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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Ebro days..dashing falcons, massing waders, ditches and shooters!

At 320 square kilometres, the Ebro Delta is one of the biggest wetland areas in the Western Mediterranean. Its a curiously shaped area due the twin effects of deposited soils washed down by the mighty Ebro and then coastal erosion.

Although designated as a natural park much of the area is given over to rice growing and the associated wet (flooded in winter) fields. Its definitely a 'working' environment but many birds are attracted to the rice fields and there are many areas of saltmarsh / lagoons and reed beds with copious tracks and irrigation canals everywhere .... it was great for the bike and although I got a bit fed up with the level of duck shooting going on I spent close on a full week there exploring.

Rice fields, Ebro Delta
From ground level this is fairly typical of the terrain......

As you might expect I took a bucket load of pics and although not totally overwhelmed by birds there was lots of scope for landscapes and plenty to keep me happy. No doubt I'll be finding other pics in the coming days as I revel in good internet / 'plug in access'  but for now these are some of my stand out images.....

Great White Egret, Ebro

Great White Egret, Ebro

Mediterranean Gull, Ebro

Mediterranean Gull, Ebro

It was good to see so many Mediterranean Gulls (made up for a big fat zero on Audouin's Gulls!) and the above fly past shots in good evening sunshine were very pleasing. Caught this one mid air as it was fishing ...
Med Gull fishing, Ebro Delta

Lots of these about, as one would expect almost anywhere in Spain ...
Stonechat, Ebro

.... and even more of these little blighters. I've remarked on it before but I'm constantly amazed at the sheer numbers of Chiff Chaffs that almost litter the paths, bushes and almost any insect laden little place ....
Chiffchaff, Ebro

Chiffchaff, Ebro
Not as many Bluethroats about as I expected but this one played my stalking game to a point ... 20 minutes crouched on a ditch bank with pins and needles and still she wouldn't come the side I wanted so here's a 'backlit' female getting her feet wet...
Bluethroat (female), Ebro
Lapwings and the usual herons / egrets aside, wading birds weren't exactly abundant, no Avocets, no Black Winged Stilts but both Common and Green Sandpipers were popping up frequently and I snapped this one from the van one lazy afternoon when I was so fed up with shooters I just drove to the nearest quiet wet field and watched the birds come and go for 2 hrs!
Common Sandpiper, Ebro

Common Sandpiper, Ebro

I managed a half decent shot of a flock of Greenshank
Greenshank flock, Ebro

Glossy Ibis flock, Ebro

A couple more numerous birds on the Delta were Glossy Ibis (I estimated between 800 - 1000) in total. Here's a flock taken with my mobile during an evening bike ride.

Glossy Ibis with food, Ebro
I had plenty of time of to observe these birds that have steadily increased in number over the years on the delta and at the risk of sounding like David Attenborough I realised that their life here is not straightforward - largely due to the equally large numbers of Black Headed Gulls that harry and chase the Ibis. Took me a while to twig but what they were doing was acting in pairs and forcing the Ibis to let go of food which the gulls then snapped up. Not brilliant pics but it shows the action that was going on time after time...


... this kind of thing was happening time and time again and I began to feel sorry for the poor Ibis but at the same time very impressed with the tenacity, persistence and eventual success of the B.H. Gulls tireless work!


Dunlin murmuration? Ebro
Even more numerous on the Southern side of the delta and towards the salt pans were Dunlin with a huge flock of certainly 1000+. Many pics I took as quite conveniently they were massing very near to where I was parked up.

 ...  this is where I was parked up along 3 others along the Trabucador (southern peninsular of the delta)
 With so many small waders about it wasn't surprising to catch up with a Peregrine Falcon but I didn't expect such good photo opportunities... this one was making good use of the pylons that stretch right down the peninsular and allowed
Peregrine Falcon, Ebro

Peregrine Falcon, Ebro

Peregrine Falcon, Ebro

Peregrine Falcon, Ebro
 I was well impressed with those pics and it made up for a very long and otherwise largely fruitless walk down to the saltpans.
Never far away though there's always a Marsh Harrier to snap ...
Marsh Harrier, Ebro
 ...and always good to get a bit of variety of the raptor front, this Booted Eagle had obviously just eaten - check out that bulge!
Booted Eagle, Ebro

Meadow Pipit .. commonest bird on the Ebro?
 Ok this has been a big post and apologies for that ... many I know won't have scrolled down this far but here's a few more birdy pics and some landscapes from my week on the delta...
My van from the viewing platform on the Ille de Budha
Squacco Heron from  distance and same viewing platform
Kindred spirits ... these trees are just about as laid back as me!

...and where did that come from?
one of the many canals that maintain and irrigate the delta
Spring flowers emerging... don't know what they are but they're common!

Just what the Ebro doesn't need!

Like I said, a bit too much shooting going on for me to completely enjoy the delta but hey I understand the dynamics and the need to take what is needed from this land but way too noisy at times for me!


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Negociating the fog and the wind, Swallows in the freezing cold, Marsh Harriers by the dozen then Griffons in the sunny high tops

Marsh Harrier in the fog, Valverd
One of the problems with travelling in Spain in the Winter months, as I found to my cost during my last visit in Nov/ Dec 2013, is FOG! Usually of the freezing variety it hangs around in great swathes and typically affects the interior plains and what remain of the steppes. My destination after the Pyrenees was to the south of Lleida and one of the last remaining areas of steppe land in Catalyuna that hasn't been given over to intensive farming. Looking forward to photographing some Sandgrouse I was, or maybe catching a glimpse of some Great Bustards. I got neither because of FOG! Went to all the right places and sure I could have stayed longer but after 4 days of hanging about I gave up and drove South and out of it!
Male Merlin, Utxesa

During a brief respite from the stuff whilst I was at Utxesa I got my first Merlin of the trip...distant shot but good enough to tell it was a male.


..and lots more White Storks, apparently a whole bunch of them winter around a big rubbish tip on the outskirts of Lleida city.

 ... and at Valverd my first Purple Swamphens of the trip. I have a soft spot for these comical giants of the reedbeds and these were the first of many over the coming days as I headed ever closer to the Ebro Delta.

Squabbling Purple Swamphens, Valverd

Seen many more Lapwings this time around, with many flocks of 200 plus roaming about the fields. This smallish flock crossing the reclaimed lake at Valverd made a pleasing sight as I sat in the sun and chomped away at a chorizo & cheese sandwich!


Earlier in the day, in the freezing fog and whilst my hands could barely operate the camera I took a chance on photographing some Crag Martins over the lake that didn't look quite right. They turned out to be a couple of Swallows! Rubbish pics but good enough for me to tell these are the most northerly wintering Swallows I've ever seen … lord knows how they were existing or what they were feeding on in such harsh conditions but this was major surprise bird species in this part of Spain.

Bearded Tit (male), Utxesa

....moments later I got another unexpected bird to add to the list...  a pair of Bearded Tits fraternising with 20 or so Chiff Chaffs on the margins of the lake …

At this point grabbing the camera was like holding a block of ice and my fingers were none too happy about being removed from my gloves, so these are a few degrees from decent shots! Another first for Spain for me though.

Bearded Tit (female), Utxesa
You can't beat driving South and as I expected, in just 50 kilometres and through a couple of mountain ranges, I was into bright sunshine and spirit uplifted I pulled the van over at the first most likely spot for a stroll. I was immediately into a secluded valley full of singing Song Thrushes, Chaffinches and close on 50 Blackcaps darting in amongst the mixed olive and almond groves.

Time to stop for the night and I stumbled upon a nature reserve nr the town of Flix, on the banks of the mighty Ebro and a place where much toxic shit waste was uncovered in 2005. Its been cleaned up and the work continues … I witnessed it going on as I biked back down the track from the reserve into town and across the river. Never has biking been such fun!!

The reserve itself – Sebes d'Ebro, was certainly worth a stop over, not least because I met and befriended one of the reserve guardians - a guy called Mathew from Huddersfield, UK no less!

Got some half decent Marsh Harrier and Kingfisher shots here but the light was less than perfect so theses are a tad grainy....

Male Marsh Harrier, Sebes


Male Marsh Harrier, Sebes

Kingfisher, Sebes

Alfara de Carles

Huge winds crossing the mountains around Tortosa caused a stop over there and they were no less fierce the next morning as I attempted some kind of mountain terrain experience around Alfara de Carles

Got my first Griffon Vultures up there plus a very distant Bonellis Eagle and a Citril Finch plus lots of Blackcaps in just about the only place I could find out of the wind. I know it looks idyllic and yes the sun was shining but man I could hardly stand upright up there!
Just about the only place out of the wind at Alfara!

Griffon Vulture, Alfara
So those last shots in the mountains were on the 17th Jan and since then I've been on the Ebro Delta. Internet access has been tricky, otherwise I'd have posted more frequently, no camp sites are open either so its just been me and the van and some very inventive use of wet wipes!!

Next up will be highlights from the Ebro and whilst the experience was spoilt somewhat by the excessive amount of shooting that takes place over here, there's plenty of goodies to stay tuned for!