Saturday 14th April 2018
EBRO DELTA, SPAIN - WONDERFUL WETLAND BIRDING
Saturday 14th April - Tuesday 17th April 2018
The group met mid-morning for our flight down to Reus which took off on time and a brief two hours later, we touched down to slightly murky weather.
After collecting our bags and picking up our minibus we headed out of the airport noting our first PALLID SWIFTS as they flew low over the terminal building plus COMMON HOUSE MARTINS, COMMON WOOD PIGEONS, EURASIAN COLLARED DOVES and HOUSE SPARROWS.
We were soon on our way southwards towards the Ebro Delta and once off the main motorway we headed to a quiet spot on a small track. Immediately we came across a flock of GLOSSY IBIS in a ploughed field and in a roadside ditch we watched BLACK-WINGED STILTS, COMMON SANDPIPER and a smart-looking COMMON GREENSHANK.
Moving slowly along the track, we made more stops to look at LITTLE RINGED PLOVERS, WESTERN CATTLE EGRETS and LITTLE EGRETS which frequented the reed-fringed ditches. Reaching a large lagoon, it took us a while to exit the van as there was so much going on. SQUACCO HERONS flew past whilst GREY and PURPLE HERONS were seen also in flight.
We spent time at a lagoon which held several pairs of RED-CRESTED POCHARD, whilst at least two CASPIAN TERNS and four WHISKERED TERNS fed nearby. From a small hide we found a distant WESTERN SWAMPHEN as it clambered around reeds on the far shore and two first year GREATER FLAMINGO’S fed in the shallow waters.
Small numbers of YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS came in for a wash and brush up before heading back to the sea. With time getting on we made our way to one last stop, checking the drainage ditch as we drove and finding a couple of WOOD SANDPIPERS, COMMON REDSHANK and a brief sighting of a smart WESTERN YELLOW WAGTAIL of the race iberiae.
Reaching the edge of a large coastal lagoon, a quick scan revealed at least 700 GREATER FLAMINGO plus a stunning pink-flushed SLENDER-BILLED GULL, seen just offshore.
It was time to retrace our steps to the main road and a short while later we reached the main town of Deltebre, where a brief stop was made to pick up water. Whilst in the carpark, several adult AUDOUIN’S GULLS drifted over.
Our base for the tour was just a short drive away and we spent time settling in before meeting for a pre-dinner drink, followed by our evening meal which went down very well.
Afterwards we headed outside and almost immediately heard a calling SCOP’S OWL in the trees surrounding the main building, a great end to the day!
Sunday 15th April 2018
Some of the group met just before sunrise for a stroll in the hotel grounds which was pretty productive with up to three SQUACCO HERONS flying around the hotel pond along with five BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERONS.
HOUSE SPARROWS were very common and with some patience, we managed to locate a single male EURASIAN BLACKCAP plus COMMON CHIFFCHAFF in the Tamarisks.
A high-pitched call revealed the presence of a male EURASIAN PENDULINE TIT which was eventually tracked down to the top of a Black Poplar where it showed briefly.
With the sun coming through, the first waves of GLOSSY IBIS flew over and on the restaurant roof sat a pair of AUDOUIN’S GULLS which took off soon after.
It was then time for breakfast which was very good with a large selection of food. The coffee was excellent especially when the machine was mastered!
A while later we were loaded up and on our way through the delta to an organic farm run by the SEO, the Spanish equivalent of the RSPB. The volunteers were incredibly helpful with information and we were soon birding the vegetable garden, where an adult male EUROPEAN PIED FLYCATCHER, COMMON WHITETHROAT and EUROPEAN SERIN fed along with one or two vicious Mosquitos that were feeding on us!
EURASIAN TREE SPARROWS flitted in and amongst the Poplars we saw another EUROPEAN PIED FLYCATCHER and WILLOW WARBLER which sang briefly from the top before flying into thicker scrub.
We reached the farm and in an adjacent field, fifteen WESTERN SWAMPHENS were noted, a stunning sight! Overhead, a single COLLARED PRATINCOLE was seen in flight with a group of PALLID SWIFTS.
From the superb Swarovski sponsored hide we spent the next hour or so just mesmerised by the number of birds. GLOSSY IBIS flew to and fro with several birds next to the hide, where we could appreciate why they were named so.
COMMON and WHISKERED TERNS flitted over the water and the low water levels attracted PIED AVOCET, two CURLEW SANDPIPERS, RUFF, WOOD and COMMON SANDPIPERS and the ever present BLACK-WINGED STILT.
WESTERN SWAMPHENS stomped through the water in search of food and it was great to see such a rich variety of birds all in one place, so good that we didn’t really want to leave.
But with many places to visit we left the hide and visited the centre, where we bought local rice and other souvenirs before driving a short distance to another lagoon. Our journey produced two flocks of COLLARED PRATINCOLES which unfortunately didn’t land and as we drove along the road, a stunning PURPLE HERON was spotted right by the road where it still showed amazingly well!
The saltmarsh type habitat held up to five KENTISH PLOVER whilst on the deeper lagoons were lots of GREATER FLAMINGO and our first large groups of AUDOUIN’S GULLS.
Using the van as a hide, we managed to get some great views of this gull and we estimated at least 800 birds were present. The Ebro Delta holds around 70% of the world population of this scarce and beautiful gull and it made quite a sight as they came back and forwards to their nests.
The sea-pools held a few waders namely PIED AVOCETS, DUNLIN, COMMON REDSHANK, COMMON GREENSHANK and COMMON SANDPIPERS as we drove slowly along the road. A stop at a watchpoint enabled us to see several MEDITERRANEAN GULLS, a bird which has only colonised the area in the last twenty years or so.
A few CASPIAN TERNS fished along the shoreline whilst GREAT EGRETS fed in the shallower waters. We then took a break at a visitor centre where it was good to get out of the sun and brisk wind. With lunchtime approaching we drove to another area where some had lunch overlooking a lagoon. This held around 400 RED-CRESTED POCHARDS, GREAT EGRET, WESTERN MARSH HARRIERS, MEDITERRANEAN GULLS, ZITTING CISTICOLA, WHISKERED TERNS and more AUDOUIN’S GULLS. Lunch was a huge affair and we weren’t going to go hungry!
We birded another spot but it was rather quiet so we retraced our steps from our morning session, trying to find some new species for the tour. With the sun now moved round, the light was much better to the east and on some small islands we found a roosting group of WHIMBREL plus a single GREY PLOVER and a little further on, a LITTLE STINT foraged on the muddy shoreline.
A WATER RAIL was spotted briefly before disappearing into the saltmarsh but despite a good search, it failed to show again. The light was now fantastic for visiting the eastern side of the delta and we made the short drive to a productive area only to find the road closed as the river Ebro had burst its banks and flooded the road!
The journey there yielded a couple of GULL-BILLED TERNS plus all the usual suspects and at the river edge we took a short walk along the bank where a EUROPEAN SCOP’S OWL called in broad daylight from the opposite bank as did EURASIAN PENDULINE TIT.
Slightly disappointed that we could not fulfil our plans, we opted to revisit the organic farm where we hoped that it being later in the day there may be other species on show. Pretty much all the same birds were there but it was still a pleasure to have such fantastic views of species such as GLOSSY IBIS, GREATER FLAMINGO and WESTERN SWAMPHEN.
It was then back to the hotel for a hot shower and cold beer or glass of wine whilst completing the bird list. Dinner went down very well and afterwards we relaxed over a coffee before heading to bed after a superb day in the delta.
Monday 16th April 2018
We awoke to dry conditions at first but with rain forecast for the morning, opted for a slightly later breakfast. There was still time for a brief exploration of the garden which produced at least eight BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERONS and a calling male LITTLE BITTERN which one of the group had good but brief views of.
From our breakfast table we spotted a superb male COMMON REDSTART perched in a tree with GLOSSY IBIS and GULL-BILLED TERNS in the adjacent fields.
Afterwards we left the hotel and drove north towards the hills, but didn’t get far when two BLACK KITES flew past the van and then a little way further on, a SHORT-TOED SNAKE EAGLE flew south and drifted off.
The journey took us adjacent to the River Ebro which was in full flow with it bursting the banks in several places. We made a stop and heard COMMON NIGHTINGALE and SARDINIAN WARBLER singing from the dense scrub.
A lone GRIFFON VULTURE was seen over the cliffs and hundreds of BARN SWALLOWS hunted low over the river.
Eventually we turned off, taking a much quieter road and immediately came across a few WESTERN YELLOW WAGTAILS in a rocky field and a CORN BUNTING which was heard singing. Unfortunately rain was falling steadily at our first main birding spot, but that didn’t stop us from noting EUROPEAN ROBIN, COMMON CHAFFINCH, EUROPEAN SERIN and GREAT TIT.
Trying to find some shelter from the rain proved tricky and we parked under some trees attempting to bird from the van, which proved quite successful with singing CRESTED TIT being the pick of the bunch.
A slow drive along the roads seemed the best thing in these conditions as at least we could look for some interesting plants. Good specimens of Ophrys fusca were seen in the rocky areas along with Green Hellebore and several species of Euphorbia.
Reaching a picnic site we had lunch in a shelter, which meant we could look for birds and the next hour or so was very productive with EUROPEAN PIED FLYCATCHER, WILLOW WARBLER, EUROPEAN NUTHATCH, SHORT-TOED TREECREEPER, COAL TIT, LONG-TAILED TIT, GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER and a calling IBERIAN GREEN WOODPECKER that was heard but remained unseen.
By now the weather was getting somewhat frustrating so we slowly drove back and made a stop at a campsite where a pair of GREY WAGTAILS fed in a huge puddle. A pair of EUROPEAN STONECHATS perched on fences and several CIRL BUNTINGS flew past.
A short while later we came across a singing male FIRECREST that showed well above our heads but conditions were still not great for photography!
We cut our losses and dropped down from the hills to another area where it wasn’t raining and immediately saw three GRIFFON VULTURES and a male WESTERN MARSH HARRIER flying north. SARDINIAN WARBLERS called from the dense covered hillsides and lots of EUROPEAN SERINS jingled overhead.
A male PEREGRINE FALCON appeared over the tops of the rocky crags several times before disappearing from view and whilst scanning the hillsides, we picked up six EUROPEAN BEE-EATERS heading north.
With a little time available we decided to go back down to the delta and explore a different area. The journey along the banks of the Ebro yielded a small flock of around 30 ALPINE SWIFT plus smaller numbers of EURASIAN CRAG MARTIN along with BARN SWALLOWS and COMMON HOUSE MARTINS.
Eventually we reached the rice-fields and made a slow drive along the damp ditches where good numbers of COMMON GREENSHANK, COMMON SANDPIPER and BLACK-WINGED STILTS fed. A little further on we located LITTLE RINGED PLOVER, WOOD SANDPIPER and a stunning SPOTTED REDSHANK in full breeding plumage. Unfortunately our finding of this bird coincided with a passing car and it flew further away.
We attempted to view a large lagoon but access was closed so we moved to another area where we saw another SPOTTED REDSHANK plus up to eight GREEN SANDPIPERS.
It was then time to head back to base for a hot shower to warm up although some of the group headed straight to the garden and managed to see the male LITTLE BITTERN in flight before meeting for a pre-dinner beverage and completing the bird list. Dinner was very good, especially the seafood Paella which went down really well.
Tuesday 17th April 2018
Some of the group met at 7.45 where the weather was a vast improvement on the previous day. The hotel grounds produced the usual BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERONS roosting in the lakeside bushes and we finally caught up with the male LITTLE BITTERN as it flew past and landed for a minute or so before flying off.
A dark thrush flew into a tree in the back of the garden and we were delighted to see that is was a fine male RING OUZEL. The early evening and overnight rain had clearly dropped migrants into the area. The RING OUZEL eventually dropped down onto the short grass but was flushed by a passing car and we could not locate it again.
In the trees surrounding the small carpark we had really good views of a WESTERN BONELLI’S WARBLER as it fed on the underside of leaves before flitting off.
It was then in for breakfast which was superb and afterward we said goodbye to Roger at reception who had looked after us so well during our stay. We loaded up the van and drove east to a beach on the Mediterranean. The journey produced the usual BLACK-WINGED STILTS, COMMON GREENSHANKS, LITTLE RINGED PLOVER, COMMON SANDPIPERS and COMMON REDSHANKS.
A distant soaring raptor turned out to be a pale-phase BOOTED EAGLE which eventually drifted off northwards and to the south we watched a SHORT-TOED SNAKE EAGLE which was a little way off.
The weather was beautiful and sunny with a cool breeze coming off the sea and along the shoreline were YELLOW-LEGGED and AUDOUIN’S GULLS plus both KENTISH PLOVER and WHIMBREL.
There was little moving off the sea except for the usual gulls and a single SANDWICH TERN heading strongly north. In a nearby field we watched a tractor ploughing a dry rice-field with WHISKERED and GULL-BILLED TERNS following and feeding on insects that were disturbed.
PURPLE HERON plus GREAT, LITTLE and WESTERN CATTLE EGRETS frequented the marshy areas along with a few roosting GREATER FLAMINGO. With time remaining before we needed to move towards the airport we revisited a marsh that we popped into on the first day and the still conditions meant we could locate singing EUROPEAN REED and GREAT REED WARBLERS in the reed-beds.
A Fig Tree was alive with both HOUSE and EURASIAN TREE SPARROWS and with some perseverance we found male and female WESTERN SUBALPINE WARBLER, EURASIAN BLACKCAP and EUROPEAN HOOPOE.
At the nearby lagoon we had exceptional views of feeding GULL-BILLED and WHISKERED TERNS hawking over the reed-beds along with SAND MARTIN, COMMON SWIFT, COMMON HOUSE MARTIN and BARN SWALLOWS.
We did spend a little time in the hide but the thought of the warm sunshine brought some back out. The others made a rapid exit when the mosquito’s found them, but all this proved to our advantage when two COLLARED PRATINCOLES flew around close over our heads, a real highlight!
After a brief refreshment break, we started our journey back towards Reus which was quiet bird-wise with the addition of a RED-LEGGED PARTRIDGE and EURASIAN HOBBY to our day list.
After a stop for fuel we arrived at the terminal in good time and both check in and security were quiet and painless. This couldn’t be said for boarding the plane and passport control which was a shambles but we were soon outside in the sunshine waiting to get on the plane.
Eventually we were on board and took off a few minutes behind schedule, our route taking us over the beautiful snowy Pyrenees and northwards back to the UK.
We arrived back in the UK to find warm but breezy conditions after a wonderful tour with a superb group of people!