The Ebro Delta – By Malcolm Palmer

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IFThe Costa Blanca Bird Club embarked upon an ambitious 3 night visit to the Ebro Delta, for their September field trip. We met up, as arranged, at a roadside buffet just over the Catalan border, and we were immediately alerted by a series of high-pitched whistles from high above. A glance through binoculars soon revealed at least four Short toed Eagles – normally quite silent – circling at the edge of dark clouds, and briefly joined by a Sparrowhawk. It was a great start. We made our way to the comfortable and beautifully situated Delta Hotel, where we disembarked, then set out, with the first of the several geographical hitches that inevitably occur when you try to get six cars through traffic lights, around roundabouts, and so forth! We had vague directions to where a Pacific Golden Plover had been seen, but failed to locate the ‘grass-field’ described. However, we spent a pleasant time watching a cut rice field containing many Glossy Ibis, a couple of Curlew, a great many egrets and herons of several species, and many gulls. Kingfishers and Whiskered Terns were everywhere, and Squacco Herons rose from roadside ditches continually. An occasional Night Heron put in an appearance, and Marsh Harriers were numerous. Green and Common Sandpipers flew up from time to time.

We ended up at the tower overlooking the Bassa de l’Aufacada, and there the birds were spectacular. Our first Caspian Tern flew majestically past, huge red bill like a dagger, but it was to the waders that most of our attention was directed. Greenshank, Redshank and Wood Sandpiper, Ruff and Little Ringed Plover, Avocet and Black winged Stilt – it was a veritable collection of European waders. But soon I spotted a wader with a distinctive breastband and ‘scallopy’ back. Several of us took a good look at it, and there was no doubt – a Pectoral Sandpiper. We should have been satisfied with that, but the two smaller, long winged, rather grey waders showed up. They were identical, and had noticeable white eyestripes, and shortish dark bills. Both flew briefly, and showed distinctive white rumps. The first White rumped Sandpipers I had seen in Spain since seeing Spain’s first in Mallorca, back in 1975! The light was failing now, and even Dave Eddy couldn’t get a decent shot of them, but subsequent discussion with my brother has confirmed that several have found their way across the Atlantic this year, notably to Britain.

IFOur visit to the Ebro Delta began bright and early on the first full day, when the leafy garden of the Delta Hotel yielded a few migrants before we set out to explore once again the southern areas of this massive wetland. We headed for the huge lake of l’Encayissada, where Coots abounded, and there seemed to be even more Red crested Pochard than usual. Dave managed a great shot of a passing Osprey, and Water Rail and Bluethroat called from the reedbeds as we watched from the observation tower. A little further along the road, I caught a glimpse of a Little Bittern, and Gull billed, Sandwich and Little Terns were new. We wended our way across endless rice fields, seeing plenty of Whiskered Terns, Purple and Squacco Herons, and a great number of Kingfishers, as well as surprising many Green Sandpipers from the ditches.

A halt on the beach served to supply us with sub-standard coffee, but was not an ornithological success, so we made for the tower where the previous evening had been so productive, with two major rarities, White rumped andPectoral Sandpipers. This time there was no sign of either, but a group of Pratincole was new, and we had several ‘fly-pasts’ from impressive Caspian Terns, and good views of many waders, including some nice Wood Sandpipers. An interminable wait for food in an otherwise charming restaurant was enlivened by views of a Spotted Flycatcher in the garden. We crossed the river again, and tried our luck on the north bank of the Delta, seeingWhimbrel for the first time, plus a Booted Eagle en route, but there was little of note until we returned to the hotel, where a Pied Flycatcher and a Night Heron were in the garden. It had been an interesting day, but maybe not really compensation for a great deal of driving in very hot temperatures.

12sept-03After a day during which the star turn had been the several Caspian Terns we had seen, we were due to leave the comfort of the Delta Hotel and head back southwards, covering a little more of the Ebro Delta’s endless rice fields, where egrets and herons were ever plentiful, and Kingfishers zoomed away at regular intervals. We had decided upon a detour inland, and skirted the beautiful Maestrazgo, where a Short toed Eagle soared close by. We then found a patch of promising looking woodland, which yielded nothing rarer than Long tailed Tits, and the song of a distant Woodlark. We had lunch at a cavernous roadside restaurant, then made our way to Puçol, where we booked into the modern and hospitable Hotel Alba before setting out for the nearby Marjal del Moro. The marsh turned out, like so many others, to have dried out in our scorching summer, and there was accordingly little to be seen, but members added Turnstone and Sanderling along the stony shore, and a nice party of 22 Spoonbill flew over, heading south along the coast.

12sept-04Next morning we were to return home, but not before we had taken a look at the Albufera de Valencia. Some chaos ensued, as we endeavoured to keep six cars together for a complicated motorway/minor road journey – never an easy task. Eventually, Barry, Rex and myself made it to the Tancat de la Ratlla, which was bristling with waders, notably many Curlew Sandpipers and Dunlin, but including two fine Temminck’s Stints – always worth seeing. As we spoke with Tony Alcocer, a local expert there, the whole lot flew, having been spooked by a Sparrowhawk. We then made our way to the Reserve Centre at Soler, meeting up with most of the rest of the group! There was little of note there, and the party split up, to head for home in various directions. After an excellent lunch at Benimoussalem, we rounded off our trip by calling in at Alcoy to take a look at the Griffon Vultures. It had been a good four days in general, but with a lot of kilometers – as is always the case with a visit to the Delta.