Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Ebro days, sparring harriers, dashing falcons and 1000s of flamingoes

Ebro Delta (red marker) location
So I've just spent the best part of a week on the Ebro Delta and everything is running smoothly and going more or less to plan. The weather has been great in terms of temperature - have had me shorts on, less brilliant for migrating birds with persistent westerly winds in between no wind at all. 
Ebro Delta from above
The mighty Ebro river drains nearly all of northern Spain so the huge deposits of silt that get deposited here means that the delta is constantly changing shape from one year to the next. Totally flat, fit to bursting with saltmarsh, lagoons, rice fields and lots of mud its 320sq kilometers represent one of the most important wetland areas in the whole of Spain and with designated reserves both north and south of the river it's a birdwatcher's paradise, lots of  - so well worth a week of my time.

The most obvious thing I noticed from day 1 here were the relatively large numbers of Audouin's Gulls. On the serious decline not so very long ago with a worldwide population down to a 1000 pairs, they've bounced back really well here in their native stronghold and I make no excuses for posting lots of pics of these beautiful creatures - and I'm not that big into Gulls!

Audouin's Gull, Ebro Delta, 08/03/2017

Audouin's Gull, Ebro Delta, 09/03/2017

Audouin's Gull, Ebro Delta, 09/03/2017

Audouin's Gull, Ebro Delta, 09/03/2017
Audouin's Gull, Ebro Delta, 12/03/2017

Audouin's Gull, Ebro Delta, 12/03/2017

I've seen some info that points to 15,000 pairs now on the Ebro alone so that's some come back! That last one is clearly ringed so probably worth chasing up its origin when I have time.

Spotted Redshank, El Garxal, Ebro, 08/03/2017
So, what else have I seen? Plenty that's what! Stacks of waders with Dunlin, Sanderling, Ringed & Grey Plovers well into the 1000s. 100s of Little Stint, Greenshank and surprisingly large numbers of Spotted Redshank with at least one flock of 80+
A Purple Swamphen that turned up in Lincolnshire last year caused a right twitch I seem to remember. I made a pathetic effort to see it but knew I wouldn't have got any sort of view, certainly not the way you do here ...

Purple Swamphen, Riet Vel, Ebro, 11/03/2017
Purple Swamphen, El Garxal, Ebro, 07/03/2017

This one walked right in front of one of the hides and in a variety of suitable habitats they too seem to be doing really well here. They're big, and as you can see, head and shoulders over our more familiar Common Moorhen.

Purple Swamphen & Common Moorhen, Riet Vel, Ebro, 11/03/2017

Marsh Harrier, Punta de la Banya, Ebro, 10/03/2017
Not seen another Hen Harrier since I was in  France but there's no shortage Marsh Harriers here, I watched this one glide up the side of a saltpan out on the Trabucador spit.

Marsh Harrier, Punta de la Banya, Ebro, 10/03/2017
Marsh Harrier v Peregrine, L'Embut, Ebro, 11/03/2017
Territorial they are too, one day I witnessed a pair defend their patch against first a Peregrine, then a passing Osprey and then a Buzzard! All a bit distant and high up in the sky, but you get the sense of it I think ....

Marsh Harrier v Peregrine, L'Embut, Ebro, 11/03/2017

Marsh Harrier v Peregrine, L'Embut, Ebro, 11/03/2017

Marsh Harrier v Buzzard, L'Embut, Ebro, 11/03/2017

Marsh Harrier v Buzzard, L'Embut, Ebro, 11/03/2017

Marsh Harrier v Osprey I didn't quite capture, mainly because the Osprey wasn't that bothered - too keen to move on maybe and possibly a passage bird rather than a local, but I got him ok!

Osprey, L'Embut, Ebro, 11/03/2017
Not much in it but I found the southern side of the delta was marginally better for birds and ease of watching them. The most southerly point hosts a big salt factory, huge salt pans and a bird reserve (Punta de la Banya) that is closed to the public but some viewing can be had from a hide on the beach and the whole lot is accessed via a broad sandy track that looks perilous but is totally drivable.

This is where I found the highest concentration of Audouin's Gulls, associated Slender Billed Gulls and Yellow Legged Gulls. There's also a huge colony of breeding Greater Flamingoes out there (I estimated appx 3000!)

Greater Flamingoes, Punta de la Banya, 09/03/2017

Greater Flamingoes, Punta de la Banya, 09/03/2017
Out here, whilst I was just tucking into a cheese and chorizo roll, a sudden commotion amongst all the gulls on the beach and right in the middle of them a big female Peregrine Falcon chasing what looked like a Guillemot. She caught up with it, caught it (wow I said to myself, spitting bits of chorizo on the sand!) - the gulls, mainly Lesser Black Backs I think were on the falcon immediately, surrounding it and forced it to drop the poor Guillemot into the sea where it was in turn pounced upon by the marauding gulls! Frustrating for the falcon and out of the frying and into the fire for the auk ... maybe that's why gulls are one of the most successful birds on the planet? An amazing sight for me if not a little frustrating too because if it weren't for my mealtime distractions I might have got a shot off.

I stayed the night out there on the beach, just me, a couple of overnight fishermen and 1000s of gulls & flamingoes. In the morning there was a heavy mist and the sandy track back up to the delta proper looked like this ...
Sandy access track on the 'Trabucador' spit, Ebro, 10/03/2017

Ok, so I'm suddenly aware of how many pics I took on the Ebro and if I'm not careful this post will stretch into a whole episode, so here are the rest of the pics from Punta de la Banya and the rest of my stay on the Ebro Delta ... 

Salt Factory, Punta dela Banya, Ebro

Walking down the beach beyond the salt factory, Punta de la Banya

The van's berth for the night, outside salt factory gates, 09/03/2017

An ugly sight on the beach, big fish (Tuny?)

Not the best pic of a Merlin, but any pic in flight is worth the effort, Punta de la Banya, 09/03/207
 So many Grey Herons on the Ebro, all getting on with nesting and flocks of 20+ overhead not uncommon.
Grey Herons overhead, Ebro, 11/03/2017

Grey Heron with nesting material, L'Embut, Ebro, 11/03/2017

Grey Herons, L'Embut, Ebro, 11/03/2017

Grey Heron with nesting material, L'Embut, Ebro, 11/03/2017
Osprey with fish, L'Encannyissada, Ebro, 11/03/2017
The same or another Osprey, this time with fish and of course then come the ever watchful gulls but this hawk wasn't letting go!

Osprey with fish, L'Encannyissada, Ebro, 11/03/2017
 At Riet Vel, a small eco farm reserve on the delta I got lucky with a Penduline Tit

Penduline Tit, Riet Vel, Ebro, 11/03/2017
 A couple of landscapes from one of the newly created reserves on the delta, Aigumolls L'Embut .. still evolving but they've done a great job here I think.
L'Embut, Ebro, 11/03/2017

L'Embut, Ebro, 11/03/2017
These next 3 are all from a semi successful trip out to the extreme north of the delta - I was trying to find a small reserve called I'lla de Mar but got lost among the various tracks. Found some good wet rice fields though ...
Common Snipe, nr Platje de Marquessa, Ebro, 12/03/2017

Little Ringed Plover, nr Platje de Marquessa, Ebro, 12/03/2017

Water Pipit, nr Platje de Marquessa, Ebro, 12/03/2017
A few more pics and then I'm done for now, my next post will cover my stops en route south to what will be my final destination around El Fondo. Species count to date is 145, not bad but I'll do very well to get 200!

Great Crested Grebes, L'Embut, Ebro, 11/03/2017

Song Thrush, yes still quite a few of them around, El Garxal, 11/03/2017

Nr Encannyissada, Ebro, 09/03/2017

View from the hide at Encannyissada, 09/03/2017

Dragonfly sp, suggestions please! top of the hide at L'Embut first thing in the morning, 11/03/2017

Little Ringed Plovers, El Garxal, 12/03/2017

Swallowtail Butterfly, among the sand dunes nr El Garxal, 08/03/2017

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Escaping wet, wild & windy France for the tranquil peace of Emporda

So I've made it into Spain at last, way behind any schedule I may have aspired to and already I've had to accept that my travels will not take me any further than somewhere south of Valencia - its not worth chasing about and a leisurely 3 weeks on the east coast of Spain in Spring is the best option I have after my various disruptions.

I've already made it down to the Ebro Delta but that I'm saving for my next post. My first Spanish destination is the wetlands of Emporda, deep into Catalan country.

The weather all the way from Saint Flour into southern France was totally dire, I'd wanted to stop around Perpignan but it was cold, raining and very windy so I didn't bother. I pressed on, skirting the Pyrenees at Perthus and into Spain. The Aiguamolls d'Emporda in Cataluna is one of the best wetland areas in northern Spain. Last time I was here was just a fleeting visit en route to Ebro, I was impressed then, so gave the place a good couple of days this time around.

Corn Bunting, nr Empuriabrava, 04/03/17
Farmland nr Empuriabrava
After a grueling 4 hr drive all I wanted to do was stop the van, have a cup of tea and get my feet up - so that's just what I did (one of many benefits of campervan!). Anywhere will do and I found myself in a patch of typical Spanish farmland just outside Empuriabrava. Couldn't rest, had to walk and was straight into singing Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps, Cattle Egrets, Crested Larks, Corn Buntings, Meadow Pipits and huge flocks of House Sparrows - nothing special, just lots of birds and in sharp contrast to the neat and tidy, intensively farmed fields in the UK. Fat chance of it ever happening but a bit more mess around our farms and farmland and we might get our flocks of Sparrows and Corn Buntings back.
Farmland nr Empuriabrava

Farmland nr Empuriabrava

Farmland nr Empuriabrava

Farmland nr Empuriabrava

Farmland nr Empuriabrava - old style irrigation methods

Wild flower fields nr Empuriabrava with the Pyrenees in the background

Later on I found a good overnight for the van in a car park next to the beach at San Pescadore and took a walk down the beach. Earlier on, the Pyrenees, an ever present force on the skyline around here were looking serene and majestic but come late afternoon a huge thunderstorm with lots of fork lightning made for some great light for these wader shots ....

Dunlin & Grey Plover, San Pere Pescadore, 04/03/17

Dunlin, San Pere Pescadore, 04/03/17

Throughout the day and alerted by their constant calling, I'd had several flocks of Common Cranes heading north high overhead. This small flock made it over the Pyrenees ok but a similar sized group an hour later hit the storm and I watched them make a swift u turn!

Common Cranes, very high & northward bound, over Empuriabrava, 04/03/17

Estany de Vilaut, 05/03/17
Next day and the day after I did the two main birding sites in the area - El Cortalets and Estany de Vilaut. The former being the main, visitor centre type thing, and the later the more wild wet fieldy sort of thing!

Estany de Vilaut, 05/03/17

El Cortaletts, 06/03/17
Cracking birding without anything megatastic at both, lots of ducks including Wigeon & Pintail and Greylag Goose is always a good record for Spain. About 10 Water Pipits, lots of Water Rail, White Stork, Black Tailed Godwit, Green Sandpiper and a pair of Egyptian Goose mating whilst I was snapping some nice male Shoveller were some highlights.

Mating Egyptian Geese, El Cortalets, 06/03/17

White Storks, El Cortaletts, 06/03/17

Grey Herons coming into roost, Estany de Vilaut, 05/03/17

White Storks into roost, Estany de Vilaut, 05/03/17
 El Cortalet has to have one of the highest and most spectacular bird hides ever ...
Bird hide at El Cortalett with the Pyrenees as a backdrop!

In one of the other hides there I was buzzed by this bee, big black thing I don't know the name of but probably quite common around here ...

Bee species, El Cortaletts, 06/03/17

Cattle Egret with frog, Estany de Vilaut, 05/03/17

Northern Shoveller, El Cortaletts, 06/03/17

Pintail, El Cortaletts, 06/03/17

Marsh Harrier, El Cortaletts, 06/03/17
Although its nice and warm by UK standards and lots of sun, Spring is only just beginning even here ... some but not a profusion of wild flowers, some but not clouds of butterflies and only the odd Swallow every now and then. Not a single Yellow Wagtail or any warbler other than Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Sardinian and ubiquitous Zitting Cisticolla. No worries, its good to wait!