldered Kite being mobbed by a Kestrel about 1km before joining the A22 from the link road between the N125 and the A22.

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22nd Nov – Up at 6am again (the early worm trying to catch the bird eh!) and left for Castro Marim 7.30, getting there at 8.30. Grey skies today with odd spits of drizzle but no wind. I spent a good part of the day in the Reserve area seeing 2 Marsh Harriers, 2 kestrels, pr. Little Owls on a ruined building, 3 Caspian Terns, Sandwich Terns, Kingfisher, 100+ Cormorants, 10+ Spoonbills, Grey Herons, White Storks, Little and Cattle Egrets, Dunlin, Sanderling, Little Stint, Ringed, Kentish and Grey Plover, Lapwing, Greenshank, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Curlew Sandpiper, Avocet, Black-winged Stilts, Black-tailed Godwit and Common Sandpipers, Southern Grey Shrike, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Sardinian and Fan-tailed Warblers, House Sparrows, Serin, Water Pipit, White Wagtails, Corn Buntings, Crested Lark, Hoopoe, Little Grebe, Mallard, Coot, Water Rail and the usual 3 gull species.
A drive down to San Antonio didn’t produce very much, a few Shoveler being the best. A trip around the saltpans opposite Casto Marim was better giving a good selection of waders etc a Swallow and 24 Mediterranean Gulls.
A look at the saltworks side, without going in and walking around the pans, gave 7 Flamingo, etc.

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23rd Nov – Up at 6.30 and left at 8 for Quinta da Rocha but changed my mind en route and went to Castro Verde instead as weather was sunny with light winds. Pretty much the same birds as the 17th but not so many Bustards to be seen, the hunters were out today. The 2 Great Bustards were in the same field as last time but flew as soon as the car got within 200mtrs of them. The Little Bustards were also in the same place but they stayed. A group of hunters around the Sao Marcos area were spread out over most of the area so I left about midday for the Rolao area, seeing a Red-legged Partridge before I left. Not much seen here either so headed for Entradas. Quiet again, not so much seen as last time, Red Kites, shrikes, larks etc. I did manage to find 2 Great Bustards in the same area as before on the Carroguiera road, these were up and watching the car as soon as I stopped and flew soon after, without me even getting out of the car. A few Red Kites, male Hen Harrier, Buzzard, Carrion Crows, Raven, White Stork, Southern Grey Shrike, larks etc.

24th Nov – Heavy rain and strong winds last night gave a grey start to the day but the rain had stopped. Spent an hour or so photographing the Azure-winged Magpies coming onto the balcony for their breakfast.
I thought I’d have a return trip to Pera Marsh, the dunes might break the onshore wind. There was a little more water than before but not enough to cover the surface yet. 12 Flamingos were new, 15 Spoonbills today, good numbers of Sanderling and Kentish Plover with a handful of Dunlin, Ringed, Grey and Golden Plover and Knot. I had thought many gulls might have been sheltering there but not so, very few apart from some Black-headed and Mediterranean.
A large flock of mixed finches, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Linnets and Serins were feeding in a vineyard just before the marsh so I took the opportunity to get a few shots of a Serin. Hoopoe, Sardinian and Fan-tailed Warblers, Corn Bunting and Kestrel also put in an appearance. On reaching the roundabout at the main road 50 or so Cattle Egrets were feeding in a field beside the road, luckily there was a track I could drive up and manage to get a few shots of these usually camera shy birds.
From here I had a brief visit to Quinta da Rocha, it was brief as the wind was howling straight in off the sea. One interesting thing noted were Cormorants perching on overhead wires, I haven’t seen this before but they looked quite stable, even in the strong wind. A trip into nearby Lagos for some shopping finished off the day.

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25th Nov – Very wet and windy again last night but at 6am the wind and rain had gone and by 9 the sky was brightening. Quinta do Lago today but not the usual track to the left, today I fancied the right hand track, which I don’t look at very often – it turned out to be a good decision as I got some nice shots of Bluethroat, Sardinian and Fan-tailed Warblers and saw my first Iberian Green Woodpecker in the Algarve.
20 Waxbills along the path was soon followed by several Azure-winged Magpies, 3 Hoopoes, Sardinian Cetti’s and Fan-tailed Warblers, coming to the lake a by now familiar “Bzzzt” in the saltmarsh put me on to a Bluethroat, this one quite visible for a change, I spent a couple of hours in the area getting some photos of it and the warblers, Altogether there were 4 around this little area, calling, singing and chasing each other, including a brilliant male complete with white spot that perched on top of a low bush. Stonechats, Crested Larks, Serins, etc. flitted about feeding on seeds, 2 Caspian, several Little and Sandwich Terns patrolled the estuary, an Osprey flew down the estuary filling the sky with the thousands of gulls present, 2 Spoonbills, Grey Herons and waders. 18 Teal appeared overhead from somewhere.
Carrying on the track a Green Woodpecker was calling from the trees around the lake, I eventually caught a glimpse of it flying away. Several Cormorants were sitting around on some sticks in the water waiting to be photographed. A small pool at the back of the lake held Mallard, Shoveler, Pochard, Little Grebe and Common Sandpiper with more Waxbills, finches, warblers including Blackcaps, etc in the vegetation.
Coming back to the main path another Bluethroat flew into the saltmarsh, 3 more were seen around the old saltpans further along plus the now usual warblers, Azure-winged Magpies, Hoopoe etc. and a Great Spotted Woodpecker in the pine trees.
Time was rattling on by now, 4pm, just time to walk back and visit the lake with the hide for a quick look, suddenly all the gulls are up again, not an Osprey this time, a pale phase Booted Eagle soared overhead, brilliant.

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26th Nov – Up at 6am and left for Tavira before 8. Warm and sunny again with little wind.
A 2yr Audouin’s Gull had replaced the adult at the first saltpans and a female Merlin chasing small waders was new. An Osprey was putting everything up further down river. 2 Caspian Terns but no Little Terns today. A few more adult Flamingos were present along with the birds recorded on 18th. After a few hours spent photographing what I could I moved on to Fuseta, just the usual waders and gulls here so on to the Natural Park of Ria Formosa at Olhao. A Common Magpie was the first for the trip, they’re not at all common along the Algarve, Azure-winged Magpies, Jays, Buzzard, Bluethroat, Spanish and House Sparrows, Crested and Skylarks, Sardinian, Fan-tailed and Cetti’s Warblers, Short-toed Treecreeper, Serin, Coot, Moorhen, Purple Gallinule, Little Grebe, Mallard, Shoveler, Gadwall, Little Egret, Grey Heron, White Storks on nests (2 pairs), usual waders and gulls plus 15 Mediterranean Gulls were seen.

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27th Nov – up at 6.30 amused myself photographing the Azure-winged Magpies for an hour then left for Quinto do Lago for my last day, airport and home in the morning. Warm and sunny again today.
Off on the right hand track again to see if I can get a better view of the Green Woodpecker. The tide was in and 100’s of gulls roosting on the saltmarsh, 3 usual species plus at least one Greater Black-back – I’ve not seen many of these over here, several Mediterranean Gulls were also present. Usual waders seen in good numbers. The Bluethroats were quite active again around the lake area saltmarsh, as were the warblers, finches etc. and the Green Woodpecker calling from the same place. After spending some more time with the Bluethroats etc I moved on to the Woodpecker and was lucky enough to see it fly and land in a tree giving good views and a couple of poor, distant photos – but a record of it is better than nothing. A Great Crested Grebe was on the lake today, apart from that everything seemed about the same as usual, apart from the Osprey and Booted Eagle not being seen. What a little gem of a place this is, apart from the resident and the wintering birds I wonder what they get at migration times.

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Well that’s it, holiday over and back to wintry England tomorrow. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the past 2 weeks and would recommend anyone wanting a winter break with plenty of good birds and some fair weather in winter to visit the Algarve.
I’ve tried to include as much information as possible but anyone wanting more details about anything just contact me.

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