Algarve Nature

Uncover the stunning Algarve Nature, Flora and Fauna. Native species of flowers, plants, trees, birds, butterflies, lizards, snakes and even wild cats!

The Algarve has an amazing variety of wild flowers creating a changing landscape throughout the year. Spring comes very early to this southern part of Portugal and by January the cliffs are already a mass of colour.

The year starts with a carpet of yellow “Bermuda buttercups” on the cliffs and in the fields and white “Sweet Alison” edges the paths. Delicate pink “Storks Bills” and purple “Barbary Nuts” (like miniature Irises) quickly join in the show. By February the roadsides are a blaze of yellow Mimosa and in March the pale yellow flowers of the “Hottentot Figs” open, along with “Large Blue Alkanets”, “Purple Viper’s Burgloss”, “Yellow Sea Asters” and “Narrow-leaved Lupins” to name just a few. By April “Giant Fennel” plants on the cliff tops create a strange sight with their yellow flowers on stems that tower feet above everything else.

Along with the flowers come the butterflies – “Marbled Whites” and “Swallowtails” are just two that have been spotted although there are many more of all sizes and colours – they are, however, a little more difficult to photograph and identify!

Almost overnight at the beginning of August masses of dragonflies of all colours appear and stay around until well into November. “Praying Mantis” can also sometimes be spotted if you have sharp eyes – they are quite difficult to see as they blend in so well with the scenery and stay very still – also difficult to snap when the camera is at home!

Hedgehogs are quite common and the one on the top of the page, popped out one early evening on the cliffs to say “hello”! Lizards and geckos are often spotted sunning themselves and if you look carefully in the pine forests around Monte Gordo chameleons can sometimes be found.

The “Iberian Lynx”, a large, wild cat that was native to the Algarve has now, sadly, become virtually extinct due to loss of their habitats and the decline of the rabbit population (their staple diet), but a programme is in place to re-introduce them in a carefully monitored and safe environment using lynx bred in captivity in a centre in Spain.

Along Algarve rivers and streams otters, Mediterranean turtles and water snakes may be spotted as well as salamanders.

The Algarve is a real bird spotters paradise…there are so many resident species and many more that pass through on their migration flights. The nature reserves such as “Ria Formosa” in the Faro / Tavira area, Castro Marim at the eastern end and the “Costa Vicentina” protected area on the western Atlantic coast are particularly good places to go, but you can see (and hear) birds all over the Algarve. Nightingales, Hoopoes, Bee-eaters and Blackbirds are some of the most easily recognisable along with the “White Storks”…nests on chimneys and rooftops can’t be missed and are in abundance!

It’s also rather nice to see how well the Stork’s nests are looked after – not just by the Storks themselves. They often build their nests on the top of chimney stacks and with new developments going on across the Algarve the chimneys are often in the middle of a building site. It has been surprising the way the builders have dealt with it – moving the nest to a nearby scaffolding tower as a temporary measure while the chimney is renovated, then replacing and securing it onto the chimney again! In one instance – the chimney (after renovation) was surrounded by a metal cage and physically moved a short distance by a crane before the nest was replaced! The Storks certainly don’t seem to mind the moving around and are quite happy to raise their young families wherever they are.

Then the gulls – there are many different types, but this parent and youngster are “Yellow-legged Gulls”. The salt marshes and lagoons are favourites with flocks of flamingos as well as egrets and spoonbills. Hoopoes are a common sight around the cliffs, and kestrels can often be seen hovering overhead. Birds of prey, such as “Bonelli’s Eagle”, sometimes inhabit wooded areas around the rivers, but their real refuge is in the hills in the more heavily wooded forests.

The Algarve is also home to a few species of snakes, but from the information found it appears that none of them are considered particularly dangerous to humans. Those that are venomous have their fangs at the back of the mouth and, because of their size, can’t open their mouth wide enough to cope with much more than a lizard or a mouse – so unless you try and pick one up (not recommended!) you are unlikely to have any problems. The venomous ones that you may come across (starting with the largest first) are:

  • The Montpellier snake which can grow up to 2 metres long and of variable colouring with a fierce expression due to the triangular indent between its eyes and can be quite aggressive if it feels threatened
  • Lataste’s viper, which is rather smaller at around 50cm and is grey with zigzag markings and a triangular head and supposedly rather timid;
  • The False Smooth Snake, grey/brown colouring with darker streaks and 50 to 60cm long.

Some of the fangless snakes are:

  • Grass snakes (1.2 metre long), greeny/brown colour and darker markings and have a liking for damp places (they also swim well!);
  • Viperine snakes which are similar to grass snakes but have dark zigzags along their back;
  • Ladder snakes (up to 1.5m) with the young snake having a distinctive black ladder along its length which fades, in adulthood, to 2 indistinct dark lines without the “rungs”;
  • Horseshoe whip snakes (up to 1.5m) with dark horseshoe shaped markings;
  • Southern Smooth snake (50-60cm) with lighter brownish colouring and darker spots.

Snakes normally do a quick disappearing trick at the first hint of anyone approaching, so chances are that you won’t ever see one.

Popular activities here in the Algarve