A large diversity of natural and unnatural habitats (resulting from a millennia-old human intervention on the land) makes possible the existence of an unique vegetation mosaic, hosting many animal species.
The Côa River crosses two areas from the Natura 2000 network: the Special Protection Area (SPA) of Vale do Côa and the Site of Community Importance (SCI) of Malcata. In the north, where the hilly valley shows many rocky outcrops that are ideal for rupicolous birds, it is also classified as an Important Bird Area, by BirdLife International.
These institutional recognitions reveal the potential of this region for the practice of birdwatching. Here one can find more than 130 species, some of which are specially worth to mention: small forest and agricultural birds such as the datford warbler (Sylvia undata), the eurasian bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) and the golden oriole (Oriolus oriolus); aquatic birds such as the great crested grebe (Podiceps cristatus); emblematic birds of prey, such as the Bonelli's eagle (Aquila fasciata), the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), the Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) and the cinereous vulture (Aegypius monachus).
Egyptian vulture, Bonelli's eagle, european greenfinch and bullfinch, photos by João Cosme
The Natural Park of Malcata hosts around 218 species of vertebrates, among which the iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus). The lynx was the basis for the creation of the Reserve and for the conservation plan currently underway. This plan has the goals of recovering and protecting its habitat, of increasing the population of rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), its prey, and in this way, of promoting conditions for the return of this threatened species.
Iberian lynx, photo by ICNF
At the Faia Brava Reserve, several studies point to the existence of 151 species of vertebrates, 40 species of spiders and 130 species of insects. Recently, for conservation purposes, two species were re-introduced — garrano horses and maronesa cows. Now they inhabit the reserve in a semi-wild condition, accomplishing the function of big herbivorous in the management of the vegetation cover, since the progressive human abandonment results in the development of large low bushes, which in turn work as an organic fuel in wildfires.
Mammals such as the fox (Vulpes vulpes) and carnivorous animals such as the marten (Martes foina) or the genet (Genetta genetta) are common in both protected areas, usually found in places with a dense vegetation cover. It is worth mentioning the wild-cat (Felis silvestris), an elusive species that has been detected on photo trapping cameras at the Faia Brava Reserve.
Otter, genet, viperine snake and fire salamander, photos by João Cosme and Fernando Romão (genet).
Due to the web of ponds and affluents of Côa, there are amphibians and reptiles in abundance, such as the fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra), the viperine snake (Natrix maura) and the Mediterranean turtle (Mauremys leprosa).
On the river slopes the mediterranean cultures such as the vineyard, the olive tree or the almond tree are dominant, usually complemented with sheep and goat herding. Centuries of human activity, specially related with the primary sector, had a strong impact on the landscape and ond the vegetation cover of the Côa valley. Long decades of intensive soil usage for cereal cultivation and the practice of opening grazing lands through fire promoted the growing of a low and shrubby vegetation and compromised the native forest.
Therefore, the low shrubs of spanish broom (Cytisus multiflorus), retama (Retama spherocarpa), brown-eyed rockrose (Cistus ladanifer), dog-rose (Rosa canina) and wild berry (Rubus sp.) are dominant. Namely in the Natural Reserve of Malcata, there are patches of common heather (Calluna vulgaris) and high thickets composed of pyrenean oak (Quercus pyrenaica), strawberry-tree (Arbutus unedo) and holm oak (Quercus rotundifolia).
The Faia Brava Reserve is part of the Forest Intervention Area of Algodres and Vale de Afonsinho. The reserve is characterized by the largest oak grove in the Guarda district, composed mostly by cork oak (Quercus suber) and holm oak (Quercus rotundifolia), but also of portuguese oak (Quercus faginea).
On the bottom of the Côa valley one can find important species such as the mapple (Acer monspessulanum), the prickly juniper (Juniperus oxicedrus) and the spine tree (Prunos spinosa). Along the river lines many ash (Fraxinus angustifolia), nettle tree (Celtis australis) and poplar (Popullus sp.) are present.
Lavander, prickly juniper, poplar , turpentine tree e tamujo. photos by Alice Gama
NOT TO BE MISSED
Cork Oak of Vinhal de Serrão, a tree which is more than 500 years old. Classified as object of public interest and protected by law. To be visited at the Faia Brava Reserve.
Based on information from www.icnf.pt, Associação Transumância e Natureza and book Atlas of Fauna of the Côa Valley.
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