Sagres is a prime place to enjoy one of nature’s most awe-inspiring displays: bird migration. In September and October, thousands of birds fly by.
As Summer ends and the weather begins to turn, a wave of birds sweeps across Europe, from north to south. Those heading to Africa have a considerable hurdle ahead: the Mediterranean. On the western side of the continent, the shortest – and therefore safest – route is across the straight of Gibraltar. But sometimes a lack of experience or a mishap throws birds off route. When that happens, the solution is to cross via Sagres, the “plain of lost birds”.
The turn of the season brings an incredible array of feathered visitors to this region. From Bonelli’s and Short-Toed Snake Eagles to Egyptian Vultures, Griffon Vultures and storks, thousands of soaring birds hover in search of a passage to Africa. Also in their thousands, seabirds fly past, in epic journeys that can stretch from pole to pole. Trees, bushes and grasses are alive with pipits, warblers, Northern Wheatears and dozens of other songbirds which are also crossing the peninsula on their way south. And when you least expect it, you spot a truly rare bird, like a Lesser Spotted Eagle, a Yellow-browed Warbler or a Red-breasted Flycatcher.
We chose early October to host the Festival because this is usually the best time of year to see a bit of everything: in the air, on land and at sea. This is one of the times when there’s the greatest diversity of raptors soaring over the region, while at sea you can still see many of the seabirds that fly by, and on land you can find the smaller migrants that come to the Algarve for the winter.
A westerly wind marks a good time to head out to Cabo de São Vicente to watch Gannets (Morus bassanus) and Cory’s Shearwaters (Calonectris borealis). If the wind turns easterly, seabirds become harder to spot. But that’s no reason to put away your binoculars. When the wind blows from the southeast it brings songbirds: unable to fight the wind, these small birds are pushed towards us, increasing the likelihood of spotting rarer species.
Rain, strong winds or a sudden drop in temperatures mean birds will be harder to spot, but better days will come: when the weather clears, all the birds that were “on hold” set off at once, so there’s a good chance you’ll see something interesting.