PaÚl de Lagos – A birdwatcher’s secret

By Pam Cuff

Whilst many birdwatchers will be familiar with the attractions offered by the Ria Formosa National Park, in the eastern Algarve, perhaps not so many will have heard of the Paúl de Lagos wetland area, on the Bensafrim river, to the north of the town of Lagos.

This area of mixed marine and freshwater habitats was once a much larger area of marsh and wetlands, but was drained in the 15th century to reclaim some of the land for agriculture. But it remains home to a huge variety of birds, butterflies, reptiles and amphibians and, depending on the time of day or season of the year when you visit, you are highly likely to spot numerous species of both indigenous and migrant birds.

Low tides expose large areas of mudflats which provide feeding grounds for many different species, but even at high tide there is no shortage of variety to be seen.

2. Egret
2. Egret

One of the most pleasant ways to experience this area is to take a trip on a Riverwatch boat, and take advantage of the knowledge and experience offered by João, the boat’s captain.

He will tell you how he grew up in the area and swam in the river as a boy of six, delighting in the variety of wildlife even then. And, after many years at sea, he has now returned to his home, dividing his time between working on his farm and sailing small boatloads of twitchers, and other tourists, up and down the river.

Although this stretch of water is not easy to navigate, João clearly enjoys his work, proudly pointing out, and naming, the different species as you pass through the different types of habitat.

3. Storks
3. Storks

Apart from the gulls and cormorants that greedily hang around the fishing dock where you board, the first birds you will see are the storks nesting on the chimneys of the old sardine factory.

Moving along, under the old Roman bridge, we saw egrets, herons, several species of peewits, shrike and an eagle.

We were also introduced to Jacque, a solitary peewit, who has occupied his little niche for three years now, always coming out to greet the boat as it passes!

On the return journey, João stopped the boat in an area of open water, produced a bottle of port and proceeded to pour us each a small cupful, before demonstrating the usefulness of a large conch shell as a foghorn!

Riverwatch trips operate most mornings and can be booked from the booth on the Avenida dos Descobrimentos in Lagos or by telephoning José on 967 221 483 or email [email protected]

Further information can also be found on the ‘RiverWatchLagos’ Facebook page or their website at

Departure times are dependent on tides. Riverwatch also operate boat trips to the caves of the Ponta da Piedade.