Iberian Wildlife Tours - Wildlife Holidays in Spain and Portugal
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The Tróia peninsula's unique sand-dune flora and fauna

Perhaps the best way to start exploring the Sado estuary is to take the small car ferry across the river mouth from Setúbal to the northern tip of the Tróia peninsula (about 20 minutes). In good weather you can hope to see bottle-nosed dolphins (a population of around 30 individuals inhabits these waters), with black-necked grebe (50-100 birds, representing the bulk of Portugal's Fritillaria lusitanica © Teresa Farino Fritillaria lusitanica © Teresa Farinowintering population), red-breasted merganser (maximum 350 individuals), common scoter, Sandwich tern and razorbill occurring in winter.

From Tróia, the N-253-1 runs south along the sandspit to the village of Comporta. After a few kilometres, a track off to the left leads to the Roman ruins of Cetóbriga (from which present-day Setúbal derives its name) and a tranquil tidal inlet on the lee shore known as the Caldeira de Tróia, which attracts many passage and wintering waterbirds including greater flamingo, spoonbill and Mediterranean and great black-backed gulls, the latter rare in Portugal. The coastal sands adjacent to the inlet are clothed with stone and maritime pines, acacias and eucalypts, with an understorey of Osyris lanceolata, white broom, lentisc and the yellow-flowered Halimium calycinum and H. halimifolium, with more open Large psammodromus © John Muddeman Large Psammodromus
Psammodromus algirus
© John Muddeman
areas holding typical psammophiles such as the stonecrop Sedum sediforme, Sodom's apple and several Portuguese endemics: the diminutive pink-flowered crucifer Jonopsidium acaule, in flower from January to March, Thymus capitellatus and the lavender-cotton Santolina impressa. This is also a good place to track down the snakeshead Fritillaria lusitanica.

The mid-sector of the spit has been declared a botanical reserve, on account of its well-preserved dune flora. Primary dunes here are clothed with sea knotgrass, southern birdsfoot-trefoil, sea spurge, the succulent-leaved Iberian endemic Thymus carnosus, the umbellifer known as pseudorlaya, coastal crucianella and cottonweed, while the older, stabilised dunes boast a more diverse flora, including sand stock, sea-holly, spiny thrift and sea daffodil, growing amid clumps of the heather-like Corema album and the fleshy figwort Scrophularia frutescens, both of which are Cerocala scapulosa © Teresa Farino Cerocala scapulosa © Teresa Farino Afro-Iberian endemics. Among Tróia's lepidoptera, look out for an abundance of the smart day-flying moth - rather like a Mother Shipton - called Cerocala scapulosa in March, while spring butterflies include Swallowtail, Clouded Yellow, Lang's Short-tailed and Common Blues, Spanish Brown Argus and Small Copper.. The commonest reptile here is undoubtedly the robust, extremely long-tailed lizard known as the large psammodromus, but spiny-footed lizards are also present.

Fossil dunes in the centre of the spit support a scrub community dominated by the dune race of Phoenician juniper Jonopsidium acaule © John Muddeman Jonopsidium acaule © John Muddeman (turbinata), sage-leaved cistus (here parasitised waxy yellow clumps of Cytinus hypocistis), the gorse-like Stauracanthus genistoides, a Portuguese endemic subspecies of French lavender (luisieri) and Santolina impressa. Open sands are studded with the catchfly Silene littorea, shrubby pimpernel (var. trojana) and the glorious blue-flowers of Anchusa calcarea in spring, while wetter depressions harbour a colourful assemblage of the yellow-flowered restharrow Ononis ramosissima and the snapdragon Antirrhinum majus ssp. linkianum, emerging from a carpet of grey hair-grass. Here too grow Dianthus broteri and the toadflaxes Linaria ficalhoana and L. bipunctata (var. welwitschiana), all of which are unique to Iberia, plus the Portuguese endemic thrift Armeria rouyana. Dartford and Sardinian warblers abound in the most densely vegetated areas, with Thekla lark in open habitats.

 
 

Reports of other wildlife trips to Portugal:

BSBI Botanical Tour in Western Portugal - Trip Report 2006

Related information:

Wildlife of western Portugal - Serra da Arrábida
Read about Teresa Farino
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