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After the Tagus Estuary this is probably the next most important estuary in Portugal for birds despite much habitat loss and serious pollution.
The estuary itself is wide and very shallow with extensive mudflats exposed at low tide and large areas of saltmarsh. Although parts of the northern shores of the estuary are now heavily industrialised much of the remainder is more suitable for birds with large areas utilised in salt production, fish-farming and rice growing. Elsewhere there are reedbeds and freshwater pools, and woods of Cork Oak, Maritime Pine and Umbrella Pine.
The Troia Peninsula, a long sandy spit with scrub, pinewoods and eucalyptus groves, separates the estuary from the sea. In addition to a good range of breeding birds the area is of great importance as a passage and wintering site for waterfowl and waders.
Breeding species include White Stork and Purple Heron, Cattle Egret and Little Egret, Black-winged Stilt and Kentish Plover, Yellow-legged Gull and Little Tern. The reedbeds hold Zitting Cisticola, Cetti's Warbler and Great Reed Warbler and Portugal's only breeding Great Bitterns, while the woodlands have Tawny Owl, Red-necked Nightjar, Hoopoe and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.
During the winter the area hosts important numbers of waterfowl with Eurasian Wigeon, Common Teal, Mallard and Northern Shoveler particularly numerous. Black-necked Grebe and Red-breasted Merganser reach nationally important numbers and Great Cormorant is common in winter.
Wintering waders are also numerous with Black-winged Stilt and Pied Avocet, Grey Plover and Ringed Plover, godwits, Dunlin, Eurasian Curlew and Common Snipe all regular in good numbers. Greater Flamingo is present all year but most occur in winter, White Stork and egrets are also present. Raptors such as Peregrine Falcon and harriers occur in winter and Osprey is regular on passage.
Passage periods bring a wider range of species with virtually all northern European waders passing through as well as waterfowl, seabirds and a range of passerines.
Marsh Sandpiper is among the rarer species recorded in recent years.
Birds you can see here include:
Black-necked Grebe, Great Cormorant, Great Bittern, Little Bittern, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, White Stork, Eurasian Spoonbill, Greater Flamingo, Eurasian Wigeon, Gadwall, Common Teal, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Garganey, Northern Shoveler, Common Pochard, Common Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, European Honey Buzzard, Black-shouldered Kite, Black Kite, Short-toed Eagle, Western Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Common Buzzard, Booted Eagle, Osprey, Peregrine Falcon, Common Quail, Water Rail, Eurasian Coot, Black-winged Stilt, (small numbers present in W), Pied Avocet, Stone-curlew, Collared Pratincole, Northern Lapwing, Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Eurasian Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Red Knot, Sanderling, Little Stint, Temminck's Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin, Ruff, Common Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Spotted Redshank, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Mediterranean Gull, Little Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Little Tern, Razorbill, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Tawny Owl, Short-eared Owl, European Nightjar, Red-necked Nightjar, Common Swift, Pallid Swift, Alpine Swift, European Bee-eater, European Roller, Eurasian Hoopoe, Eurasian Wryneck, Iberian Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Crested Lark, Wood Lark, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, Tawny Pipit, Water Pipit, Iberian Yellow Wagtail, Bluethroat, Black Redstart, Common Redstart, Whinchat, Northern Wheatear, Cetti's Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Eurasian Reed Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Dartford Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Orphean Warbler, Western Bonelli's Warbler, Iberian Chiffchaff, Firecrest, Spotted Flycatcher, European Pied Flycatcher, Eurasian Nuthatch, Short-toed Treecreeper, Penduline Tit, Crested Tit, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Southern Grey Shrike, Woodchat Shrike, Iberian Magpie, Spotless Starling, Rock Sparrow, Common Waxbill, European Serin, Eurasian Siskin, Common Crossbill, Hawfinch, Cirl Bunting, Ortolan Bunting
Areas of Interest
If using Setubal as a base it may be easier to reach the southern shores by taking the car ferry from there to Troia where there is a holiday complex and accommodation may be available. Bottle-nosed Dolphin Tursiops truncatus can often be seen during the crossing.
The sandy shores of this peninsula are excellent for waders and the scrub and woodland patches have a good range of birds including Short-toed Treecreeper, European Nightjar and Red-necked Nightjar, Iberian Magpie and in winter, Firecrest.
The N253-1 southwards from Troia gives good views over the estuary and leads to Comporta where there are extensive mudflats. Continue east on the N253 until Murta Dam on the right, a small freshwater pool with a fine selection of herons, various passerines and Penduline Tit in winter. Great Bittern has bred here in recent years.
Access and Facilities
This is a large estuary and several days are needed to cover the area properly. The main town of the area is Setubal on the northern shore of the estuary reached on the A2 from Lisbon or the IP1 from the south.
To the east of Setubal are extensive saltpans and those at Gambia are especially worth checking and further on along the N10 a minor road towards Zambujal leads to good areas of reedbeds and saltmarsh. Further east still, about 5km south of Aguas de Moura take the sandy track to the village of Pinheiro through bird-rich woodlands and ending with extensive mudflats.
Content and images originally posted by Steve