The signs say ‘Private’ but nobody in Portugal pays attention, least of all the owners. Quinta do Lago is an up-market holiday resort with its own golf course within sight but not exactly easy reach of the long Faro beach. There are two routes in for plebs: on foot or cycle. We assume the golfers arrive by car.
Our transport was the local bus from Faro that serves the airport and terminates at the bridge leading to the beach. There are bars and a couple of expensive restaurants for visitors; otherwise the place is home to fishermen. We had taken a picnic but were grateful for coffee and a ‘comfort stop’. After trudging back across the bridge we realised we could have eaten if not found comfort in two generous bird hides on the mainland.
After the airport the bus stops at Marchil, where a track leads through woods to the salt works, and at Ludo, where we took the track to Quinto do Lago. Either way in leads to the other and the paths are flat. The distance between the bus stops is perhaps one kilometre by road, four or five around the reserve. There is a sign at the Ludo entrance, which is 200 metres or so from the bus stop. The buses run to time so it is easy to judge when to head for the stop: a bonus is being able to see the bus go towards the beach and have time before it turns round for Faro.
On one side of the Ludo track is the lagoon: mud flats at low tide gradually covered by the rising water. Wading birds search there for small creatures to eat. On the other side is where the salt pans are drained, in part by streams but mainly by the sun. A different range of birds use this area, although with some overlap. There are also the non-wading or aquatic birds such as hoopoe and warblers. We failed to spot a hoopoe but were successful with Sardinian warblers. Otherwise there were plover, sanderling, little egret, and grey heron.
About half way along the track has an option to turn inland towards the salt works. We took this on a second visit but on the first came back along it. The first bird hide is at a second junction; from there you can continue into Quinto do Lago or turn right on the lower of two paths along the edge of the golf course. (The upper path is strictly private, though why when the two later converge is hard to make out.)
Opposite the golf course, with a view of the holiday complex as well as another building site in the distance, is a freshwater lake. There is a two-storey bird hide, with identification charts – very helpful.
A friend had driven past our home a few months ago in search of the purple gallinule, less romantically called swamp hen. It had been spotted at Minsmere. For his one we had a close view of several – not that they can be missed. Had one featured in ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ the line would have been “What big feet you have, Grandma.” We saw one clamber all over some terrapins and a family of pochard.
The site isn’t only for golf and bird watching. As in many places, the Romans built salt pans, and the remains of theirs are visible by an information board. Not much further and we came to the enormous modern equivalent, and the real wonder of the day. A huge flock of flamingoes had colonised the salt pans. There must have been at least two hundred. A little further on we noticed a spoonbill.
There was little more we could have wanted – only a hoopoe, but we had seen these on another holiday. Past the mounds of salt we found the track back and were in good time for a bus back to Faro.