On the last day of November I had intended to go to Rocha da Pena but dark stratacumulus clouds hinted at rain and likely mist over the inland hills. The forecast was iffy, so I settled for a local stroll out to Praia de Barril in the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa close to Santa Luzia, a few kilometres west of Tavira.
Leaving the car, I could hear the roar of O Levante. I crossed the narrow, floating bridge and on to the Ilha de Tavira. Later in the day there would be the option of taking a tourist train to the beach but that would defeat the object of the visit. Until the nineteen-sixties this narrow gauge railway served an active fishing community.
It was early morning and out of season, so I had the kilometre path to myself. This must be one of the best short walks in the Algarve. I know nowhere better for viewing sapal (saltmarsh) and intersecting muddy creeks. Along this path, perhaps because they are never threatened, birds are more confiding. In winter, expect to see a Bluethroat and possibly a Hen Harrier quartering the marsh. The creeks attract a variety of shorebirds, egrets, herons and usually one or two Eurasian Spoonbills. Greater Flamingos often fly over. Distinctive Iberian Hares race through the low flora. Signs clearly indicate that dogs are not allowed, which is sensible on a nature trail but, of course, there are those who consider that such restrictions do not apply to them.
Around the Barril settlement there are stands of trees and during the migrations these act as bird magnets. Today as I crossed the dunes the seascape before me was majestic with impressive surf and in both directions, as far as the eye could see, vast empty and clean beaches. Just two hardy souls were trawling the shallows for cockles while a few loafing gulls looked on. Parties of Sanderlings scampered along the shoreline. On some days, out to sea, Northern Gannets can be watched plunge diving.
For a hundred and twenty years Barril was home to fishermen who lived there just to catch tuna. Their neat, whitewashed houses still stand and a few have been taken over for seasonal use. Even on this bleak morning it was possible to enjoy a coffee. Along the beachfront, countless anchors in the aptly named Cemitério das Âncoras once held mazes of tuna nets in place. The official line is that the tuna changed their migration pattern but I suspect it was simply a matter of overfishing rather than harvesting.
The best of a good range of birds on this morning was a large flock of continually manoeuvring European Golden Plovers. Against a dark background they looked truly golden.
Beyond Pedras D’el Rei towards the N125 it is worth stopping and looking at the large unfenced orchard of carob, almond and olive trees. Two of the olive trees with huge and partly hollow trunks are over 2,000 years old.
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