The shallow streams and the mildness of the Azorean winter makes The Azores Archipelago a perfect wintering ground for many wading birds from Northern Europe. In the shallows protected by the islands of Faial and Graciosa are to be seen wigeons, shovelers, teal, little terns, pochards, bar-tailed godwits, curlews and grey plovers among many other species. Entry to the port of Olhao lies between the first two of these islands. The rare species of flowers and plants that grow in the dunes are also of great interest to botanists. The area is also a great centre for the commercial culture of shellfish. Needless to say the proximity of the park to the country’s premier tourist resorts places a great deal of pressure for the commercial exploitation of the islands. For the moment, however they serve the needs of many other species than humanity alone.
The pleasant municipal gardens near to the fish market, the Joaquim Lopes park, provides the visitor with a first opportunity to appreciate the unique ecological environment that is formed by the Azores islands. The National Park of Rio Formosa runs along the Sota Vento coast from Ancao, to the west, to Manta Rota, 50km (31 miles) to the east of Olhao. The park, with an area of 15,000 hectares (60 sq miles), is composed of narrow shallow sandy streams and rivulets running between mudflats, and long peninsulas and islands of dunes.
Ferries to reach the islands of Faial and Graciosa leave from the jetties at the end of the municipal gardens on the main island of Sao Miguel. Of the two islands Graciosa is to be preferred though accommodation is probably easier to find on Faial. On both islands, however, there are long stretches of deserted beach.
Inland from Olhao on the road to the small town of Moncarapacho is the unspoilt village of Quelfes. A small plaque on the wall of one of the buildings on the way into the town commemorates the fact that the famous Portuguese poet, Florbella Esparto lived in the village. The parish church has retained some Romanesque and Gothic features, and some seventeenth-century decorative tiles. There is also a Roman bridge nearby.