Seabirds of Sagres

Warning. The following blog contains pictures that in no way resemble the magnitude of awesomeness described in the text or in reality.

The 8th Annual Sagres Birdwatching Festival took place from October 4 – 8 and was centered less than half an hour from Lagos. Coinciding with the annual raptor migration this is a well known event that draws serious birders and casual visitors from around the world.

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The festival headquarters at the Beliche Fortress, just outside of Sagres

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The fortress has a stunning clifftop location

Along with a small group of friends we decided to take advantage of the special festival prices and do a seabird watching tour operated by SeaXplorer Sagres. This is a well run and professional company that we would highly recommend if you are looking for a boat tour in this area.

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Meeting point in Sagres

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The fishing harbour of Baleeira

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We spotted many gulls on these cliffs

The fishing harbour of Baleeira with its colourful boats bobbing on the waves, the smell of fish, the cries of the gulls and the surrounding cliffs is an appropriate departure point. As you round the breakwater beneath the towering cliffs you immediately feel the freshness of the Atlantic breeze. Very soon you pass the headland and have open sweeping views past Fortaleza de Sagres to Cabo de São Vicente.

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The lighthouse on Cape Sagres and Cabo de Sao Vincente

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Dolphins love to ride in the wake

As we left the coast we soon encountered fairly large flocks of Northern gannets and small pods of common dolphin. Some good spotting from the crew also found a half dozen Storm petrels and Wilson’s storm petrels. We were all excited to have three larger bottlenose dolphins frolic in our wake for a few minutes.

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Northern gannets in flight

As enjoyable as this was, our knowledgeable guide was looking for more birds and we headed offshore to where we would be likely to encounter shearwaters. As we neared an area of stronger currents at about 10 nautical miles offshore we spotted a large group of seabirds circling in the distance. We were excited but unprepared for the spectacle we were about to witness.

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Northern gannets (juvenile and adult)

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Crystal clear water allowed us to see the dolphins several feet below the boat

It soon became apparent that there was a lot of activity both on the surface and under the water. Literally hundreds of dolphins were feeding on schools of small fish which were visible from the boat. In the midst of the these schools, gannets were diving and Cory’s (as well as Great, Sooty and Manx) shearwaters were feeding from the surface and a few gulls and skuas were watching carefully to see if they could steal a lunch from the other birds. We put our cameras away and just enjoyed the extravaganza. Unfortunately, none of the pictures we had taken up to that point in any way captured the reality of this magnificent display. We hope you enjoy the pictures we did get!

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On the lookout for sardines

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Northern gannets

We have observed many whales, dolphins, porpoise and rays feeding in the Bay of Fundy, in the Caribbean and off the coasts of Newfoundland, Ecuador and Costa Rica but this was the most dramatic hunting display we have encountered anywhere. In every direction dolphins were feeding, jumping and racing under the boat while hundreds of seabirds either actively fed or waited for scraps. It was a feeding frenzy scene directly out of National Geographic and one of the closest examples to a bait ball you can view from a boat.

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Got lucky with this shot

After what seemed like half an hour, but was probably less, the activity gradually subsided. But even as we reluctantly headed back towards the distant coast there were still dozens of dolphins and birds lazily searching the surface for the remnants of the larger schools of fish.

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Cory’s shearwater

As we neared the harbour we passed some inshore islands where a number of shags were drying their wings in the afternoon sun. We asked our guide if this had been a typical day on the water for this area and he replied that we had been very privileged to witness this display of nature’s beauty. It was much more than the usual activity. We fully agreed with him and two weeks later this remains vivid in our minds and is an experience we will always treasure.

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The end of a perfect morning

Muito obrigado Portugal!

About Tim & Anne Hall

We sold almost all of our belongings and left our home in Nova Scotia in April 2016 to experience as much of the world as we could. We spent over a year slow traveling in Latin America and Europe, and are now living happily in the Portuguese Algarve, Portimao to be specific. We are gradually chnging the focus of our site to feature images of Portugal. Stay tuned - its a work in progress.
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9 Responses to Seabirds of Sagres

  1. Jen Hall says:

    Wow guys…that must have been incredible! Thanks for sharing…awesome!

    Liked by 1 person

    • timannehall says:

      Hi Jen. Yes, it really was a great morning. We really lucked out with a beautiful morning and it was very warm the whole way in and out. We hadn’t seen a couple of the shearwater species before which was great, but just to see so many birds and dolphins at once was incredible.

      Like

  2. Wow! Those dolphins! What an amazing experience. How wonderful for you that you got to see that!
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Loved your warning! There’s really no way to describe the absolute magic of watching hundreds of dolphins and birds engaging in a feeding frenzy right before your eyes. The weather was perfect, our marine biologist was awesome and sharing the experience with friends was amazing! And, unlike the 4 out of 7 less fortunate passengers, my queasy stomach behaved itself for once so that I was able to concentrate fully on this once-in-a-lifetime seabird and dolphin extravaganza! Anita

    Liked by 1 person

    • timannehall says:

      It was a great start when we had such a warm day to be out on the water, especially from such a lovely setting. It was a wonderful day all around, except for the queasy stomachs experienced by some. We have been on many similar trips when you are glad to be back but this was special. We’re glad that you got to experience it as well and enjoyed yourselves.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Joe says:

    Getting out on the water opens up a whole new world of natural beauty. The sight of so many interesting birds and the excitement of the feeding school of dolphins are tremendous examples. Thanks for sharing your offshore experiences with those of us who remain land-locked.

    Liked by 1 person

    • timannehall says:

      Thanks Joe. We always love to get out on the water and this particular day was special. It was our first marine trip and we were particularly looking forward to the seabirds, but got an unexpected bonus with the dolphins. Plus a warm sunny day in October is always welcome.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Glimpses of our Daily Life in Portugal: October 2017 | A New Latitude

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