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Europe and Central Asia
14 Sep 2015

Why you should be excited about the 2015 Sagres birdwatching festival

The Sagres festival will include birdwatching, bird ringing, dolphin watching, scuba diving, hiking and workshops on environmental education. Photo: Nuno Barros
By Sanya Khetani-Shah

To the uninitiated, birdwatching may sound like an esoteric hobby reserved for scientists and people obsessed with birds. However, numerous international bird festivals – such as the Birdwatching Festival and Nature Activities in Sagres, Portugal – have sought to change that over the years.

The sixth edition of the fest, which will be held from 1-4 October, 2015, includes not just birdwatching, but also bird ringing, dolphin watching, scuba diving, hiking and workshops on environmental education, among other things (full list here), to make it more accessible to a larger audience of families, students and casual nature lovers. Register here for the event of your choice.

The event, part of the Europe-wide Euro Birdwatch 2015, is organised by the municipality of Vila do Bispo, with Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds (SPEA, or BirdLife in Portugal) and the Almargem Association as partners.

Sagres in southwest Portugal is a great place for birdwatching: It has a large diversity of habitats, from sea cliffs and coastal maquis to farmlands, woodland, sand dunes and the sea itself. Due to its geographical location in the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina, migrants that follow the coastline or the coastal valleys gather in Sagres from August to November before continuing their journey south.

The region is Portugal’s major migratory corridor for storks, eagles, vultures, buzzards and falcons. It is also a great place to watch many seabirds (thousands of Northern Gannet, petrels, Cory’s Shearwater and Balearic Shearwater pass along the coast), steppe species and passerines. This is why the festival’s dates, in early October, are strategically scheduled: the diversity of birds of prey is starting to peak, many long-distance seabird migrants are still around, passerines are still passing through and wintering birds are starting to arrive.

Over the years, the area has also been witness to a number of rare species, such as the Eurasian Dotterel, the Spanish Imperial Eagle, Sabine’s Gull and the Red-breasted Flycatcher, among numerous others.

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There is a more serious science aspect to all of this as well: the migratory birds passing through will be counted at counting stations manned by experienced birdwatchers and scientists. The numbers will be collected by SPEA and then passed on to this year’s European counting centre in the Netherlands, which will publish a report on the migration of birds through Europe.

And it’s not just the birds and birdwatchers that benefit. “The event has been contributing to consolidate Vila do Bispo as an important destination for nature tourism, attracting more and more domestic and foreign visitors,” says Adelino Soares, president of the Vila do Bispo municipality. “The investment in this initiative, which takes place in low season, has a positive effect in the remaining months of the year, with tourists to return and take advantage of the services of local businesses partners of the festival.”


Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe.