FOREWOOD

Ebro Delta

 

This page describes my visits to the Ebro Delta in Catalonia. The first trip was in November 2004, and I returned from in May 2005, and again in May 2007 . Subsequently I went again in April 2010, see Ebro Blog

Click here to view the Species List for the Ebro

There is a map available in local shops - Mapa Comarcal de Catalunya 1:50000 Montsia - 22, published by the Generalitat de Catalunya

The delta is 110 miles South of Barcelona, and a similar distance North of Valencia and it took me just 2 hours to drive there from Barcelona Airport for the first visit, and Valencia Airport for the second.  In 2007 we could have driven directly down from Reus, where Ryanair fly, just 55 miles. I believe that Easyjet also fly into Barcelona . One word of warning, passed on to me by the receptionist at the car hire desk in the terminal - don't let go of your luggage anywhere at the airport or the car hire compound, don't stop for people at the roadside (some of the ladies seemed to be wearing very little!) and lock the car doors whilst driving into and out of Barcelona. Away from the city, you can relax quite safely. No such problems at Valencia or Reus, which were smaller and altogether nicer

The guides that I used were "Where to watch birds in North and East Spain " by Michael Rebane (Helm), and "Finding Birds in Northern Spain " by Dave Gosney. I was also helped by a brilliant general guide in the Sunflower Countryside Guide series which I happened to find in Waterstones one day - "Landscapes of Catalunya - Delta de l'Ebro and Puertos de Beceite" by Paul Jenner and Christine Smith. If you follow these guides, you will cover all the habitat, and the rest is up to you.

The Delta is at the mouth of the Ebro river, and is shaped not unlike Dungeness. In fact, imagine the arable fields of Romney Marsh replaced with wet rice fields, and the resemblance is uncanny - except perhaps for the temperature! There are large inlets of the sea at each end of the delta, not unlike the former Romney Haven, plenty of sandy beaches backed by scrub and saltmarsh, and some very large reedbeds and lakes, too. The whole is backed by the Sierra Montsia and Sierra de les Velles hills, rising to 600 or so metres, behind which are the Ports de Beceit mountains rising to 1400 metres or more. Wetland and coast birds, and montane species, are all available within an hours drive of Sant Carles de la Rapita

The principal land use in the delta is rice cultivation in lovely wet flooded fields, and in the hills orange and olive groves predominate. At higher latitudes Stone Pines are the commonest tree, but there is a superb mix of typical European tree species. It is a superbly varied habitat

I stayed in Sant Carles de la Rapita, a fishing and sailing port at the South end of the delta, where there are plenty of tapas bars for sustenance in the evenings, as well as some superb, though expensive, seafood restaurants.

The hotel I stayed in was the Hostal Agusti, a lovely modern hotel with some excellent self-catering apartments. It is owned by Simon Cheetham's wife and her family. Simon, who supplied extremely helpful notes and a map of the delta, grew up in the Medway Towns, and has been a Kent birder since he used to visit Stodmarsh when he was 10, with his father.  To contact Simon for information, or better still, to make a booking, the email address is hostalagusti@hotmail.com

First Trip - November 2004

This first trip covered all the best sites, as follows 

Day 1

Arrived at Amposta in the late afternoon after a 100 mile drive from Barcelona. On the way had a good look at a Hoopoe flying across the Autopista before finding my way out onto the delta in time to see a Marsh Harrier flying off to roost, and discover that White Wagtail and Little Egret are very very common indeed.

Day 2

A superb fine sunny morning, though cool, and I headed for the West delta, which began about 500 metres from the hotel. There were Spotless Starlings around the buildings and trees as I left town, and by stopping frequently along the road out to Poblenou I quickly found Cetti's and Fan-tailed Warbler, Cattle and Little Egret, and very many Grey Herons

Nearing the Encanyissada lagoon, I found a Kingfisher sat sunning itself close enough to the road for a photo, and found Curlew, Redshank and Yellow-legged Gull in the wet fields

At the bridge where the lagoon empties into the saltwater Alfacs bay, there is a sluice and an arrangement of weirs which I later discovered to be a fish trap. Evidently this was well-known to the local gulls and herons for I counted 74 Great White Egret and over 170 Grey Heron sat out in a nearby field as well as those around the trap itself, an amazing sight

I turned left after Poblenou and made my way out to the umbrella-like hide at Pont des Traves. As I got out of the car, there was a commotion in the ditch, and I had excellent views as 2 Little Bittern juveniles dashed away. In the reeds there was a Moustached Warbler, which took me a few minutes to identify, and a hunting Marsh Harrier. Out on the lagoon, I was amazed to see over 1000 Coot, and probably 500 Red-crested Pochard, all well away from the edges, together with Mallard in good numbers, too. A quick visit to two more hides produced more of the same, in spectacular numbers

Beyond Poblenou again, the habitat became brackish, and I found Common Sandpiper and Greenshank. At this stop there were Tree Sparrow and a Chiffchaff in bushes around a little white building

Next stop was the Tancada lagoon, where I walked off up a track to get closer to the Greater Flamingo, Avocet, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Sandwich Tern, and Shelduck there. Here I spent a happy half-hour just taking it all in, wonderful

Out along the amazingly thin and soggy strip of sand separating the Mediterranean from the Alfacs bay, there were huge lorries going to and from the salt works down the Western end, and I was afraid of getting stuck on several occasions. On this beach was little vegetation, but Reed Buntings were feeding on the wet slacks there, and on the lagoon edge were Oystercatcher, Sanderling and about a dozen Kentish Plover

This is the place where the Pratincoles breed, but today the salines and beach were all quiet

I carefully retraced my steps to the edge of the "Urbanizacio" at Eucaliptus, finding Crested Lark, Black Redstart and, in a fenced-off cattle enclosure, 6 Lesser Short-toed Lark were running about close to the road

After this, I set off back inland, adding Ruff, Snipe, and Spotted Redshank to my notes. I also found both Audouin's and Slender-billed Gulls by looking carefully at a large group of gulls in recently cultivated wet rice fields

The Audouin's Gulls seemed very nervous, and always moved away as soon as I stopped to look, flying further away from the road if I out of the car

After a bit of a struggle to find my way through Sant Carles, I parked and ate a late lunch while a Sardinian Warbler scolded me, before following a walk set out in the Sunflower Guide up to la Foradada at the back of town. Out on the escarpment it was windy and surprisingly cold, but I was suitably warmed up by 3 Pallid Swifts which swooped over the crest close by me, and totally overwhelmed by the view

The bushes here were remarkably quiet, but I found Blackbird, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Kestrel and Great Tit up here

As dusk came on, I went back to the fish trap, where men were working, watched from a respectable distance by a huge group of silent, hunched Herons out in the field, quite creepy really

Day 3

Early breakfast this morning, and I was out bright and early in the Ebro Valley inland towards Tortosa, then via Roquetes to Mont Caro and the valley North of there. Beyond Roquetes, the road climbed steadily through orange and olive groves where many small birds could be seen flitting around. I made several stops, and identified Black Redstart, Sardinian Warbler, Robin, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, and a single Red-legged Partridge

The road went up and up, and the little Toyota Yaris ground on and on until I saw a lay-by in enough time to pull in out of the way of sundry 4-tracks and jeeps thrashing up the hill. A good choice, there were Griffon Vultures on the crest high above me, and a Peregrine swept into view, too.

A little further on, and higher again, more Griffon Vultures caught my eye, and I stopped to watch as 30 or so came drifting off the peak and away over my head, fabulous. Nearby there were the aggressive occupants of the earlier traffic, regrettably hunting wild boar, and probably anything else, with large and dangerous-looking guns

At last, at the summit, somewhat higher than Ben Nevis , there was a howling gale and it was ever so cold. The view was awe-inspiring, and a small, lanky bird was flitting around the road edge scrub, just sheltered from the wind. It had a very fine bill, pinky-russet flanks, 2 indistinct wing bars, a pale rump and a grey head. Just as I was really getting to grips with this blighter, a car came by and flushed it onto rocks 30 or so metres away, whereupon it instantly became an Alpine Accentor!

Back in the car I turned the heater up and bemusedly descended into a wooded valley sheltering under the main crest. This was superb habitat among posh-looking holiday villas, but strangely quiet. Even so, up along the ridge there came a Raven, followed a little later by more Griffons, and, best of all, a Golden Eagle. Here, too, there was a single Song Thrush, Jays in profusion, Chaffinches and more Black Redstarts

After this I made my way back down to another suitable lay-by, and walked away from the road to perch on a bluff with my lunch, where I was rewarded by distant Raven and Golden Eagle sightings

Suitably refreshed and rested, I drove back down to the Delta, then on to the Illa da Buda lagoons and Mighorn beach. There were more Slender-billed Gulls to see in the fields today, and out at the beach Manx Shearwaters of the Balearic race were feeding not far offshore as a pair of Kentish Plover scuttled around on the sand

Up in the hide I stayed for ages watching the Purple Gallinule squabbling, and the two juvenile Squacco Heron feeding just across the road on some recently cut reed. Out in the river there was a vast raft of ducks - mostly Red Crested Pochard, Teal and Wigeon, and a small flock of Grey lag Geese flew in, dodging round a pair of Marsh Harrier as they did so. Here too were the first Mediterranean Gull of the trip. Well out on the sandy mud, patiently sat on a post was an Osprey, and there were Moustached and Fan tailed Warbler to see, too until I set off for Sant Carles in search of food and a shower. On the way I saw movement out in some stubble and stopped to look, setting the 'scope up to do so. Golden Plover were my reward, but as I turned to get back into the car, there was an Osprey sat in a tree not 50 metres away, and I even managed to get a photo before it flew away. When I parked round the back of the hotel, there were 8 Crag Martin feeding on the edge of town rubbish and reeds at the end of the street!

Day 4

Out early this morning to "do" the East delta, enjoying a fabulous sunrise over the rice fields. Near to Deltebre there were 3 Audouin's Gull in a wet field, and I got a hard stare from a farmer as I stopped to look. Next stop was at Riumar, on the river bank near the lighthouse. Here on the Bassa del Garxal were more Mediterranean Gulls, Gallinules, Reed Warbler, Greenshank, Redshank, Sanderling, Dunlin, Ruff, Ringed Plover,  Kingfisher and calling Water Rail.

Round the back of the "Urbanitzachio" at Riumar I found Robin, Crested Lark, Chiffchaff, and a pair of Lesser Short-toed Lark. I also found some Black Redstart, and 3 Red-billed Queleia - which had me guessing for a few moments!

Next it was down to the beach at la Marquesa, at the inner end of the Fangar inlet. Here there were anglers and walkers, and crowds of posers in 4WD vehicles driving all over the sand. There were more waders in the lagoon, but far off in the heat haze. This was all a bit disappointing, so I came back to Deltebre and crossed the river by one of the 3 ferries which operate here, and went back to the Illa da Buda lagoons and Mighorn beach.

A picnic and long walk down the beach revealed more Shearwater, and maybe as many as 50 Kentish Plover on the beach and the wet slack beyond, together with more Short-toed Lark. I stayed around here for an hour or so, then went back to the Encanyissada lagoon, where I stood in the big hide at el Clot until dark, counting over 30  Marsh Harrier in to roost and being entertained by Tree Sparrow, Reed Bunting, Reed Warbler, Chiffchaff, Moustached and Melodious Warbler, Spotless Starling and Cetti's Warbler - magic

Day 5

Time to come home, with the chance to divert to the Fangar Lagoon at Bassa de les Olles for an hour, where there were excellent views of Flamingo, Whiskered Tern, Curlew, Redshank, Dunlin, Grey Plover, Shelduck, Mallard, Greenshank, Oystercatcher out in the Mussel nurseries, and more warblers in the reeds. And finally, on the way up the Autopista, a Red Kite circling near  Tarragona to round off a superb little trip.

 

Second Trip - May 2005

My second trip was made between 14 and 18 May 2005 and returned to the sites visited in November 2004,  to see what they were like in the spring - the basic conclusion was that they were again brilliant

Day 1

The flight down passed just inland of the Ebro, giving this chance for an atmospheric panorama of the delta

After an easy drive up from Valencia I checked in to the Hostal Agusti, and headed up to la Foradada on a superb warm fine afternoon. There were Sardinian Warbler, Skylarks and Serins almost everywhere, and towards the top of the climb, 2 pairs of Ravens were displaying. Clouds of Swallows, House Martins and the odd Common Swift were feeding up along the ridge, and on the way down, Great Tit, Greenfinch and Linnet. Back in town, Swifts and Martins were screaming and bubbling round the hotel balcony as I enjoyed a beer before going out to eat

Day 2

Out onto the delta on a warm and sunny morning. Surprised at how few Egrets and Herons there are compared to the last visit - even the fish trap at Encanyissada was deserted, except for lots of Whiskered Terns, and the only Black Tern record of this trip, 2 birds busily fishing. A little further on, near a pumping station, good views of a Little Bittern flushed from immense reeds, towering over me at 8' or so

Out on the saltmarsh beyond Poble Nou were up to 20 Lesser Short Toed Larks, looking decidedly ginger-orange. Here also I first saw Little Stints, which were very common everywhere during my visit

On the Tancada lake were about a dozen Avocet, 2 Flamingo females, and Kentish Plovers, both male and female, running amongst them, together with 3 or 4 Redshank. At Trubacador beach, the sea seemed deserted, but through the 'scope I found a sub-adult Gannet, and a large flock of terns feeding well out in the glare and sparkle which made it impossible to identify them

Heading West down towards the salt pans, I abandoned the car and walked a couple of Kilometres to a tower hide overlooking the Punta de la Banya National Nature reserve, where access is forbidden. Close-to were Oystercatcher, Common Tern and tens of Little Terns and, shimmering in the far distance, a luminous pink line of Flamingos, hundreds of them

Back along the tideline, with Sanderling and Kentish Plover for company, and on towards Eucaliptus, where, just short of the holiday village, I stopped in a lay-by for a very rewarding scan around, having seen a Shrike-like bird on the roadside fence. Here were Short-Toed Lark (not so gingery), Squacco Herons, and Purple Gallinules to admire, and that Shrike turned out to be a Woodchat. Best of all, a movement behind me caught my attention, and there they were, fabulous, elegant, stunning and graceful, 20 or so Collared Pratincoles. They were flying, swallow-like low over the vegetation, twittering and turning and showing off the rich chestnut maroon underwing colours to perfection. Considering the only one I had previously seen was a single far away over the shingle at Dungeness ever so many years ago, I was utterly spellbound by these birds, and I stayed watching them for almost an hour before dragging myself away

Somewhat bemused, I made my way round to the la Platjola lagoon, where, as I ate my rolls, movement in the nearby bushes caught my eye - a strange-looking black and white Wheatear quite unknown to me - except that it stayed in the scrub and behaved in a very Flycatcher-like way - hmmm. I wasn't able to put a name to this blighter, and made some notes to the accompaniment of Great Reed Warblers shouting away in the reeds beside the track. Later, back at the hotel, sat on my balcony at tree canopy level listening to the Swifts screaming round, and sipping a glass of wine, my field guides confirmed the strange wheatear to have been a Collared Flycatcher

Back at Platjola, in the recently sown and flooded rice fields were groups of waders which included Ringed and Little Ringed Plover, Temmincks and Little Stints, Sanderling, Curlew and Common Sandpiper, Ruff, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, and Greenshank - presumably still all on their way North

As evening came on, from the hide overlooking Encayissada lagoon, there were nesting Grey, Purple and Night Heron, Little and Cattle Egret all in a loose colony out among the reeds, all giving excellent views. Here too were more Great Reed Warbler, Water Rail, Black-Necked Grebe and many Red crested Pochard

Day 3

Cloudy but fine as I set off inland for Mount Caro . At the entrance to the National Park a stop for a scan round was rewarded with cracking views of a Black-Eared Wheatear sat on a bush above the lay-by, and a few metres further on, there was a Woodchat Shrike, a pair of Ravens to admire, and, from the roadside as I prepared to set off again, a Woodlark. After a couple of kilometres, and considerably higher, a beat-up old landrover, bearing the word "environment" was stopped beside the road. Nearby some chap was gazing intently through a small 'scope. I stopped and had a look, and there was a Blue Rock Thrush about ¼ mile away, superb views through my telescope before going on up into the cloud - in spite of which Grag Martins were zooming around a cliff face above the road - and finding nothing until I came back down to about 1400 ft and into some conifers where there were Short-toed Treecreeper, Jay, Blackcap, Song Thrush

Lower down still, and by now in sunshine again, a lucky coffee halt to watch a couple of Griffon Vultures soaring way above me. As I 'scoped them, a Bonelli's Eagle came into my field of view, and as I watched it I became aware of a sort of wheezing twittering nearby, and, to my delight, there was a pair of Rock Bunting in the bush right beside the car, almost too close to get into focus with my telescope - brilliant

On the way now towards the delta, a Black Kite came drifting along beside the road, as, skilfully managing not to swerve into anything, I headed for the Alfacada/Migjorn area. As I lunched close to the beach here, Common Redstart, Northern Wheatear and Nightingales were feeding in and alongside the scrubby ditch bordering the rice fields

Storm clouds and buckets of rain sent me back inland for a mile or so, to where I could overlook recently flooded rice fields without the rain driving into the open car window. Curlew Sandpiper, Kentish and Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Dunlin, both Stints, Short-Toed and Lesser Short-Toed Larks, and Black Winged Stilts all continued feeding in the rain, giving excellent views. After a short while a couple of Audouin's Gulls flew in to the same wet field, and showed really well before I left under the clearing evening sky to return to the hotel and an evening meal out in a town which had been subject to a torrential downpour and power cut all afternoon

Day4

Out early, fine but cloudy, much warmer than yesterday. In the inner delta towards Amposta I went looking for a car park and reserve marked on my map - no car park, but from a lay-by just up the road a single Mediterranean Gull and four Cattle Egret were feeding close to some cattle, accompanied by a dozen or so Blue and Grey-headed Yellow Wagtails. In trees nearby Turtle Dove and a Cuckoo were calling, and 3 Ring-Necked Parakeets flew noisily out of some large Eucalyptus trees beside a reed bed from which Sedge Warbler song could be heard.

I got a bit lost now, eventually "surfacing" in a little muddy track at the back of the Encayissada lagoon. Lucky for me, for I then enjoyed close views of Marsh Harriers hunting and carrying food, and Common Sandpiper, Reed Bunting, Purple Heron, Great Reed, and Fan Tailed Warbler as I wandered alongside the enormous stands of Phragmites. Round by the fish traps I found, to my delight, another group of 8 or 10 Pratincoles, before going to the Tancada Lagoon. Here my telescope revealed 3 Greenshank, a dozen or so Avocet, and Terns - Little, Gull-Billed, and Caspian all together on a muddy spit about 150 metres away

In the water alongside, 12 Slender-Billed gulls were swimming and dipping into the water, presumably picking insects from the surface - superb pink tinged individuals and a joy to watch

Next I went back down to Eucalyptus to look for the Pratincoles there, finding a group of 26 (as far as I could count), highly active, swooping and turning over the low dry scrub and grass - fabulous birds. As I watched them it clouded over and threatened storms again, but along another scrubby ditch I found Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Nightingales and Common Redstarts. Nearby, a seabird  was struggling to deal with a prey item. Closer views showed this to be a Gull-Billed tern struggling to swallow a huge Crayfish, which it eventually did after divesting it of it's claws and most of it's legs. With a grossly distended crop it flew off with some difficulty to settle away from the track, leaving me to sort out the waders in the fields for an hour or so before it was time to return to the hotel. Thunder and lightning accompanied my excellent evening meal, and I got soaked running back to the hotel - at least the exercise burned off some of the calories

Day 5

Away early on a fine clear morning with a trip list this time of 117 species. Heading out of Sant Carles towards Valencia I was stopped at a routine police check and breathalysed - a nil reading!! Further down the road a large raptor caught my eye, luckily I was able to stop and identify a fine Booted eagle before making my way on to the airport. During the flight home there were spectacular views of the Pyrenees

The airplane made UK landfall just off Brighton and thence flew all along the coast so I could clearly see Bexhill, Hastings , Crowhurst and the Forewood, Winchelsea, and Rye. We then flew over Sutton, giving me the chance to take some aerial photos of my daughters house, then heading out over the Goodwins - where the seals could clearly be seen hauled out on the sands. So sad that EUJet couldn't make it pay, because it was so convenient, comfortable and easy to use

Third Trip - May 2007

I made this trip with Phil Smith, and again stayed at the Hostal Agusti in Sant Carles de la Rapita - it is a lovely modern welcoming hotel, with excellent self-catering apartments. I cannot recommend it too highly

Day 1 - 8 May 2007

Early flight with Ryanair out of Stansted to Reus, we were away from the airport there by 10.30, and immediately took a wrong turning, which was lucky. By the time we realised our error, we were well on our way inland along the N420 towards Mora la Nueva, so we carried on, turning left there onto minor roads following the Ebro downstream past Benifallet. En route we stopped here and there, finding Cirl Bunting, Blue Rock Thrush, Bee Eater, Hoopoe, Woodchat, Red rumped Swallow and Crag Martin - super.

After unloading bags at the Hostal and shopping we walked up to la Foradada in hot sunshine - what a treat, but unwisely I didn't take any water so we were in a bit of a state when we got back to town, but with excellent views of at least 2 Alpine Swifts around the top of the hill with a huge flock of Common Swifts - oh, and a Peregrine was up there too, lovely

Day 2 - 9 May

Spent the day in and around the West Delta, finding the first Collared Pratincoles just a Kilometer out of Sant Carles, together with Squacco Heron, Whiskered Tern, Fan tailed Warbler, and, in the reeds, a strange-looking small passerine with a whopping greta eyestripe - a Whinchat! Good views of Audouin's and Slender billed Gulls today in the inner lagoon. Made our way out to Migjorn eventually, finding lots of late migrants - Wheatear, Pied and Spotted Flycatcher, Common and Black Redstart, Chiffchaff and Whitethroat. Best bird of the day was a Roller on wires at the back of the beach at Migjorn, fabulous bird

Day 3 - 10 May

Up into the mountains today, plenty of Hoopoes as we travelled along, and good views of the Griffon vultures, but no other large raptors all day, no idea why. 2 pairs of Rock Bunting and more Blue Rock Thrush sightings were good, as were the Ravens near the to of Mount Caro, where it was unusually warm and still - maybe why the raptors were hard to find

Back on the Delta at the end of the afternoon, Gull billed Terns to enjoy, and a lovley warm evening in the square at Sant Carles to enjoy a meal and a beer or two with Swifts screaming all around

Day 4 - 11 May

The East Delta, walked around the lake and reeds at Les Olles - superb couple of hours birding. Migrating Black Terns overhead, Great Reed Warblers shouting away in the reeds, Caspian Tern, two Bitterns in flight, a fine male Golden Oriole were the highlights, but we also enjoyed clouds of Dragonflies and Butterflies today, and some Europaen Terrapins, too. Best of all, the chance to get some excellent close pictures of a pair of Pratincoles

 

If these pages entice you to consider moving down to the Montsià area, or if you have visited this site whilst looking for somewhere to live, I recommend Jeff Greensmith's company

Click here to view the Species List for the Ebro

 

 

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