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Wednesday, 5 June 2013

The Ebro Delta

The Delta is a huge wetland habitat full of rice paddies irrigated by the river Ebro and natural lagoons teeming with waterfowl and waders. Many of these birds are attracted to the shallow water in the rice paddies too. We were lucky to visit at this time of year (May) as during late winter, the paddies are drained for the soil to be cultivated and they are then reflooded during April, and planting starts about May. We only saw a few places where the rice had started to grow, so the paddies were empty of vegetation, making bird spotting easy. I won't go into all the detail about the Delta as Wikipedia has a good write up about it, plus aerial photo, and I'd only be copying from them!

We spent two whole days in this birders' paradise and I have condensed down hundreds of photos to give what I hope is an overview of our visit. There are many observation platforms and hides from which to observe the birds, accessible from the road. There are also many cycle lanes, so if you are into both cycling and birding, then it's probably the perfect place as you can travel alongside waterways and lagoons where cars can't go, and it's flat!

Our first day was spent on the south side of the river which flows through the heart of the delta. The second day was spent mostly on the north side.

Views in all directions from one of the observation platforms,
showing natural lagoons, rice paddies and canals.

Left: Squacco Heron
Top Right: Cattle Egret, Bottom Right: Little Egret
Little Egrets were everywhere!

Most of the rice paddies had some vegetation around the edges, but there was one area, presumably all the same farm, where not a bit of green could be seen. It's in the photos below where the Glossy Ibises were spotted. This was in stark contrast to the organic rice farm that we visited (more about that below) where yellow flag irises, reeds, grass and trees grew alongside the paddies.

Clockwise from Top Left:
Black-winged Stilt (common here!), Redshank, Ringed Plover,
and two photos showing Glossy Ibises and a rather bleak landscape.

I'm not going to be seeing these guys on my pond!
These are Greater Flamingos, and I've learned that the white ones are sub-adults,
not a different species as I first thought!

My book 'Where to watch birds in Northern and Eastern Spain' by Michael Rebane & Ernest Garcia mentioned an organic rice farm called Riet Vell with a lagoon and hide, but we nearly didn't find it. This is because both the book and the map we were given by the hotel show the entrance on the wrong road! The entrance is on the TV-3405, about five paddies behind the Hotel Mediterrani Blau at Eucaliptus beach.

The visitor centre didn't appear to be open but we just ambled up the path and found our way to the hide. A number of other birders/photographers were there; a couple of whom were obviously having a guided tour, as lucky for us, one of the guys who works there was giving them a good commentary inside the hide, in English! The amount of nesting birds here was quite incredible, many of them common enough species around here such as Mallards,  Moorhens, Coots and Common Terns, the most common birds that we saw in the whole delta. However, if you want to see a Purple Gallinule, then this is the place to come! We'd seen one, once before, further north in Spain but this place was teeming with them. They are not common and there are only certain wetland spots in Spain where they are to be found. 

Riet Vell organic rice farm. The road leading to the main farm buildings
goes past an organic veggie garden where the insect hotel was located.
This female Pied Flycatcher, along with a male, were happily perching
on the posts in the veg patch and not bothered by us.
And as you can see, Swallows were nesting inside the hide!

The lagoon at Riet Vell - teeming with nesting birds.
The specks against the mountains are not dust spots on my lens
as I originally thought - they're birds!

We were hugely pleased to see baby Purple Gallinules, being fed by their parents :-)

The Moorhen Lady was in her element seeing so many of her cousins..... :-)

Another day and over to the north side of the delta at the village of Ruimar. This time we were in an entirely different habitat of sand dunes and lagoons, right by the tip of the river mouth. There was a lovely walk through sandy paths leading to the river via several hides, and along the banks of the river were observation platforms, one of which was very tall, giving amazing vistas all around. It was necessary though, to take in the scale of the place.

View of the tall observation tower from one of the observation platforms,
beside the river mouth

I'm not into gulls and as a birder I shouldn't really admit that I just label the whole lot of them as 'seagulls' and pay them no interest, but there is one gull, called Audouin's Gull, which is scarce and this place is one of the few places to see it. Hence the photo below! (Should I also mention that there are quite a few different Tern species to be seen here too.... but they all look the same to me!)

Three views from the top of the tall tower.
On the right are a Great White Egret (yes, it was really distant so that's the best I could get)
surrounded by breeding Red-crested Pochards; below that is an Audouin's Gull.

This is the effect of heat haze on the mega zoom of my camera!
These are Great White Egrets and I rather like this image :-)

All the while, whilst there were not many people about, it was never quiet. Not with some of these birds everywhere around the sandy and reedy areas!

Bottom Left is a Zitting Cisticola. A lifer!
This is the only one which actually settled on a reed;
however we saw dozens of them and they never stopped zitting
(zreeping, to be precise) in flight.
The other bird (Top and Right) is a Great Reed Warbler,
which is even more noisy than its smaller relative, the Reed Warbler.

Sometimes it wasn't all about birds. The sand dune habitat was interesting for the bugs and plant life too, and at least here there seemed to be more 'life' than around some of the rice paddies.

Around this sandy coastal path we were accompanied by
many Red Veined Darter dragonflies (Sympetrum fonscolombii).
This is a young male who will become more red as he matures.

And this one, which is a female or immature male Black Tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum)

We were also accompanied by many Dune Tiger Beetles (Cicindela maritima)
which liked to hop just in front of us as we were walking along.
In this coastal and I imagine at times, harsh, environment there were
miniature worlds such as this tiny spider with so much food
caught in its web, on the tip of a Sea Holly (Eryngium maritimum)

Of course, this was also a visit to the Mediterranean which included some great and practically empty, vast, wonderful beaches :-)

Enjoying picnic time at the beach, and a Crested Lark thrown in
for good measure, just because there were quite a few of them!

Overall conclusions:
One day would not be enough to do this place justice, but two days was enough. It can get quite tiring on the eyes, always on the lookout for birds as you are driving along, and the landscape becomes a bit samey after a while! There are some signposts at road junctions but it wasn't always easy to find the specific lagoons/hides and birding places of interest.

Something that stood out was the amount of rubbish strewn about, which seemed wrong to me given this is such an important wetland habitat, and hardly inner city where you might expect to see that sort of thing. The beach where we picnicked had some built in barbecues which were mostly covered in tons of bottles and plastic bags. Why people cannot respect the environment is beyond me.  

Birds seen in the Delta:
(P.S. I'm not adding latin names for all the birds or I'd be here all day. Any queries, please ask). An asterisk denotes a lifer.


Common Terns
Swallows (all these five were very common)
Black-winged Stilts (loads)
Purple Gallinules
Purple Heron
Grey Herons
Little Egrets (loads)
Great White Egrets/Great Egrets (Ardea alba)
Squacco Herons *
Cattle Egret
Little Grebes
Red-crested Pochards
Greater Flamingos
Kentish Plover
Whiskered Terns * (ID by my OH, who can tell Terns apart)
Glossy Ibises *
Ringed Plovers
Pied Flycatchers
Black Redstart
Woodchat Shrike
Crested Larks
Zitting Cisticolas (also known as Fan-tailed Warbler) *
Great Reed Warblers *
Reed Warblers
Audouin's Gull *
and other 'seagulls'!

May I now collapse in a heap as this post has taken me about 3 days to put together.... :-)


  1. Fantastic adventure! Loved visiting there with you :-)

    1. Marianne, thanks very much. Glad you enjoyed it!

  2. This shows that you really had a nice holiday in Spain. It is a joy to read and to look at all your pictures. Hope you are well again

    1. Thanks very much Jane! Yes it was a wonderful experience and we had a great time. Thankfully I am well again now. :-)