Portugal could be seen as a symbol for our European patchwork continent: the Portuguese are friendly, open-minded people – speaking a language, no one else is able to understand. Of course they are completely different from their Spanish neighbours – thus, a tourist always has to feel embarrassed when something like “Buenos Dias” or “Gracias” slipped out of his mouth. The country is a narrow strip of land along the Atlantic coast with wide parts of it having been spoiled by Eucalyptus plantations. Anyhow, there are still some gorgeous places left: Here are our adventures!
14.4. – Overture at the beach
We had visited the Algarve before in 2008: Whereas the southern coast benefits from the blessings of mass-tourism, the rough western coast has lonely and spectacular landscapes. These were the destinations we wanted to visit this year. On Good Friday, we took the plane to Faro and headed towards western Algarve and then towards Alentejo. Our first station was Aljezur, a sleepy small town with a river, a scenic castle ruin and an oversized Intermarché supermarket. The ancient single-storied houses which stick on the castle hill are now romantic holiday apartments – the perfect setting for a lazy holiday.
But, far from it! The area is inhabited by eight Lacertid species. We had seen these species before, but we wanted to get “good” pictures this time – admitted: “good” is not a clearly defined category… In short: Also during this trip we permanently creeped through the bushes hunting for small lizards. When we arrived at Aljezur in the afternoon, we first went to the nearby Praia da Armoreira, a dune area where we hoped to find Podarcis carbonelli. But the sand had been heated up by the sun, so we only came across some Psammodromus algirus running around hectically – no Podarcis carbonelli.
15.4. – Small lizards in great scenery
The coast at Bordeira with its unspoiled sweeping dune landscape is not only a magnet for surfers and campers. As it is also home of two jewels of the European Lacertid fauna, we felt attracted as well: Psammodromus occidentalis occurs in the coastal phrygana. This lovely species seems to have a scattered distribution in Portugal and can be easily overlooked. The second species we wanted to see was Podarcis carbonelli which lives in dune areas with sparse vegetation. Enough program for a couple of hours… In the afternoon we explored a nearby river to watch for Natrix astreptophora. But we only found some Natrix maura, Pelophylax perezi and Mauremys leprosa. Soaked with sweat, sun-burned and afflicted by ticks we decided to have an early after-work drink.
16.4. – To the center of Algarve
Another summer day: In the early morning, we headed to the Seixe valley to make shots of Lacerta schreiberi. When the sun came out, the lizards showed up and started basking in the blackberry scrub: beautiful animals! Later, it got too warm for the lizards and they scarpered into the shade – end of audience. At the river we found Natrix maura as well as frogs, but no Natrix astreptophora (this journey wasn’t meant to be a snake trip). We moved on through the Algarve hinterland towards Monchique to visit the local population of Podarcis virescens. Despite of the burning afternoon sun, these obliging lizards were willing to pose for some camera shots. Afterwards, we did a side trip to the Foia, the highest peak of the Algarve which promises a 360° panoramic view on 900 meters altitude. Unfortunately, the complete peak area has been burnt down: Although this is somehow beneficial with regard to an unrestricted view, the black tree skeletons significantly impair the experience of nature. However, the numerous visitors from the south coast didn’t seem to be bothered by that; at least the restaurants along the mountain road were crowded to overflowing…
17.4. – Heading North
So far, we weren’t satisfied with our pictures of Psammodromus occidentalis. Therefore, we re-visited the Bordeira dunes. Photographing Psammodromus occidentalis includes two challenges: First, finding a nice colored specimen, and second, getting good pictures of it. Obviously, these animals suffer from ADHD: They either snooze lazily with closed eyes or they walk around disquietingly – an ordeal. After we more or less had solved this challenge we left the Algarve and headed to our next station: Vila Nova de Milfontes in southern Alentejo. This laid-back holiday destination has a fortress as a protection against pirates, an oversized police station with fierce looking police officers and a fantastic coast. In the evening sun, we explored the dunes of the close-by Praia da Franquia. The place was full of Psammodromus algirus but none of them had a red head: quite annoying… The second lizard species we found at this beach was Podarcis carbonelli.
18.4. – It’s getting hot!
We were out quite early to search for Podarcis carbonelli at Praia da Franquia. The lizards here were rather shy. After half an hour, a storm came up and we had to interrupt our lizard-stalking. About noon, the storm calmed down and now it got really hot. We started cruising around somehow planless and indecisive and finally arrived at the gorgeous Praia do Malhao. Meanwhile, the temperature was 32 degrees and we became a little bit lethargic. Time for siesta… In the evening, we did a nice coastal walk on the historical Rota Vicentina which didn’t provide any herpetological insights.
19.4. – Red, finally!
Once again, we went to Praia do Malhao. First, we came across some Podarcis carbonelli lounging in the morning sun. Quite promising. And then, it finally should work with the red Psammodromus algirus: We saw several males with beautiful red-orange heads basking in the dunes – what a joy! During mating season, these lizards are highly aggressive (probably the red heads are a sign of high blood pressure) and we could watch two fighting males which didn’t take notice of us. Job done: it was day six out of seven… After this, it was time to leave and we headed north to the town of Sines. From here, the famous Vasco da Gama once started to enhance Portugal’s imperial glory. Witnesses of this proud historic era are the scenic old town and a fortress with walls dwelled by Podarcis virescens – a fabulous place! Still highly motivated, we went north to explore the area of Praia da Fonte do Cortico, an impressively lonely coastal section. There, we found Blanus mariae and Chalcides bedriagai. The dunes were populated by Podarcis carbonelli and – surprise! –Acanthodactylus erythrurus. Whereas this species is widespread in Spain, its distribution area in Portugal seems to be restricted and scattered. The Sines population probably marks the southwestern distribution limit; the next records are at the southern coast near Faro.
20.04. – Urban finale
We started exploring the interior of Alentejo. The major economic sector in this area is cork production. The landscape is dominated by meadows with cork oaks. This looked pretty – but it didn’t deliver at all with regard to herping. About noon, we got bored and considered what to do with the rest of the day. According to google maps, it was a 90 minutes’ drive to Lisbon. And there was this population of introduced Teira dugesii in Lisbon harbor. We were hesitating: Actually, it would be nonsense to drive that far; moreover, we already had visited that place in 2013; rather stupid… At 2:30 p.m. we arrived at Lisbon harbor. The lizards there are still doing well, they even expanded to a nearby city garden. At 4 p.m. we headed back to Sines. This has probably been the shortest sightseeing trip in a European capital ever. But for us, it was a great finale of a beautiful trip.
21.04. – Departure and resume
We had to leave, no more herpetological findings.
Time for a resume:
As we had seen all Iberian reptiles before, we could take our time photographing the animals on this trip and we were quite happy with the outcome. Apart from that, hunting lizards in the spectacular scenery of the Atlantic coastal dunes is an unforgettable experience.
Finally, it has to be mentioned that Portugal is an agreeable and friendly country for travelling we definitely want to visit again soon.
Verdict: highly recommended! *****