Near to the Spanish border, this is a smallish (by Portuguese standards) coastal nature reserve of most interest to birdwatchers, although there are some interesting salt-marsh plants there too.
The Reserva Natural do Sapal de Castro Marim is located near to Villa Real de Santo Antonio on the eastern side of the Algarve, just a few minutes drive from the Portuguese-Spanish border and the Rio Guadiana river, and is well signposted from the main roads. There is ample car parking at the reserve, and a walk of some 12km around the saltpans for those who like to explore.
The Reserve covers just over 2,000 hectares on the estuary of the River Guadiana and has an Information and Educational Centre that we have yet to find open. This is the most recent of the nature reserves and parks to be designated in the Algarve, and it came into existence in 1975. Although much of the reserve is still functioning as a salt production operation, the mudflats and lagoons are of immense importance to resident, visiting and migratory birds. Many interesting saltmarsh plants also thrive within the confines of the reserve.
Early spring is the best time to visit Castro Marim if you want to see the special plants that are able to survive the inhospitable environment of saltpans, salt-marsh and the brackish-water mudflats in the estuary of the River Guadiana. The pretty Water Plantain, with its three-petalled flowers, is plentiful in the reserve.
This reserve is a wintering ground, and one of the best places to see, the Greater Flamingo along with Avocets, Spoonbills, Black-winged Stilts and many species of ducks. There are also many storks nests in trees on the reserve - something of a novelty, as these birds are most often seen nesting on chimneys and electricity pylons throughout the Algarve!
Terns are well represented here including, in the winter, the world’s largest: the Caspian Tern. Sandwich Terns and Little Terns nest on the edges of the saltpans; and Black-headed, Black-backed and Yellow–legged Gulls all visit Castro Marim.
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