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Friday, 21 June 2013

The Aiguamolls de l'Empordà

The Aiguamolls de l'Empordà is another important wetland habitat for birds, the second largest in Catalonia after the Ebro Delta. This site gives tons of information about the area, plus details about the visitor centre and opening hours. Aiguamolls is the Catalan word meaning marsh or wetland.

As we had four whole days in the Roses area and the reserve is nearby, we didn't have to do it all in one day. We had visited three years previously so knew the main places to visit. There is the main area of reserve around the visitor centre of El Cortalet, which has the vast majority of paths and hides, another area known as Europa, also with hides, but which we call the 'Sewage Works lagoons' because it's located right next to one, and another area we call 'the 3 bridges'. There is a fourth area not far from the 3 bridges, a lagoon with a hide known as Vilaut which we finally managed to locate on this trip, but that day it was drizzly and grey and there was little to be seen there. Birding in Spain gives maps and information about the different areas here.

This was the first place that we'd seen a Purple Gallinule although we didn't see one this visit; no matter as we'd seen so many of them at the Ebro Delta! On our first day we visited the Sewage Works lagoons. They are separate from the sewage works themselves, but the lagoons seemed to be covered in rather a lot of scum - this didn't bother the birds but doesn't make for quite such nice photos!

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)

Top left: male Gadwall (Anas strepera)
Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides)
Bottom right: A Coot (Fulica atra) with its little babies

The walk around these lagoons borders agricultural fields with hedgerows and trees, so plenty of other bird and insect life to be seen, especially on the few times here when the sun did shine!

Clockwise from top left:
Latticed Heath Moth (Chiasmia clathrata) resting on Borage stems
Jumping Spider (Salticus propinquus) (actually on metal crash barrier by bridge!)
Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilus) butterfly on cereal stalk
Chafter Beetles (Oxythyrea funesta) on Thistle
Thistles - very pretty and good for pollinating insects

After here we visited the area known as the 3 bridges. Unfortunately there is no real place to park, but as the road is very quiet you can pull half off the road so long as you don't wander too far from it, just in case a truck comes along and you need to move the car! Mostly the very few other cars we saw around here were other bird watchers. From here you have open views over fields which are a bit marshy in between several small canals (hence the bridges) and it seems to be a place where White Storks are attracted to. On our visit here in April 2010 we were lucky enough to see several Great Spotted Cuckoos.

White Storks (Ciconia ciconia) galore were coming in to land in the fields below.

Where they outnumbered the cows, somewhat.
Many Little Egrets were in the fields with the cattle too.

Another day we visited the main centre at El Cortalet where it's worth a whole day to visit, as just the walk all the way to the beach and back is about 4kms each way and there are many hides along the way. The area on the top right just off the map here is the area known as Europa (or the Sewage Works lagoons), which is a fair way from the visitor centre but also accessible by road, with parking nearby.

Don't forget the insect repellant, as whilst we didn't have any problems when we'd visited on a much hotter day in April previously, this time in May we were being eaten alive by mozzies so ended up absolutely covered in repellant, even our faces! The footpath going from the visitor centre down to hide no. 5 we called Mosquito Alley!

Also note at certain times of the year, including during our visit, the route on the left hand side here around the Estanys del Mata is closed during breeding season, but the shorter path which passes hide no. 8 is open.

Everywhere we went around here we could hear Nightingales singing. They are normally very elusive birds that you can hear singing loudly from the trees and undergrowth but remain well hidden, so it was very unusual for them to appear like this on the footpath leading down Mosquito Alley! All photos except for the one in the grass where it was slinking off were taken by my OH who did a much better job than I did photographing them.

Nightingales (Luscinia megarhynchos)

Along Mosquito Alley, as well as the hides, there are short paths leading to the entrances of fields where you can scan for birds there. We were hugely lucky to spot a Roller flying across the field which we had obviously disturbed; luckily for us it perched high up in a tree. Even distant it was still something we could observe and just about get a photo of!

Not the best shot but this was the most exciting lifer that we saw.
It's a Roller! (Coracias garrulus)

In the reserve many man made nesting places have been made for the White Storks but even so, there are so many of them that they have also made nests up in trees. They are obviously very successful here with their breeding.

White Storks with a couple of young in the nest

There were plenty in the water meadow featured below too.

It was lovely to see Camargue horses grazing here. As their own habitat in the south
of France is also wetland they are perfectly at home here.
In the background you can just make out a Black Winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus).
There were even some nesting in this field!

More Camargue horses. The foals are always born black!

Pretty bee of the genus Anthidium on a Thistle flower

How many beetles can you fit on one Thistle head?
I count six. Two little Beetles and four Oxythyrea funesta but one couple are probably doing the biz!

Cetti's Warbler - but possibly a juvenile as it sat there in the
shadows and didn't mind us and another couple poking cameras at it.
ID is certain as it then opened its beak and sang.

There's a vast grassy car park and picnic area, but as luck would have it, just after we'd finished eating, it started to drizzle.

Annoyingly this was the only time I saw a Hoopoe when we were not driving along.
This was in the visitor centre car park/picnic area and the Hoopoe would not stop moving
so this is my best shot. Still pleased with it though!

View over one of the lagoons from one of the hides. I think rain kept the birds away!

The reason I include this photo of a Little Grebe is because 90% of the
time these irritating little birds are diving under water!
You just don't realise until you try to photograph them. :-)

Just along the footpath between hides 1 and 14 is a man made sand bank which has been colonised by Bee-eaters, and is full of their nesting holes. There were quite a number of them, but due to the rain they were not out hunting bees. Just as well really as this shot was taken in drizzle with one hand whilst the other held my umbrella. I realised when it started raining that a purple and black umbrella was not ideal for bird watching, but in fact the Bee-eaters didn't seem too bothered. But I had to try to keep camera and binoculars dry. Rain and birdwatching/photography really do not go together, unless you are in a nice dry hide!

A Bee-eater (Merops apiaster).

There was one more exciting moment in the drizzle though. Another lifer, a Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus), flew across the footpath and perched in a tree not far from us for about a minute. No time for photos but we had a good view of it.

Bird seen in the Aiguamolls (an asterisk denotes a lifer)
To clarify for those who are unclear, a lifer is a bird that we have seen for the first time ever.

Squacco Heron
Marsh Harrier *
White Storks
Roller *
Cattle Egrets
Little Egrets
Black-winged Stilts
Cetti's Warbler (adult and juvenile)
Little Grebe
Little Bittern *
Only two more holiday posts to go, which is a good thing as I have tons of garden posts waiting in the wings!


  1. Fantastic summary! Wonderful bird images. I might have more butterflies than you but you win with colorful birds! LOVE the bugs too....especially the spider in the prison suit :-)

    1. lol I wish some of those colourful ones lived a little bit closer to home though! Thanks very much Marianne. :-)