I am on a quick trip to the Lisbon area in Portugal and – I must admit – I was taken completely by surprise about how this conglomeration of people, water and nature are put togerther.

In preparation for this trip I had spent some time with my friend the google machine and he (she? it?) had told me that the central Portuguese coast is pretty developed with one city flowing in to the next. But what stands out on any map of the area is the domination of the landscape by large bodies of water: the wide Atlantic Ocean, and and two large estuaries. But what was not that clear was the sheer scale of these estuaries, and the amount of natural (birding) habitat scattered through the area.

Within 10 minutes of the Lisbon airport, we were crossing the impressive Vasco da Gama bridge – an 11 miles long bridge over the Tagus Estuary. Yup, a river estuary that is 17 km wide! Flanking the south bank and going up the estuary is a fantastic wetland complex and in an hour we will head out there to see what the day has to offer us.

Yesterday we were out around the Sado Estuary – another absolutely friggin huge estuary just 15 minutes south of the Tagus Estuary.  Think Greater Flamingoes, Glossy Ibis, Caspian Terns, Kentish Plovers, Black-winged Stilts and a dazzling array of wetland habitats from wide open water and mudflats to flooded paddies and little water channel systems. I was giddy like a child.

This is a fake viper

But although the complex water systems would naturally dominate one’s birding thoughts in the area, ever since visiting Extremadura in Spain a few times over the last years, I have fallen in love with the Oak Dehesas (open woodlands). Portugal is evidently the world’s largest produced of cork and its production still takes place in a way that reflects a deep care for the natural environment.

The Cork Oak Dehesas are the European equivalent of shade grown coffee with an entire complex of bird life dependant on its protection and the continuing production of natural cork (as opposed to synthetic substitutes). Just think Azure-winged Magpie and you will know what I mean.

This is one seriously beautiful and moving habitat!

we were impressed with ourselves so we stopped at a roadside cafe and using Spanish and gesticulations managed to order ourselves a cumulative total of 5,000,000 calories worth of caramel sweet thing. It was fantastic.

So today we will be heading out to the Tagus Estuary which is said to be even better than the Sado – this is bound to be wonderful.


Written by Dale Forbes
Dale grew up in the forests and savannas of South Africa, developing a love for nature from a young age. After studying Zoology and Wildlife Science, he moved to Central America to continue his work in conservation biology. He is a member of BirdLife International’s Advisory Board and is Swarovski Optik’s Head of Strategic Business Development.