Ebro Delta, 10th January 2008
I’d waited patiently for the Three Kings to deliver their gifts, worked
out how the hell the tree went back into its box and now I was drooling
as, allowed out for the first time, I crossed the bridge over the river and finally set tyre in The Ebro Delta. I’m not one for counting particularly but less than twenty on my
year list was painful. A sympathetic Hoopoe rowed over the bonnet. Thanks mate.
As I drove into the rice fields out of St. Jaume, a ring of mist masked
the horizon in all directions, creating a comforting circle into which
no-one else seemed to venture. Common Buzzards marshalled
the perimeter, posted in each leafless tree, motionless and morose like
leftover Christmas tree decorations. The sparklingly clean black and
grey under-wings of a male Marsh Harrier spirited into
view flying along side the driver’s window, tilting left and right to
show off its glorious roast-chestnut chest and, rather topically if a
little late, guided me like the star of Bethlehem to my first stop of
I’d never stopped here before but I was immediately
presented with two dark shapes in the middle of a reed-edged field and,
for twenty minutes, a pair of Water Rails strutted and pecked their way ever-closer. A flock of Reed Buntings gleaning the horsetails and a rather unusual foraging partnership between a Moorhen and a Blackbird
only proved minor distractions until I was able to put my binoculars
down and marvel at the absolute marvellousness of both the rails by the
They were sent scurrying by an unknown force and I
moved on - only to stop a few metres along the road to marvel some more;
this time at a light-phase Booted Eagle perched in one of its favourite spots.
Still early when I reached the beach, only a solitary Kentish Plover quick-stepped its way over the dewy sand. The sea was calm but empty. Groups of Purple Swamphen
began tempting themselves out of the reed beds with nervous contact
calls and another unknown threat put up a huge gathering of ducks on a
distant lagoon. It may as well have been wielding a knife as the
massive blanket of wings was ripped into species portions of, amongst
others, Wigeon, Gadwall and Pintail before circling and returning to knit themselves back together on the water’s surface.
Via Greylag Geese, Glossy Ibis and Common Kingfishers
on every post, I made my way back and searched the strangely wriggling
surface of a paddy field around a masia on the Illa de Riu. The
responsibility was mostly down to several hundred Little Stint and numerous Ringed Plover but, forewarned by the word on the cyber street, I managed to pick out the lone Pectoral Sandpiper.
Several more Hoopoe, a curious Dartford Warbler and a rather bolshy Bluethroat,
skipping from bush to bush as I passed, were picks of the bunches of
passerines smothering every reed and cabbage plant and the rafts of Golden Plover and Lapwing to be found in the delta’s fields was a spectacle hard to beat.
But beaten it was. A Great Bittern at Riet Vell; Richard’s Pipit, Southern Grey Shrike and a Peregrine locking claws with a Marsh Harrier on my way from Eucaliptus to La Tancada; a flock of about twenty Lesser Short-toed Larks when I got there that were close enough to touch until my mobile rang! Take your pick.
My own choice would be the sight of Red-throated Diver, Red-breasted Merganser and Black-necked Grebe diving in the same binocular field of view but I also basked in the sheer numbers of Greenshank, Grey Plover, Dunlin and, in particular, Sanderling and Little Stint sifting through the pools of La Tancada. A little sifting myself pulled out morsels of Turnstone, Common and Spotted Redshank and both Common and Green Sandpiper.
By now the sun had gone almost full circle and the light promised
little more than an hour before bedtime but even so a quick dash through
the stretch to L’Encanyissada produced the resident (and presumed) hybrid Little Egret x Western Reef Heron opposite the watchtower at l’Embut, masses of Common and Red-crested Pochard on El Clot and, for the second visit running, a Red-nobbed (Crested) Coot at Pont de Traves.
Finally, in the small pond next to the Casa de Fusta as I was leaving, yet another Water Rail, feeding out in the open and confident enough to resist fleeing despite me jamming on the breaks!
As I said, I don’t count. (!). But I was gifted well over 80 species
in a short mid-winter day and I missed a few too. It amazed me how the
pressure of finding food in the colder months makes birds occupy every
single niche possible, from the expanse of lagoons and reed beds
harbouring Greater Flamingos and Chiffchaffs respectively to a few teasels on the edge of a rice field fleetingly playing host to a party of Goldfinch.
Other species seen:
Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Great Cormorant, Cattle Egret,
Little Egret, Great Egret, Grey Heron, Shelduck, Mallard, Shovelor,
Kestrel, Coot, Common Snipe, Mediterranean Gull, Yellow-legged Gull,
Lesser Black-backed Gull, Audouin’s Gull, Black-headed Gull,
Slender-billed Gull, Sandwich Tern, Feral Pigeon, Collared Dove, Crested
lark, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Water Pipit, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail,
Robin, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Cettis Warbler, Fan-tailed Warbler,
Blackcap, Sardinian Warbler, Magpie, Starling, Spotless Starling, House
Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Linnet.