Terrain shapes and bedrock
According to 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 landscape.
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 modern vintage.
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 southernmost).
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 only here.
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%.