THE BIRDS OF THE ALENTEJO
In the "Roteiro com as Aves do Alentejo" (The Birds of the Alentejo Itinerary), by Miguel Pais and Rogério Cangarato, the first recommended place to visit is Alto de S. Gens. It offers an impressive view in all directions, delimited to the south by the outline of Alcaria Ruiva, a small mountain near Mértola, and, on the other bank of the Guadiana, by the great Serra do Caldeirão mountain range, in the Algarve. To the north, the imposing bulk of the Serra Morena mountain range marks the horizon, sloping gently towards the Serra de Portel mountain range.
ALTO DE S. GENS
This is, in fact, one of the best places to perceive the possible connection between some of the great mountain ranges of the Guadiana basin, visible also in the depressions that mark the landscape along the valleys of the Guadiana and Chança, a border river that is born in the Serra Morena mountain range and delimits the southern half of the left bank of the Guadiana in Portuguese territory.
The outskirts of Serpa are mainly used for typically Mediterranean crops, such as the olive grove. The diversity of passerines associated with the low bushes and olive groves is high here and we recommend leaving the vehicle behind and taking a stroll to identify the songs of the various species that hide among the dense foliage (blackbirds and thrushes, starlings, tits, wrens, chiffchaffs and warblers, among others).
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To the south of Serpa there are two alternatives: the Guadiana valley, in the Pulo do Lobo area (crossing a habitat typology that is truly typical of the Serra de Serpa mountain range), or the Serpa - Mértola national road, where it is possible to view the beautiful Ribeira de Limas River and the no less imposing Chança River. The ornithological diversity is great and the best advice is to set aside more than one day to discover all the sites accessible from the national roads, always taking care not to disturb the fauna or damage the flora.
Between Serpa and Vale do Poço, along the road that leads to Pulo do Lobo, the Serpa mountain range reveals its recent history of overexploitation of the holm oak montado, mostly as a result of the São Domingos mine’s great demand for fuel (firewood/coal). The montado is aged and widely dispersed. In this landscape, nearly abandoned by humans, the morphology is mostly undulating (the reason why the locals call it a “serra” [mountain range]), and in it we can easily find the black-winged kite and, where the shrub is denser, the spectacled warbler.
The approach to Pulo do Lobo and the Guadiana River introduces the observer to the realm of the great eagles: the golden eagle and Bonelli's eagle nidify here and the area is regularly visited by non-breeding individuals that frequent the more open areas or areas near the nests where they were born.
At Pulo do Lobo the landscape is impressive. Rockrose bushes dominate the slopes overlooking the large cliffs carved by the Guadiana River that, on this site, narrow the river’s course and provide shelter to all the species characteristic of the most remote parts of this region, such as the black stork, the eagle-owl, the rufous scrub robin and various species of mammals and carnivores.
Close to Vales Mortos, a secondary road leads to Corte de Pinto and, from there, to the east, several dirt roads head in the direction of the Chança River. Along with some sectors of the Guadiana valley, it is one of the zones least affected by the intense "wheat campaign" (which introduced cereals into unsuitable areas, causing a severe degradation of the vegetation cover) and where the vegetation structure is still pretty much untouched. Be on the lookout for the presence of diurnal and nocturnal birds of prey, in addition to rupicola and passerine species associated with watercourses and heavy scrub. It is one of the zones where the detection of the interesting rufous scrub robins, spectacled warblers and Dartford warblers is easier, given their relative abundance. Organised hunting areas (for tourism and associations) are frequent here and it is always essential to respect private property and obtain authorization before entering these areas.