Portugal is not only one of Europe’s great beauties, it is also the keeper of one of Europe’s splendid secrets—rich habitat and a relatively small population make Portugal a magnificent location for bird watching. Many of the stunning bird species normally associated with Spain congregate here in a high concentration of protected wetlands. The Tagus Estuary Nature Reserve, just 20 minutes from Lisbon, is among the finest. It is one of the most important wetlands in Europe, with mud flats, salt marshes, saltpans, cork oaks, rice fields, pastures and reed beds. Designated a Ramsar wetland site of international importance, the estuary includes a wide Special Protection Zone of more than 34,000 acres created to protect wintering, migratory and breeding populations of aquatic birds. Seasonally, the wetland is home to more than 120,000 waders, waterfowl and other aquatic birds. During migratory periods, it is not unusual to observe more than 100 species in a single day, including flamingos, black-shouldered kites, squacco herons and little bustards. The area is known to attract more than 250 species altogether. The specific geography of the Tagus also features non-wetland topography—wooded slopes, extensive pastures and wide steppes that weave an inseparable bond between the nature reserve and traditional agriculture. A stone’s throw from the marshy bog, lumbering livestock seek the shade of cork oaks, and sharply contrasting lichens cling to the trees, creating virtually psychedelic whorls of shape and color. Keep an eye out for predatory mammals too—the crafty Egyptian mongoose moves in tight family groups in search of eggs and little hatchlings. Through your visit to the Tagus Estuary, you are doing to part to ensure that this corridor of safety for the birds of Europe is maintained and improved—part of your entry fee is used by the Institute for Conservancy of Nature & Biodiversity to operate the Tagus Estuary Nature Reserve.
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