My Feathered Friends

Today was all about the birds. 13th November 2019. And it prompted me to look through some of my other recent, avian memories of Portugal as I speed into Spain.

You can’t really see them, but this gorgeous tree in Vila Nova de Milfontes was home to hundreds

I was up on the roof today in Vila Nova de Milfontes (western Portugal) at 5.30am (that’s my favourite place to go on waking, wherever I am, if possible) doing my tai chi and yoga and standing around like a tree, as you do, when a wee gaggle of sparrows joined me. Lightly they hopped, pecking with their tiny pointed beaks between the ground mosaic for tid bits.

Clear signs of webbed beachcombers

I sat down to meditate and a ringed dove came a-paddling. She dipped her head every now and then to drink from the previous night’s rainwater. Pale grey with a black choker, she was tinged with pink and very pretty. I didn’t spoil the time by reaching for the camera – just enjoyed it.

Today I listened to the dawn chorus drowning out the school kids. A week earlier it was the starlings who entertained me outside the hostel window, while I watched four, then six, then eight egrets foraging in a faraway field.

While I waited for the second bus later in Lisbon, I visited the Zoological Gardens (a stone’s throw from the Seite Rios bus and train station. The entrance is guarded by these pair of handsome eagles.

Eagles guarding the front gates of the Zoological Gardens in Lisbon, Portugal

Sitting across the water from me, my green tea and pastel de nata was a heron, just like he was the first time I visited two months ago. Like a humfy old man in a great coat, he stood patiently.

Heron, Zoological Gardens in Lisbon, Portugal

Lodging my rucksack in the cafe-staff locker room, I took a walk under now Autumn trees and moving cages with happy boys in them, waving, to the seagull side of the lake. She too was bathing intermittently.

Although not in this photo

And then I heard this whistling! It was so loud and repetitive that I thought for a moment it was a machine or recording, but after some investigation I found the parrots.

I watched and listened for ages: some were completely scarlet right up under the roof and they skweeked; smaller green, yellow and pink ones squwarked while crowding next to each other on a branch, one helping himself to the green leaves hanging out of his brother’s beak (no hard feelings!).

And then this beauty came to eyeball me. I had been interested in her talons before (four per claw) which were large, but able to delicately hold the thinnest of twigs (the thickness of a blade of grass) while she bit off sections one at a time with her hooked beak and crunched it.

Now here she was using both feet and mouth to manœuvre into place and cling to the fence not more that 6 inches in front of me, so that these photos are real size. Positioning herself so that her eye was in a gap, she silently observed me.

I was being shown her belly, the soft, downy grey with spectacular tail feathers underneath. While her sisters hooted over the other side, she kept me in her sights, but didn’t talk back.

A pair of mallards, Zoological Gardens, Lisbon
Free range ducks, Almograve

These ducks were white balls, sound asleep until a rowdy truck disturbed one.

A deserted beach, just me and a pair of waders.
Information board along the Rota Vicentina, western Portugal

I was mesmerised by a falcon amidst a flock of much smaller birds in Carrapateira. They seemed to be surrounding and then flying straight at him. Occasionally, he separated and made dive bombs, but minutes later he was caught up with the swarm again. Were they trying to warn him off?

Silves storks

Storks can be found all over the Algarve, particularly the Silves area where I had a perfect view of them gathering in the early mornings down by the river.

Stork, Silves

They perch on their massive nests which are balanced on top of poles, turrets and church spires.

Unusual ocean setting for a stork

However, I was astonished to see one so close to the sea at Cabo Sardao.

Storks on Japanese ceramic, Tanzan Kotoge, 2015, Museo de Zaragoza
The motorway insersection I crossed from Seite Rios to the Zoological Gardens, Lisbon

My final memory is of swimming in a swirling sea, rocks all around me, when an oyster catcher plopped in just a little way away. I think I must be getting stiller for these birds don’t seem to be frightened and come surprisingly close. It’s a joy.

This was the setting but I didn’t have my camera in there for obvious reasons, so you’ll just have to believe me!

Portuguese Walking Routes 1

Early November 2019 and there are lots of hikers on this most beautiful trail.

The beach at Zambujeira do Mar

At Cabo Sardao for example, there were 11 in 5 minutes – in groups of 2, 5 and 4. A single walker and a pair spotted this morning on the beach at Zambujeira do Mar. Ranging from German to American, there are similar gatherings in cafes and hostels at the end of each stage that you would expect on the Camino.

The Ferrol (lighthouse) at Cabo Sardao

1. Rota Vicentina

The trails run from Cabo San Vicente to Porto Covo, or vice versa : 350 kms in total, each stage is 12-22 kms in length.

Path on top of the cliffs, close to Almograve

Map of the route

Beach at Carrapateira

The Rota Vicentina consists of two major routes (GR), the Historical Way and the Fishermen’s Trail, which contain 24 circular routes totaling 740 km!

Beach at Carrapateira

You can be creative in choosing your route – the whole thing or part of it – to suit you, your physical capacity and time availability.

The two grand routes are divided by sections, which vary between 11 and 33 km. If you were to complete all of the sections at the rate of one per day, you would need the same number of days as there are sections that make up the Rota Vicentina.

Circular Routes are shorter, ranging from 4 to 16 km in length.

Ideally, you would prepare yourself before departure and take water and groceries with you for the day of walking, since not all sections cross places with coffee shops and / or grocery stores.

At most start and end of stage points, you will have no problem purchasing groceries. Check each village to see what they offer by way of food and drink.

The centre of Zambujeira do Mar
Zambujeira do Mar under the moon

Both the Fishermen’s Trail and the Historical Way have clear signs in both directions.

Fishermans Trail

Mostly by the sea, the Fishermen’s Trail travels along the trails used by the locals to access the beaches and fishing grounds. It is a single track walkable only on foot, along the cliffs, with lots of sand and therefore more demanding from the physical point of view. A challenge to permanent contact with the wind of the sea, the rudeness of the coastal landscape and the presence of a wild and persistent nature.

Official website

I booked it ahead, very easy as they all on booking.com, but I didn’t need to. I got the details from the rota vicentina website which is very good, but there was more accommodation than shown on the site and in most places you have a choice of near empty hotels.’ John Hayes

John Hayes Walks website, in English, with accounts of each day in Spring time.