Covering around 180,000 hectares, the Ria Formosa Natural Park is home to birds, reptiles and even mammals
Located in the eastern Algarve, the Ria Formosa Natural Park lagoon lures in tourists from all over the world and it has also been named one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal, capturing the hearts of those who visit it. And Craig Rogers is no different. The nature photographer began visiting the Algarve when he was only 10 years old, but it wasn’t until 2016 that he decided to move from his home town of Bedwas in South Wales, UK, to the parish of São Marcos da Serra, in the municipality of Silves. “I fell in love with the country, the people and the culture,” he says.
Although he has been photographing nature for about 20 years, it wasn’t until he moved to southern Portugal that it became his full-time job. One of the places where he might spend most of his time, getting to know the many different wild species that make it up, is the Ria Formosa Natural Park. For the Welshman, this natural park is “perfect”, as it houses “so many different species both on land and in the water in a single place, which can be seen in just one trip there. It’s different from everything else in the Algarve’s southern coast”. In fact, one of the lagoon’s most unique characteristics relates to the fact that it has one of the largest concentrations of seahorses in the world. But that is not all — according to Rogers, there is a large variety of fowl, from birds of prey such as the wintering osprey, as well as greater flamingos, “which walk around with their strange beaks so they can eat with their heads down in the water”.
The photographer struggles to pick the species he finds more beautiful, however, “capturing a glossy ibis in the right angle in the sunlight is amazing, because, as the name suggests, their coloured feathers have a glossy shine which perfectly reflects the sunshine”. Rogers also highlights the common kingfisher, which can be sighted regularly on the Ria Formosa Natural Park. As for the most interesting species, he says he would probably pick seahorses. However, since he has not yet “spent enough time with them”, his current choice is the Eurasian otter, although they are harder to spot. “Everywhere you walk in Ludo, for example, you can see bits of evidence and marks of their activity, but it is rare to actually find these shy mammals. Winter is a better time to see them, as they are more likely to leave during the day,” he explains.
But the splendour of the Ria Formosa Natural Park can be enjoyed beyond winter. “The lagoon is constantly evolving and changing throughout the year and there is always something happening. Whether it’s the fiddler crabs emerging when the water is above 15 degrees, or the many migrating birds in spring and autumn who stop by to take a break on their journey — there’s always something to see,” says Craig Rogers. In fact, the natural park is one of the many reasons why tourists visit the southernmost region of Portugal. “There are lots of birds, for example, that are on the lists of species to be registered for nature lovers, who can see them all here in a single trip — greater flamingos, spoonbills and glossy ibis are amongst the favourites for plenty of birdwatchers.”
For his part, the Welshman says he does not have a favourite species to shoot: “I enjoy shooting several at specific times. For example, I like to photograph flamingos at sunrise with the light behind them. The morning light adds something special to their pink and white tones.”
For those just starting out in the art of photography and have chosen the Ria Formosa Natural Park to experiment, Rogers leaves a few suggestions: “Coincide visits with tidal changes, usually when it starts to come down. I found that it’s a time with a lot more activity because, as the tide lowers, it leaves food and prey exposed,” he reveals. “Of course sunrise and sunset are also magical times, not only because of the fantastic light, but also because some species, particularly birds, are returning or leaving to the places where they spend their nights. Watching a flock of glossy ibis flying near sunset is incredible. Or, during winter, you can find me strolling around for hours watching and taking photos of the beautiful ospreys, which choose to spend the colder season in the Ria Formosa Natural Park. Watching them swoop down and catch a fish out of water in Ludo is fantastic.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Craig Rogers had to suspend all of his open workshops, and is now readjusting them in hopes of starting again soon and in new locations. However, the photographer still provides workshops for just one or two people as well as private group sessions. The location can be anywhere in the Algarve or the Lower Alentejo region, including homes. For groups, the standard price is €45 individually, while sessions for only one person cost €80. He can also hold three-hour workshop sessions to cover certain areas, or guests have the option of dividing them into parts. The prices for these sessions start at €36 per person. Those interested in purchasing one of Craig’s photos can do so for €20 and upwards. He has his own printing studio at home, which allows him to produce large-scale photos, with or without frame. Finally, there are also special and limited issues, such as a massive canvas of a specific view to be displayed in any home.