Terrain shapes and bedrock
COUNTRYAAH, Portugal forms a continuation of the Spanish mesetas and
ridges in the form of a slope area towards the Atlantic.
Plateaus and ridges with a longitudinal extension in the
northeast – southwest direction provide a topographic
structure for the landscape as a whole. Portugal's larger
streams, which have their upper reaches in Spain, have
eroded deep valleys in the same direction, for example.
Duero and Tejo, while Guadiana has a southern course and
forms a border with Spain to the south. Most of Portugal is
lowland, only about 12% of the total area is higher than 700
m above sea level.
In the northern part of Portugal most plateaus and ridges
occur. More than 90% of the surface here is over 400 m above
sea level. and only 50 km from the coast, the land surface
reaches 1,000 m above sea level. The varicose orogenesis has
characterized landforms, although faults and cracks have
emerged in tertiary times. In central Portugal, the land
surface is mostly made up of elevated pen planes, partly
torn by rivers such as Mondego and Vouga. These landforms
are bounded to the north by mountains such as Montemuro,
1,382 m above sea level, and south by the granite rock Serra
da Estrela, which reaches 1,993 m above sea level.
Estremadura north of Lisbon has a hill and cuestand
Southern Portugal is characterized by rolling plains. The
Algarve in the west has high hills and slopes designed in
sandstone and limestone with karst topography. Here also the
massif Serra de Monchique with the top Foia, 902 m above sea
level rises. The coast of Portugal consists of both rocky
coast and flat sandy beaches with dunes and beach lakes.
Portugal has a Mediterranean-like climate moderated by
the Atlantic, and hot days do not occur to the same extent
as on the Spanish south coast. The Azorean high pressure
results in a sunny, dry summer with only very low rainfall
from June to August. The low pressure over the North
Atlantic creates a mild and humid winter. In general, the
climate becomes more humid, rainier, cloudier and cooler to
the north. Snowfall occurs in winter inland and in higher
terrain in the north but is rare on the coast.
The average temperature in January is 11 °C in the
southwest and 7 °C in the northeast. The highest parts have
0 °C in January and here the snow cover can last for
several months. August is the warmest month with the average
temperature 18 °C on the coast and 20-25 °C inland.
The rainfall is generally 700–1000 mm per year and
reaches a maximum of 2,000–2,500 mm on the western sides of
the mountains. The poorest precipitation areas are located
furthest to the south and in the rain shadow in the Duero
Valley to the north and get below 400 mm.
Plant-and animal life
Portugal's nature is characterized by its proximity to
both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. The river Tejo
(Spanish Tajo), which flows into central Spain and
after a southwestern voyage opens into the Atlantic Ocean at
Lisbon, is usually used as a border in describing Portugal's
geography. North of Tejo, the country is dominated by a
series of mountain ridges and a more humid, rainier and
cooler climate, favoring more Central European plant and
animal species. The landscape is often small-scale as a
result of many smaller rural properties. South on Tejo, the
landscape is characterized by rolling plains with a larger
element of Mediterranean plants such as cork oak, fig and
olive (Olea europeaea, see olives). Here,
large-scale agricultural units dominate and the element of
drier steppe areas is significant, which leaves a mark on
wildlife and plant life.
Portugal's only national park, so far, Peneda-Gerês, is
located in the far north-west of Spanish Galicia. The
proximity to the Atlantic entails large amounts of
precipitation and the nutrient-poor bedrock with granite
creates good conditions for plants such as rock oak,
pyreneic oak (Quercus pyrenaica), cork oak, holly,
glass birch, heather, bell heather, one and pea thorn.
In addition to typical species such as deer, wild boar,
otters and wildcats, there are around 40 wolves and about
100 Iberian Capricorn are found within the national park.
Among the birds are pilgrim falcon, bivouac, snake eagle,
blue hawk, meadow hawk, alp crow and ortholan sparrow.
Lataste's viper (Vipera latastei) and Seoene's
viper (Vipera seoanei) are two unusual snakes. A
couple of real specialties are beeswax, gold striped
salamander (Chioglossa lusitanica) and Iberian
Emerald Lizard (Lacerta schreiberi), all endemic to
northwestern Portugal and Spain.
An old pony breed, garrano, lives wild in the borderlands
between the two countries and helps keep the landscape open.
Like so many other natural sites in southern Europe,
Peneda-Gerês is characterized by multi-millennial
agriculture and livestock management, but in line with rural
depopulation, nature is gaining more and more space.
Where the Spanish river Duero (Portuguese Douro)
meets Portugal and flows west towards the Atlantic coast and
the port city of Porto, the international nature park Douro
has been established. Dramatic canyon formation along the
river has created excellent nesting opportunities for black
stork and a wide range of birds of prey, mainly goose, dirt,
king eagle and hawk eagle. The dry and rainy climate creates
good conditions for Mediterranean plants such as olive
trees, stonecropsand cork oak. The region is one of the
country's most important centers for viticulture. In several
places along Douro, large dams have been built for
electricity generation, which of course had some negative
consequences for the natural values.
During the 1980s, an expansion of Côa, which is one of
the major tributaries to Douro from the south, was also
planned. During the preparation, the world's largest known
area with ancient historical rock carvings was discovered,
most from the period 40,000-10,000 BC. (older stone age). A
World Heritage Site was established in 1998 to safeguard the
unique historical and cultural values. The motifs on the
rock carvings are dominated by the animals that humans found
in their surroundings - uroxia, wild horse, Iberian
Capricorn and deer.
Along with Côa, a small local conservation organization,
ATN (Associação Transhumância e Natureza), has set
up Portugal's first private nature reserve, Faia-Brava. Here
one is restoring the nature that has been intensely overused
over the centuries with negative consequences for both
people (eg erosion) and nature. In line with the strong
depopulation of the countryside, land has been bought back
and parts of the original fauna with Iberian Capricorn,
deer, deer, wild horse and urox-like creature have been
reintroduced. Together with the Côadalen archaeological
park, it is planned to create a vibrant ancient landscape in
Serra da Estrela
In the middle of the north central part of Portugal lies
the Serra da Estrela mountain range and Portugal's largest
natural park (100,000 ha) of the same name. More than half
of the nature park is located over 700 m in height and here
is the highest mountain in the mainland (Torre, 1,993 m
above sea level). The area is the snowiest in Portugal.
The flora and fauna are rather poor species, but here are
otters, wildcats, European genets (ginger cat, Genetta
genetta, see genets) and the rare Iberian midwife
frog (Alyetes cisternasii). Among the birds
are black stork, meadow hawk, hookah and ortholan sparrow.
In the Berlenga Islands off the west coast of Portugal,
there are colonies of more than 10,000 nesting seabirds,
mainly the subspecies yellow-footed gray-tailed hawk (Larus
argentatus omissus) but also ocean runners (Oceanodroma
castro, the only known colony near mainland Europe),
yellow-billed lira and southernmost ancestry (Europe's
Where the river Tejo reaches Portugal, it runs through a
landscape of steep cliffs, macchia, evergreen oak forests
and steppe sections that form one of the country's most
important bird areas. The area has therefore been set aside
as an international nature park (Tejo) along with
neighboring parts of Spain. Here you will find Portugal's
only nesting site for gray sturgeon and important stocks of
black stork, black-winged happy, goose sting, dirt steamer,
snake eagle, king eagle, hawk eagle and dwarf eagle. Other
rare birds are white-beaked fly hen, red-necked nightcap (Caprimulgus
ruficollis), and black stonefish (Oenanthe leucura).
Where the Tejo River flows into the Atlantic Ocean,
adjacent to the capital Lisbon, an extensive delta country
has been formed. It is Portugal's largest wetland area and
is one of the most important in southwestern Europe. Delta
serves as an important rejuvenation area for seafood. It is
also a hub for migratory birds' trawls along the European
Atlantic coast. Occasionally, there are over 100,000 resting
birds, especially greyhound, ducks (winds and teal),
flamingos and waders (cutting spot, coastal pipers, red
spawning and marsh snap). Among the resident birds are white
stork, purple heron, silk heron, brown marsh hawk, stilt
runner and red-winged wad swallow.
Further south along the border with Spain is Moura,
another valuable natural area. The landscape is a mosaic of
heights overgrown with cork oak and stone oak, small-scale
farming and steppes where birds such as white and black
stork, black-winged happy, meadow hawk, cross-country, large
staircase, small staircase and thick foot (see thick feet)
thrive. Moura is Portugal's most important wintering site
for the crane.
The area is an extension of the Spanish mountain range
Sierra Morena, where Pantherlo has its last mounts in the
world. In 2010 it was possible to determine the return of
pantherlo to Portugal when a specimen was found in Moura,
the first in nine years. In order to help pantherlo back to
Portugal, a breeding plant has been set up in Silves in the
Algarve. The first kids were born in 2012.
In southeastern Portugal lies the Ria Formosa lagoon with
associated small islands and peninsulas, sand dunes,
beaches, wetlands, small canals, sweet waterways and salt
pools. A nature park has been set aside to guard the rich
bird life. Among the resident species are spoon stork, dwarf
tube room, purple hen, stilt runner, cutting spot (Recurvirostra
avosetta, see cutting spots), black-legged beach
pepper, red-winged wad swallow (Glareola pratincola,
see waders swallow) and small tern. During the winter
months, the lagoons are visited by thousands of individuals
of windy, flamingo,coastal pipers, larger beach pipers, red
poppies and roses.
Southeast Alentejano and Costa Vicentina
Southwestern Portugal houses one of the most scenic
coastal sections of the Portuguese mainland and has been
protected by the Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina
nature park. Here, the dunes from the Atlantic roll over
alternating long sandy beaches and rockier sections. Among
the bird life is Europe's only rock-nesting stock of white
stork, and until recently there was the last strain of
nesting osprey on the Iberian peninsula.
Island groups Madeira and the Azores belong to Portugal.
Together with the Canary Islands and Cape Verde Islands,
they form part of the biogeographic area of Macaronesia,
with subtropical rainforests dominated by different species
of stock trees and heather.
In Madeira, a large natural park has been set aside,
covering two-thirds of the island and is guarding the
world's largest continuous stock tree forests. Here you will
also find the rare Madeira Dove (Columba trocaz),
Canary Pepper (Anthus berthelotii) and Canary.
The main island Madeira with Ilhas Desertas, Porto Santo
and Ilhas Selvagens (halfway to the Canary Islands) is a
paradise for breeding waterfowl as Mourning Petrel (Bulweria
bulwerii), atlantpetrell (Pterodroma feae),
Zino's Petrel (Pterodroma Madeira), ocean runner,
white-faced storm petrel (Pelagodroma marine),
dwarf lira and less lira. Madeiraptrell is known only from
the main island, where no more than 50 pairs nest in the
central mountains, the world's only known colony.
The sea around the Madeira Archipelago offers excellent
conditions even for marine mammals. Ilhas Desertas still has
a colony of some 30 individuals of monk seal (see monk
seals), the world's rarest seal. The waters offer good
opportunities to experience many of the 30 species of
dolphins and other whales, including the whales. eagle pigs,
reptile dolphin (Stenella frontalis), striped
dolphin, dolphin, cascade, Bryde's whale, small- headed
whale (Ziphius cavirostris), Blainville's beak
whale and short-feathered whale (Globicephala
macrorhynchus, see gate whales).
The isolated Azores, consisting of nine volcanic islands
located halfway between Lisbon and Newfoundland, are
reminiscent of Madeira in many ways, although nature has
been less well treated. Today, for example, only about 5% of
the original stock forests. Among the more valuable species
is the rare Azorean bull (Pyrrhula murina) with its
only nesting site in the world on Mount Pico da Vara on the
island of São Miguel. Several of the islands also harbor the
day-active Azorian bat (Nyctalus azoreum) found
Otherwise, it is the sea and the coasts that have the
greatest natural values. All the islands have larger or
smaller colonies of yellow-billed lira and dwarf lira, while
ocean runners are more rare. Around the island of Graciosa
are also the only known nesting occurrences of Monteiro's
storm swallow (Oceanodroma monteiroi), which was
described as late as 2008 and is probably only here.
The underwater world is especially valuable with many
reserves set aside to strengthen protection. Here you will
find regular sea turtles, sharks, manta and about 20
different whales and dolphins. In early summer, blue whales
move past the Azores on their way to the North Atlantic.
Portugal (2012) has a national park, Peneda-Gerês in the
northernmost part of the country. In addition, there are a
number of so-called nature parks, which were created
primarily to protect the landscape. About 8% of the land
surface is protected, of the sea surface about 3%.